The Great American Eclipse: When the Sun, the Moon, and SELF’s Mission Align

By Abigail Ulman

 

svs.gsfc.nasa.gov

svs.gsfc.nasa.gov

In the chaos of human action today, we often forget to look up at the sky.  We forget that our Earth, while it seems like the end-all-be-all, is simply just another (small) planet in our solar system, revolving around our sun, surrounded by countless other solar systems – and entire galaxies – in our universe. Extraterrestrial phenomena still affect our planet just like any other. On Monday, August 21, a solar eclipse will cross the United States, leaving parts of the country in complete or partial darkness for a few seconds throughout the day.

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon moves in its orbit directly between the Earth and the sun, casting a shadow over the Earth and blocking the sun’s rays from illuminating the Earth. At around 2:45pm EST, the lucky few living in the narrow path of totality (Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina) will be able to view their world being plunged into complete darkness. Everyone else in the country, including those in Alaska and Hawaii, will see a partial solar eclipse, which the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) describes as the sun appearing to have a dark shadow on only part of its surface.

Despite the many other pressing issues plaguing our planet today, NASA has taken the time to prepare the American people for this awe-inspiring phenomenon. The last total solar eclipse in the United States occurred on February 26, 1979, so a reminder of what to expect is prudent. Its website, designed specifically for the eclipse, contains a countdown until the event, explanations of the eclipse, and opportunities for science challenges and viewings of the event.

Throughout history, though, attitudes toward solar eclipses have not been this carefree and lighthearted. Instead, people watched their worlds being plunged into total darkness with confusion and fear. Almost every ancient culture across the world had a sun god, often the most powerful and deadly of the gods. To many ancient cultures, solar eclipses depicted the death of the sun god. Ancient Mesopotamians thought the king would die if there was a solar eclipse. To avoid that tragedy, the king went so far as to abdicate for the one hundred days before the eclipse and give his throne to a criminal so he would not be targeted by the eclipse. Ancient Chinese people beat drums to scare away dragons and sacrificed oxen to the gods to protect themselves from bad luck during the event. In other cultures, too, eclipses were bad omens and foreshadowed death.

But as early as 2,000 years ago, the Greeks and the Chinese began to predict eclipses with reasonable accuracy. This greater knowledge of the natural workings behind eclipses led to increased appreciation, less fear, and more engagement with the phenomenon. The Great Wild West eclipse of 1878 attracted many astronomers and engineers, eager to test out their planetary theories and use new measuring gadgets. Even Albert Einstein got involved. In 1919, the renowned physicist tested his theory of relativity on an eclipse.

While most eclipse viewers today react with awe to the complete darkness, let us not forget about the 1.2 billion people without access to energy, who are all too familiar with the hardships brought about by darkness when the sun goes down. Without electricity, hospitals are unable to store life-saving vaccines at their required temperatures and lack critical lighting when doctors are caring for patients at night.  Kerosene lamps provide dim lighting and create a hazardous environment for students doing their homework and families cooking dinner.  Women and girls must travel long distances in the dark to retrieve water and fuelwood, facing the threat of being attacked by both wild animals and other people along the way.  

The same sun that will be covered by the eclipse on August 21, however, can help solve the issue of energy poverty. Solar powered micro-grids can connect rural villages in developing countries to electricity, powering their businesses, schools, health centers, and homes.  Solar-powered water stations and solar cookers eliminate the need for women and girls to travel long distances for vital resources at night.  When experiencing the phenomenon of Monday’s eclipse, keep in mind how amazing it is to be able to harness a small portion of the sun’s power to improve the lives of people around the world.

 

[ezcol_1third]*Biba and Issifataou Kissira Farouk wash the solar panels so they are efficient.[/ezcol_1third][ezcol_1third][/ezcol_1third] [ezcol_1third_end]Poster photo for vid on site[/ezcol_1third_end]

 

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