Sunday, January 17, 2010

Earthquake and Eclipse

We remain fixated on images from the devastation in Haiti. These events sharpen the reality that many of us are born into good fortune. Others are not so lucky. Struggling with poverty at this scale is far removed from our personal experiences. Sure, the hard work of individuals might create a better future, but if the system is broken, as in Haiti, that struggle seems almost insurmountable. I think we will all watch in the days, weeks, months, and years to come to see if Haiti can now break free of the past and forge a better future.

While this earthquake and its aftermath was unfolding, another natural phenomenon occurred last week. This one -- an annular solar eclipse -- went largely unnoticed here. Partly because the earthquake "eclipsed" all other news, and because the solar eclipse was only visible in Africa and Asia on January 15th. Also, the astronomical event left no death and destruction on earth.

Our nephew, Sid Ramachandran, sent these photos that he took of the eclipse from Pondicherry in southern India.

Photos © Sid Ramachandran

An annular solar eclipse occurs during a new moon, when the moon and the sun are in line, as seen from earth. During the eclipse, the moon appears smaller compared to the sun, leaving a bright ring (or annulus) of sun surrounding the moon. An annular solar eclipse occurs when the moon is farther from the earth in its orbit, and thus appears smaller relative to the sun. A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon is closest to the earth in its orbit, and therefore appears larger, and "totally" obscures the sun.

Somewhere over the Indian Ocean the January 15th solar eclipse reached its longest "annularity" at 11 minutes and 8 seconds. Future generations will have to wait more than 1,000 years, until December 23, 3043, to see one this long again. See the NASA Eclipse website for more. Here is the schedule from NASA for more eclipses in 2010:

The next is a lunar eclipse. These occur at full moon, when the moon passes behind the earth and all the suns rays are blocked by the earth from striking the moon.

One week - two different natural events. One of beauty. One of sorrow.

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