Solar Eclipse Math
Last Monday I was in Nashville for our company’s annual convention. These conferences are planned months in advance and, believe it not, a year ago no one was talking about the full solar eclipse that was going to go directly over Nashville on August 21st when this thing was planned. If they had, there is no way the company would have received the normal corporate rates we received! Beyond that, the meeting was planned without any mention or thought about the eclipse prior to about 6-8 weeks ago!
However, last Monday afternoon’s schedule revolved completely around making sure everyone was out on the patio of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel (where we were staying) with their special solar eclipse glasses ready to watch The Event! Watching the eclipse was amazing! In 61 years, I had never witnessed a full solar eclipse. It was simply incredible to watch the moon completely cover the sun as though they were the exact same size. In fact, when the moon was in lock step with the sun for those two minutes it was nothing short of awe inspiring. When you took off the glasses you could look right at the sun’s corona around the shadow of the moon without any danger of eye damage. The outside patio lights came on and there was an afterglow on the entire horizon – not just in the west – but all around you! The sheer visceral nature was an amazing experience. As we stood watching this event, a few of us started talking about the mathematics involved in this whole thing.
The sun is massive. The earth is much smaller, but still immense. The moon, of course, is even smaller, but it is also huge! For the most part, we take these enormous spheres for granted, but the math behind an eclipse is mind-boggling! Is it not remarkable that these ever-present objects — though separated by nearly one hundred million miles — should once in a very great while perform this curiously perfect dance performed only for earthlings? Anywhere but here on this planet last Monday, the view of these two objects, the sun and the earth’s moon, was nothing special. It is only what we see from our terrestrial vantage point that is special. It’s almost as though what we will marvel at was artfully arranged specifically for our benefit. Which brings us to the math.
The diameter of the sun is 864,576 miles across. The diameter of the moon is 2,159 miles across. The distance from Earth to the sun, which varies slightly, is generally measured at 93 million miles. The distance from Earth to the moon, which also varies a little, is about 239,000 miles.
Armed with these four figures, you can do some simple math. If you divide the sun’s diameter (864,576) by the moon’s (2,159) you get a ratio fractionally over 400:1. Because the moon covers all but the sun’s corona in an eclipse, the ratio of the relative diameters of the sun and the moon and the relative distances of the earth to the moon and the earth to the sun, should be just less. And, naturally, they are! When you divide the distance from the Earth to the sun (93,000,000) by the distance from the Earth to the moon (239,000) The ratio is just under 390:1. The more I thought about this, the more amazed I became. Was the correlation in these ratios a coincidence, or something else?
Of course, what this all meant was simply that these old, vast objects, though as different in size as a single BB and a six-foot wide beach ball, would from our perspective seem almost precisely the same size all the time. So, when they just happened to align in the sky over Nashville Monday afternoon, which naturally must happen from time to time, they would match up perfectly. Not almost perfectly, but with absolute perfection. And, perfectly every time they align!
What are the odds of this just happening randomly? Some of the planets in our solar system have no moons. Some have many. The astronomers tell us Jupiter has 60! Every moon is a different size. Stargazers will tell you, in our solar system, a solar eclipse is unique to earth! Our planet has just one moon and it is just the right size and distance from Earth to eclipse the 857,000 miles-across star that is 93,000,000 miles from here!
Do you find the precision in all of this as incredible as I do? The more you think about it, the more farfetched the idea of this being a mere coincidence becomes. It seems completely planned, as all things of such precision must be.
To bring this closer to home, imagine holding a BB twelve inches from our face and then asking a friend to carry a six-foot diameter beach ball as far down the beach until it appeared precisely the same size from that perspective as the tiny BB. Keep in mind the beach ball is six-feet in diameter, not the two-footer you normally play with in the pool. You will need to trek 400 feet before the giant beach ball and the tiny BB match up in size. That’s about the distance from home plate to the centerfield fence in Miami Marlins Park!
Can the sun’s and moon’s diameters — and distances from Earth — be coincidentally matched up this perfectly? Everything about it makes the premise seem preposterous. Three thousand years ago the Psalmist wrote: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” That man didn’t have a telescope. He did not have Google. He was not an astronomer! He simply saw something many of us still do not see. He saw God! It may be true that seeing a Grand Designer behind breath-taking events, like the eclipse, requires a leap of faith.
However, seeing this as a coincidence probably requires an even greater leap of faith. You tell me! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.