Solar Eclipse Fun Facts

Fun Facts…Did you know that…

In ancient Greece, a solar eclipse was seen as a sign that the gods were angry and was thought to be an omen of bad things to come. The word eclipse comes from the Greek word ekleipsis which means “being abandoned”.

In ancient China, the solar and lunar eclipses were regarded as heavenly signs that foretell the future of the Emperor and so predicting eclipses was of high importance for the state. Over four millennia ago, legend has it that two astrologers, Hsi and Ho, were executed for failing to predict a solar eclipse.

Herodotus, the father of history, who lived in the 5th century BC, cited that the Greek philosopher Thales (ca. 624-547 BC) predicted the solar eclipse of 28 May 585 BC that put an end to the conflict between the Lydians and the Medes. Herodotus wrote: … day was all of sudden changed into night. This event had been foretold by Thales, the Milesian, who forewarned the Ionians of it, fixing for it the very year in which it took place. The Medes and the Lydians when they observed the change, ceased fighting, and were alike anxious to have terms of peace agreed on.

In Viking fables the sun god Sol is chased by the wolf Skoll. When the Skoll catches Sol, a solar eclipse happens. When this occurs, the people were instructed to bang pots and pans together to frighten off the wolf and return the sun.

On 2 August 1133 a solar eclipse occurred and King Henry I died shortly afterwards, prompting the spread of the superstition that eclipses are bad omens for rulers.

The Pomo, an indigenous group of people who live in the northwestern United States, tell a story of a bear who started a fight with the Sun and took a bite out of it. The Pomo name for a solar eclipse is “Sun got bit by a bear.”

According to the Batammaliba people from Benin and Togo in West Africa during an eclipse the Sun and Moon are fighting. The only way to stop the conflict, they believe, is for people on Earth to settle their differences.

In Italy, it is believed that flowers planted during a solar eclipse are brighter and more colorful than flowers planted any other time of the year.

Milton, in Paradise Lost, captures the unease eclipses generated in early Europeans: As when the Sun, new risen,
Looks through the horizontal misty air,
Shorn of his beams, or from behind the Moon,
In dim eclipse, disastrous twilight sheds
On half the nations, and with fear of change
Perplexes monarchs.

Mark Twain, in his book A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, has his main character, Hank Morgan, about to be burned at the stake, so Morgan "predicts" a solar eclipse he knows will occur, claiming power over the sun, and offering to return the sun to the sky in return for his freedom. "The rim of black spread slowly into the sun's disk. . . . The multitude groaned with horror to feel the cold uncanny night breezes . . . and see the stars come out. . . ."Morgan is set free, and held in extreme awe for his "wizardry."

Now for some numbers…

Solar eclipses will come to an end. In about 600 million years, due to tides on Earth and the slowing down of the Earth’s rotation, the moon will be too far away from the Earth to cover the sun, thus bringing an end to solar eclipses.

Light filtering through leaves on trees casts crescent shadows as totality approaches.

During an eclipse, local animals and birds often prepare for sleep or behave confusedly. Local temperatures often drop 20 degrees or more near totality. Check it out!

The longest duration for a total solar eclipse possible is 7.5 minutes. During this eclipse the shadow of the Moon races across the Earth at 2410 mph in western Oregon down to 1502 mph near Chareston, SC.

Partial solar eclipses can be seen up to 3,000 miles from the "track" of totality.

The maximum number of solar eclipses (partial, annular, or total) is 5 per year, and there are at least 2 solar eclipses per year somewhere on the Earth.

Everyone in the continental U.S. will see at least a partial eclipse. This eclipse will be the most-viewed ever! More than 500 million people in the US, Canada and Mexico will have opportunity to see a partial eclipse. The path where the Sun is totally eclipsed runs through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North and South Carolina. More than 10 million people are in the path of totality and 28 million live within 60 miles of the path.

A spot near Carbondale, Illinois will experience the longest duration of totality, more than 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Missouri will experience as much as 3 hours of the partial eclipse and 2 minutes 30 seconds of totality!

The element helium was discovered on 18 August 1868 by the French astronomer Jules Janssen (1824-1907) when he observed the spectrum of the Sun during a total eclipse in India. Helium is the second most abundant chemical element in the Universe and it was first discovered in the Sun, hence the name “helium” from helios.

The total solar eclipse of 29 May 1919 is famous for astronomical observations that were carried out during that eclipse and confirmed some of Einstein's work on general relativity. The great British astronomer, Sir Arthur Eddington (1882-1944), travelled to the island of Príncipe off the coast of Africa to observe that eclipse and to verify Einstein's prediction that light is deflected in the gravitational fields of celestial objects, i.e., the gravitational field of the Sun acts as if it were a huge, cosmic lens that refracts light. Eddington photographed the stars near the Sun during the totality of the eclipse. He observed the stars in the vicinity of the Sun to be slightly shifted from their original positions. His measurements confirmed Einstein's work and were regarded as a conclusive proof that gravity bends light rays. And Einstein became a folk hero!

Special thanks to Physics Professor Richard Olenick, Ph.D. for assembling these fun facts!

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