The Wonder of Our Perfect Eclipses

I was only able to see a partial eclipse on Monday, but I enjoyed watching the reactions of the crowds on TV who were fortunate enough to experience totality. In “Perfect Eclipses: Coincidence or Conspiracy?” Jay Richards marvels at the design behind this phenomenon:

A rare alignment of events allows Earthlings to witness not just solar eclipses, but what we might call perfect solar eclipses. Our Moon just barely covers the Sun’s bright photosphere. Such an eclipse depends on just the right sizes, shapes, and relative distances of the Sun, Moon, and Earth.

There’s no law of physics that dictates this layout. There are 65 major moons in our Solar System, and many smaller ones. But only we enjoy perfect solar eclipses. If there were Martians or Uranians, they wouldn’t see such eclipses.

The Moon is about 400 times smaller than the Sun. But the Moon is also about 400 times closer to the Earth than is the Sun. As a result, the size of the Moon on our sky matches the size of the Sun. And since they appear as round disks, they match in both size and shape.

What’s more, the tight match between Moon and Sun only happens during a narrow window of Earth’s history. The Moon is slowly moving away from Earth — at roughly the same speed that fingernails grow.

In brief, the best time and place to view total solar eclipses in our Solar System is just when and where there are observers to see them.

Let that sink in.

These perfect eclipses are the work of an Artist, made possible by all the right factors coming together. These factors also happen to make life possible—that is, they make it possible for observers to exist in order to enjoy this artistry. But as Richards explains, the wonder doesn’t end there. Perfect eclipses aren’t merely demonstrations of powerful beauty; they have also benefitted us by “unlocking the field of astrophysics” and informing our understanding of ancient history. What incredible design!

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Amy K. Hall