Intelligent Design Icon Intelligent Design
Physics, Earth & Space Icon Physics, Earth & Space

Great American Eclipse: A Teachable Moment   


Earth’s moon has a rendezvous with history. The total solar eclipse coming to America on August 21 — the first one to cross the continental U.S. in 99 years — will be the most watched, most studied eclipse in history. But do your friends, family and acquaintances appreciate the significance of these rare astronomical events? We want to help you with resources and information to make the Great American Eclipse a teachable moment about design in nature.

Scientific materialists view the alignment of the earth, sun, and moon, with the near-perfect match of apparent diameters of the sun and the moon (despite their vast differences in size) as just a coincidence — as indeed, they must. It may actually be a coincidence. Design advocates, though, have the freedom to consider the evidence without being restricted to chance and natural law alone. Consider the following.

  1. By universal acclaim, total solar eclipses are fearsome and awesome phenomena, the most wondrous astronomical events that can be witnessed from the surface of the earth.
  2. The match is often so perfect, it permits views of the very thin chromosphere of the sun. The corona, otherwise swamped by sunlight, also gleams with brilliant light. These would not be possible if the moon were slightly larger.
  3. Many bodies in the solar system cast shadows on planets, but the earth is the only place in the solar system where a perfect match can (and does) occur.
  4. Earth is also the only location that has sentient observers who can appreciate eclipses.
  5. It was thought Saturn’s little moon Prometheus might have a perfect match (for less than one second), but then it was discovered that Prometheus is potato shaped. That leaves earth alone.
  6. Major scientific advances have been made using total eclipses: among them, the discovery of helium, the identification of elements in the solar atmosphere, and confirmation of Einstein’s theory of relativity.
  7. The predictability of eclipses both in time and location speaks to the precision of the “clockwork of the heavens,” informing philosophers of science about the nature of “laws of nature.” The onset and duration of an eclipse can be predicted down to the second for any point on the earth.
  8. Total eclipses have been invaluable for dating events in ancient history, resolving controversial theories about chronology and setting benchmarks for reliable dates and times.
  9. The factors that produce perfect eclipses are also closely related to the requirements for earth’s habitability. This makes it less likely the alignment is mere coincidence.
  10. Total eclipses are temporary, because the moon is receding from the earth. Why should the alignment be perfect right when humans are present to enjoy them?

Anyone with a chance to see this eclipse should be all means make the effort, since the next opportunity is eight years away (April 8, 2024; per NASA), and that one misses the western states. Here is some useful information you can use to talk about this year’s eclipse and prepare to see it.

Viewing the Eclipse

Many people have seen a partial solar eclipse, and some have seen an annular eclipse (when the moon does not quite cover the sun, leaving a ring or “annulus” of sunlight). Lunar eclipses are very common. A total solar eclipse is a completely different experience. It is indescribably awesome. If you are in a group, you can expect to hear crowds cheering, clapping, and shouting at the sight.

At First Contact, when the moon begins “touching” the sun, not much change is apparent initially. Over the next 90 minutes or so leading up to totality, the sky begins to darken slowly until it becomes like twilight. The temperature drops. In the final minutes, one may see “shadow bands” dancing along the ground and crescent-shaped shadows of the sun filtering through the trees. The “Diamond Ring” may appear as the last bright glint of sunlight fades, and “Baily’s Beads” may appear as sparkles of sunlight flow through valleys on the moon. Eye protection is needed during this entire phase. But then, suddenly, Second Contact hits — the eclipse is on!

For the magical two to two-and-a-half minutes of totality, birds and animals will go quiet and stars may appear. Observers will see a jet-black disk obscuring the sun, and the corona, like strands of glowing silver hair, shooting outward from the disk. Those with telescopes might also see reddish solar prominences — huge arcs of plasma erupting millions of miles over the sun. A glance at the horizon may show a 360-degree sunset and city lights switching on.

As Baily’s Beads appear again, be prepared for a very rapid change at Third Contact. Photographers will only get about one second for another “Diamond Ring” shot. Very quickly, the sun becomes overpowering again, and eye protection must be worn. Shadow bands and crescent shadows appear again, but people are likely to be high-fiving and sharing their emotions at what they just saw. By Fourth Contact an hour and a half later, when the moon has parted ways from the sun, everything has returned to a normal day.

There is nothing like it on earth. Pictures do not do it justice; you just have to be there. Once you experience a total eclipse, you are likely to talk about it for years as a life-changing experience. Some 12 million Americans live along the path of totality, and another 220 million live within an hour’s drive. Because this “Great American Eclipse” is so accessible to so many people, it will be remembered as one of the great astronomical events of the century.

To come prepared, start with, an information hub to learn all about the path of the eclipse and best places to see it. The main page gives more information about eclipses, how to view them safely, and where communities are holding special eclipse events. also offers a free smartphone app for the occasion. NASA has a sleek, informative website for the occasion, with video clips, fascinating facts, scientific information, additional smartphone apps, ways to get involved in “citizen science,” and more.

Lodging. Be forewarned that the popular places are sold out and may be clogged by traffic jams. Your best bet may be to get into the path of totality (a band 60 miles wide) somewhere away from cities. Plan your destination with alternative routes, away from popular interstates or roads likely to become clogged. Campgrounds may also be filled within the path. Sharing apps like AirBnB may help, but make reservations early, or else consider primitive camping where it is legal.

Weather and Traffic. Watch the weather forecasts and the traffic predictions. It would be a huge disappointment to be on your way and to be clouded out or stuck in traffic. If possible, be in position one or two days before, or at the very least several hours early.

Equipment. Of course, the eclipse itself is free. warns that hotels are charging up to $1,000 a night and eclipse vendors are selling “every trinket under the sun.” All you need are your eyes and eye protection before and after. Binoculars are good during totality. Amateur astronomers and photographers can easily get carried away with gear. Don’t miss the event while fumbling through equipment. The pros will flood the media with great photographs of the eclipse soon afterward. If you must photograph it, you may find it more memorable to videotape your family and friends’ reactions, and get the eclipse with some foreground objects or landmarks. Otherwise, just sit back and enjoy.

Safety. An article by Doris Elin Salazar on offers tips for safe viewing. Be forewarned that you could damage your eyes permanently without realizing it by looking at the sun before or after totality. During totality, however, it is safe to look.

For quick information, shares nine facts about the eclipse with links to more information, calling it a “once-in-a-lifetime event.” Another page on explains the terminology of eclipses and associated phenomena like shadow bands and Baily’s Beads.

And this is just for starters. Watch for more about the eclipse here at Evolution News.

Photo: Research team studies the 1995 total solar eclipse near Neem Ka Thana, India.