Looking Up: Slippin' Into Darkness...

Aug 7, 2017

A total solar eclipse, which is when the Moon completely covers the Sun, will occur across 14 states in the continental U.S. on Aug 21, 2017.
Credit nasa.gov

This week on Looking Up Bruce Bookout continues our series of episodes regarding the upcoming total solar eclipse on August 21st, 2017.

We continue our series preparing for the solar eclipse. Let’s take a look at how older cultures viewed this celestial event.

An eclipse is always a disruption of the established order.  Cultures depend on the sun's movement because of its predictability; It is regular, dependable, tamper proof. And then, all of a sudden. . . the sun vanishes into darkness.  

The meaning depends on the culture.  Some see it as a time of terror, while others look at a solar eclipse as part of the natural order that deserves respect, or as a time of reflection and reconciliation.

Many cultures explain solar eclipses as a time when demons or animals consume the sun; the Vikings saw a pair of sky wolves chasing the sun for food. In Vietnam, a frog or a toad eats the moon or the sun. The earliest word for eclipse in Chinese, shih, means "to eat”

Other myths tell of deception and theft to explain the sun's disappearance; Korean mythology describes fire dogs that try to steal the sun.

The ancient Inuit peoples believed that the Sun and Moon were gods. During a solar eclipse they left their places in the sky to “see how things were doing” on Earth.

The Navajo regard the cosmic order of the universe as being all about balance where an eclipse is just part of nature's law. They pause to acknowledge that this time is special and reflect on the cosmic order.

It’s refreshing to see that some cultures didn’t let this event cast a shadow on their view of the cosmos.

If you’d like to take a closer look at the Eclipse, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit CSASTRO.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties.