The Beauty of Eclipse Shadows

(From August 2017) I did not know about “eclipse shadows” or “shadow bands” – those mysterious bands of light and shadow that race across the ground just before and after the moon blocks out the sun during a total eclipse.  After my experience today, I read some about them, and I learned that scientists don’t understand what these bands are or where they originate.

My good friend Chris died last week.  He was 89 and had lived a great life.  He died suddenly which, all things considered, is not a terrible way to leave here.  I went to his funeral mass at noon today.  The service was moving, the music was beautiful, and the priest delivered a perfect homily.  I went with the crowd to the cemetery.  It was past 2 p.m. when the graveside service was over, and a friend offered me some eclipse glasses to see the moon blocking the sun.  An amazing site, but not as surprising as what I saw when I pulled into the driveway.  

My neighbor was pointing at the sidewalk and the road where I saw a peculiar collection of shadows.  Eclipse shadows, he explained.  I went in the back yard to the garden.  There, in “Mister Owita’s Garden,” I saw a similar collection of peculiar shadows. Moon shapes dominated, but there were also images that appeared to be animals. 

So I took these pictures and went to find out more.  I discovered that scientists have been trying to explain these shadows, particularly the moving shadow bands, for the past 100 years.  Since 1925, one report said that many believe the popular theory that the bands originate in the atmosphere.

Then I was drawn to the NASA website, where the English astronomer George B. Airy was quoted.  Airy had seen his first total eclipse of the sun in 1842.  He recalled the moving shadow bands, saying, “As the totality approached, a strange fluctuation of light was seen on the walls and the ground, so striking that in some places children ran after it and tried to catch it with their hands.”

My shadows were not moving, so I guess they were not the shadow bands that the 19th century children were trying to catch with their hands.  But it was an eerie, almost spiritual experience to see the patterns in the garden and to think about the wonder of it all.  I thought about Carol and Mister Owita.  I thought about my friend Chris and his transition after a life well lived. 

And I considered what NASA says about the shadows and the bands – that the “intensity, motion and direction…seem to be related to the same phenomenon that makes stars twinkle”.  

I am quite certain I do not understand the science of this, but it seems like a good thought at the end of this day.

Richard WallComment