At 11:35am MST yesterday, the entirety of our moon’s shadow hit the Jackson Hole area. Moving at over 1800 mph, with a shadow width of 66 miles, it brought almost instant darkness onto the area, making visible the most spectacular observable event in creation; a total solar eclipse.
In God’s kindness, I’ve had the opportunity to see pristine, underwater forests while scuba diving in Roatan. I’ve sat on the spectacular, jagged peaks of the Tetons. I’ve seen Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Northern Lights; from Alaska to the tropics.
But the total solar eclipse was like nothing I have ever seen before. There were those final, eerie, darkening minutes before totality. The bizarre feeling as it went from day to night in about 90 seconds. Cows mooing hysterically in the field next to me. The beads of light peering through the moon’s crater. The diamond ring effect. The temperature instantly dropped fifteen degrees. Then, totality. The sun’s atmosphere blasting forth in praise to God; the white, jagged rays bursting from behind the blackened moon for a full two minutes. And there was the 360 degree sunset (two sunsets in one day!). It was the most amazing thing I have ever seen. It was utterly stunning; a spectacle that is emblazoned in my mind forever. I’m still wondering if I really saw it as it was completely different than anything in all creation. I can almost understand why humans have venerated that ball of burning hydrogen for millennia.
Hype was understandably built around the event for years. They are rare, especially in the same place. The next total eclipse over the Tetons is not until July 31, 2744, so mark your calendars. But, sightseers had reservations to behold yesterday’s spectacle for a while. TV crews from all over came. And now that millions have had the opportunity to experience a total solar eclipse, it’s appropriate to briefly reflect on the event.
To successfully pull of what happened yesterday, a long list of things had to go right. The astronomical wrench had to be turned perfectly to make it happen. Take a brief look with me under the hood to behold the brilliance of a total solar eclipse.
Three objects are necessary for a total solar eclipse; an illuminating object (the sun), an object that shields it (the moon), and the receiving object (Earth). Our sun is about 93 million miles away, about seven million miles in circumference, and has a surface temperature of 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The moon is that 150,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 lb rock which is constantly moving around the Earth at about 2300 mph, and never flying off into space. Finally, the Earth is that 13,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 lb planet spinning at 1000 mph, and moving around the sun at 18 miles per second. And, the sun, moon, and Earth, like every astronomical body in the universe, hang on nothing (cf. Job 26:7).
Now, besides keeping all of those objects going, here’s the tricky thing about a total solar eclipse: all of those massive, moving bodies have to line up perfectly. But it’s more complex than simply lining up. First, the moon moves around the earth at an angle and the earth tilts back and forth at an angle. Second, the sun is way larger than the moon (63 million moons could fit inside the sun). If the moon is too close to the sun, the sun would simply shine around it and you would never have an eclipse. If the moon was too close to earth, the sun and its atmosphere would often be shielded.
For a total eclipse to happen, the moon has to be proportionally the exact magnitude in size as the sun is in distance from earth. And they have to be the same shape. That is required for the moon to perfectly block the apparent size of the sun from earth’s vantage. The moon must be at exactly the right distance from the Sun and from the Earth to cause an eclipse.
And all this is exactly what happened. During a total solar eclipse, it’s all dialed in. The sun’s distance from Earth was 400 times the moon’s distance. The sun’s diameter also happens to be 400 times larger than the moon’s. Because these ratios are the same, the sun and the moon as seen from Earth appear to be the same size, such that when the moon passes perfectly in front of the sun, it perfectly shields it. The result is the most stunning spectacle in creation.
We should mention one more thing. While everything else is going on, the sun, and our entire solar system, together scoot through space at about 130 miles per second.
Finally, it’s simply amazing that such an event is viewable. Our universe is an extremely hostile environment to puny humans. It’s far too hot, too cold, too gaseous, and too bombarded of a place, which would make it impossible to witness an eclipse. However, it just so happens that one of the best places to see an eclipse is also a habitable planet.
If one thing goes wrong, a total solar eclipse cannot happen. Every part must be in place; every piston firing perfectly. The rightly-tweaked mechanics required for a total solar eclipse are extraordinary.
The other day I was happy that I was able to put together a storage rack for some skis in my garage. God put together a total solar eclipse, while also doing things like overseeing the other 200 billion galaxies, the billions upon billions of stars, every water molecule in Earth’s oceans, the beating of seven billion human hearts, and upholding the salvation of all his people, just to name a few.
Glory to God. There’s no one like him. Eclipses are about Christ. He upholds it all (Col. 1:17). It’s safe to say that he does stuff like this simply because he can (cf. Ps. 115:3). Worship him. Praise him. Give your life to him. He gave his for you on the cross.
Indeed, eclipses are telling of the glory of God. Yesterday, his eternal power and divine nature were clearly seen. And be warned: if you do not worship Christ after seeing the eclipse, you are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness since what is known about God has been made plain to you because God has shown it to you.
Much more could be said about the glory of God in a total solar eclipse. Overall, may it move us to bow in awe and wonder at the feet of the designer of eclipses; the Lord Jesus Christ.
Feel free to share about your experience of God’s glory in yesterday’s eclipse.
“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” (Ps. 8:3-4).
“Praise Him, sun & moon; praise Him all you shining stars!” (Psalm 148:3)
*Eclipse images are courtesy of Adam Howard, from Adam J. Howard photography, who photographed yesterday’s eclipse in Grand Teton National Park.