A Christian Astronomer Reflects on the Solar Eclipse

| By on The President's Notebook

President Haarsma geeking out over the approaching eclipse.

The total solar eclipse last week was an event I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

As an astronomer, I have avidly watched partial eclipses several times over the years, but this was my first time viewing a total solar eclipse.  Totality was totally different! I viewed the eclipse in central Oregon, during a vacation last week with my family. We worried that smoke from nearby forest fires would dim the view, but the sky was clear blue. As the moon began to cover the sun that morning, we watched with our eclipse glasses as the “bite” was taken out of the orange disk. I punched 5 holes in a card to make a quick pinhole camera and projected it onto my handy BioLogos folder (see below), showing 5 images of the crescent of sun. As the light dimmed, we marveled at the way the the sky and land stayed the same color—and hardly looked dimmer—as our eyes adapted. More noticeable was the change in temperature; the day was definitely cooling down instead of heating up. The crescent of the sun got thinner and thinner. Then the last bit of sun disappeared and we removed our glasses.  

What a sight!  The moon was surrounded by bright flares, far bigger than the sun! I had thought I’d have to squint to see a faint corona; instead, I was stunned by how bright it was, streaming from the sun in multiple directions! The moon in the middle was deep black, looking like a hole in the sky. The rest of the sky was dark enough to see Venus, but it was more of a deep blue than completely black (the best image I’ve found to capture this is here)  Through binoculars, we could just see bits of red peeking around the edge of the moon: the coronal loops in the chromosphere (like this).  As totality ended and a bit of sun reappeared, we saw the diamond-ring shape and quickly averted our eyes. We watched as the landscape brightened up over the next 30 seconds—it looked as if someone had found a dimmer switch for the sun and was gradually turning it on.

It was an amazing experience; I was cheering and yelling like everyone around us. I didn’t really have a special angle on this as an astronomer, millions across the country experienced the same sight and shared the same wonder. More than that, it was an experience that took people beyond themselves. For an hour, people set aside their work, their play, and their everyday lives in order to observe a special moment in our solar system.

In those moments of awe as we watched the skies, we had a chance to listen to what the heavens declare (Ps 19:1). As Brad wrote last week, the event lifted our gaze to something higher and brighter, something that dares the atheist to think bigger than the flat and boring world of materialism.  And for those of us who know the Creator as our own Savior, we could hear the heavens declaring the glory and power of God himself.  We felt his power to give and to take away, the power to remove the sun’s light and warmth and the power to bring it back again.  We saw a glory of coronal light, light that is usually hidden but revealed for a short time. It reminds us how much we long for the full light of God’s glory to be revealed, in the age to come.  

Notes

Citations

MLA

Haarsma, Deborah. "A Christian Astronomer Reflects on the Solar Eclipse"
http://biologos.org/. N.p., 29 Aug. 2017. Web. 25 September 2017.

APA

Haarsma, D. (2017, August 29). A Christian Astronomer Reflects on the Solar Eclipse
Retrieved September 25, 2017, from http://biologos.org/blogs/deborah-haarsma-the-presidents-notebook/a-christian-astronomer-reflects-on-the-solar-eclipse

About the Author

Deborah Haarsma

Deborah Haarsma serves as the President of BioLogos, a position she has held since January 2013. Previously, she served as professor and chair in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Gifted in interpreting complex scientific topics for lay audiences, Dr. Haarsma often speaks to churches, colleges, and schools about the relationships between science and Christian faith. She is author (along with her husband Loren Haarsma) of Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design (2011, 2007), a book presenting the agreements and disagreements of Christians regarding the history of life and the universe. Haarsma is an experienced research scientist, with several publications in the Astrophysical Journal and the Astronomical Journal on extragalactic astronomy and cosmology.

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