Eclipse Hysteria and Delusional Thinking

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Total eclipse of the sun, 11 July, 1991 from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Image credit: the author.

Some counties in Texas have issued a disaster declaration ahead of the total eclipse that will occur on April 8

Background and Context

Next month, on April 8, a total solar eclipse will grace the North American Continent. Starting in the Pacific Ocean off the southwest coast of Mexico, the 198 km-wide path (Nazas, Durango, Mexico) of totality makes landfall in Mazatlan, crossing central Mexico, tracking northeast up through central Texas, the US southeast, the Ohio valley, Cleveland, the Niagara region, upstate New York, northern Vermont and New Hampshire, Maine, Nova Scotia, and continuing further north and east to end out over the North Atlantic.

Texas Official Warns People to Stock Up on Food Ahead of Solar Eclipse

No one will ever be harmed observing a Total Eclipse of the Sun!

Full Stop!

As a standard precaution and something we all learn as children, you should never look directly at the sun without eye protection. The only difference with an eclipse of the sun, is the moon is passing in front of the sun, that’s all, otherwise, it’s just the sun as it always is.

Basic Anatomy of a Solar Eclipse

The moon is 400x smaller (than the sun) and is 400x closer to us (than the sun) and thus, provides a perfect geometric cover and produces an eclipse when the sun and moon are aligned (during the “New Moon” phase). This remarkably unique confluence of properties (the sun’s distance, its size, the moon’s distance, orbit and size) produces a “Total Eclipse of the Sun”, something that allows us to witness the ethereal beauty of the solar corona, the outer, hot, tenuous atmosphere of the sun, prominences and the solar chromosphere.

Basic Precautions we Learned as Children And Texas Public Officials

When driving in a westerly direction in North America after mid-day, for example, the sun will be in front of you. Most people will put on a pair of sunglasses or put down the visor to shield their eyes from the sun’s glare, allowing for a clear view of the road ahead. Nothing happens to your eyes, nothing! And nothing will happen to them when observing an eclipse.

There is no deep, cosmic mystery about an eclipse, none! The moon, our natural satellite, passes in front of the sun, nothing else and nothing mysterious! We learn about eclipses in the 3rd or 4th grade so why are some Texas officials making ignorant, delusional and disturbing “Disaster Declarations” ahead of the eclipse and suggesting that residents “Stock Pile Food”? An excerpt from the Newsweek article‘s featured image caption reads as follows:

Some counties in Texas have issued a disaster declaration ahead of the total eclipse that will occur on April 8

“Some counties in Texas have issued a disaster declaration ahead of the total eclipse”.

Let that sink in!

The Article’s title:

Texas Official Warns People to Stock Up on Food Ahead of Solar Eclips

Might we see a Texas-style inquisition, tales from Galileo, 415 years later or, even worse, shades of Hypatia for the 21st century? Hypatia was a brilliant Greek mathematician, philosopher and astronomer who lived in ancient Alexandria (Egypt). In the year 415, at the age of 46 and in her prime, she was attacked and killed by a deranged mob believing she was a “heretic”, proclaimed as such by the Christian emperor Cyril of Alexandria – this story remains tragic today, 1600 years later.

We need to get back to teaching basic science. Carl Sagan wrote about this in his last book published while he was still alive:

The Demon-Haunted World, Science as a Candle in the Dark

A quick, interactive web-based version of Stellarium is available here Tonight's Sky. When you launch the application, it defaults to north-facing and your location (on mobile and desktop).

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