A Solar Eclipse
Essay # 1
An eclipse of the sun is a strange and rather awe-inspiring sight. At first one sees a clean-cut patch of darkness at the edge of one side of the sun, just as if someone had taken a small bite out of it. The black patch quickly gets larger, until it darkens half the sun, and then the sun appears in the shape of a crescent. The dark shadow goes on spreading over the rest of the sun’s surface, until the sun is altogether hidden, and one can see only its rays of light streaming off round its edge. It looks like a black sun, with a ring of light all round it.
This is called a total eclipse of the sun. It has a very strange effect. The atmosphere becomes dark as it does at twilight; birds think the night is coming, and they stop singing and go to sleep in the trees. Some animals creep away into their hiding places as they do at sunset; while the nightbirds and the beasts that prey at night, stir themselves and come out.
In countries where the people are ignorant, a solar eclipse fills them with fear. In China, they say that a great dragon is eating up the sun; and the people gather together and shout and beat great drums to frighten the dragon away. And as the eclipse passes, and the sun shines out once more, they think they have saved the sun, by their noise, from destruction. In old days, when people did not know what an eclipse really was, they thought it meant that some dreadful thing was going to happen to men. Even in modern times, in India many believe the same thing about eclipses and comets; and they look at the comet as the prophecy of the death of some famous person.
But of course, we are not afraid when we see a solar eclipse, for we know what it really is. It is caused simply by the moon coming between the earth and the sun, hiding the sun from us for a short time.
A Solar Eclipse
Essay # 2
A solar eclipse is a darkening of the sun caused by another heavenly body the moon coming between it and the spectator. The cause is so simple and familiar that it is difficult to imagine what terror was caused by such a phenomenon before knowledge of astronomy showed how it arose. The ancients did not consider eclipses to be in the natural order of things, but something monstrous, predicting terrible disasters. In Rome, at one time, to talk publicly of their being due to natural causes was an offense punishable by law. So strong a hold had this superstition on the popular mind that, even after it came to be generally believed that eclipses of the sun were caused by the moon coming between the earth and the sun, eclipses of the moon were still considered to be due to some supernatural power. When the moon was in eclipse, the people turned out and made a great noise with brazen instruments the idea being that by doing so they gave her ease in her affliction. Similar notions have prevailed among all barbarian tribes. The Chinese imagine, eclipses to be caused by great dragons trying to devour the sun and the moon, and accordingly, they beat drums and brass kettles to terrify the monsters into letting go of their prey. Even in modern India, the ignorant country people still believe that an eclipse, like a comet, is an omen of a coming disaster.
The sun may be partially or wholly eclipsed. A partial eclipse is caused by the moon passing over part of the face of the sun. The sun’s discloses its circular form; one part becomes obscured. The obscuration increases for a time and then diminishes until it disappears altogether. A total eclipse takes place when the moon comes between the sun and the earth, and the whole sun becomes slowly darkened and finally disappears for a time. It is observed that solar eclipses always happen at the time of a new moon when the sun and moon are on the same side of the earth. Astronomers can calculate when the moon will come between the earth and the sun and so can predict exactly when an eclipse will take place and how long it will Eclipses of the sun are of great value to astronomers, because when the sun itself is blotted out from sight by the dark mass of the moon; the sun’s corona, invisible to us in full sunlight; become visible, and can be examined by the telescope, and its composition determined by the spectroscope.
The almost instantaneous darkening of the sun particularly when it is unlooked for is calculated, to, impress a spectator with vague terror; even when expected, it fills the mind with awe. The sudden darkness is impressive from its strangeness, as much as from occurring by day; it resembles neither the darkness of night nor the gloom of twilight. The cone of the moon’s shadow, though it completely envelops the spectator, does not ten closes the whole atmosphere above his horizon. The mass of unenclosed air, accordingly, catches the sunlight, and reflects it into the region of the total eclipse, making there a peculiar twilight. Stars and planets appear, and all animals are dismayed by the dismal aspect of nature.