Posts Tagged ‘numinous’

There will be a Solar Eclipse early on the morning of Wednesday 14th November  (less than 1 week away). The path of totality will begin at sunrise in the north of Australia in Arnhem Land and cross Cape York to near Cairns before moving out into the Pacific. For the rest of Australia outside the path of totality the eclipse will be seen as a partial eclipse of the Sun in the early morning or at sunrise. In Sydney the eclipse begins at 7.07am and ends at 9.04am. Mid-eclipse is at 8.03am when 67% of the Sun’s disk will be covered. At that time the Sun will be 27 degrees above the eastern horizon. More details here.

(Don’t stare at the sun, kids! Suitable ‘eclipse glasses’ are available locally from reputable astronomy shops and the Sydney Observatory.)

One of my favourite pieces of science writing is called “Total Eclipse” by Annie Dillard, from her book Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters. Here are a few highlights.

Now the sky to the west deepened to indigo, a color never seen. A dark sky usually loses color. This was a saturated, deep indigo, up in the air. Stuck up into that unworldly sky was the cone of Mount Adams, and the alpenglow was upon it. The alpenglow is that red light of sunset which holds out on snowy mountain tops long after the valleys and tablelands are dimmed. “Look at Mount Adams,” I said, and that was the last sane moment I remember.

I turned back to the sun. It was going. The sun was going, and the world was wrong. The grasses were wrong; they were platinum. Their every detail of stem, head, and blade shone lightless and artificially distinct as an art photographer’s platinum print. This color has never been seen on earth. The hues were metallic; their finish was matte. The hillside was a nineteenth-century tinted photograph from which the tints had faded. …

I saw, early in the morning, the sun diminish against a backdrop of sky. I saw a circular piece of that sky appear, suddenly detached, blackened, and backlighted; from nowhere it came and overlapped the sun. It did not look like the moon. It was enormous and black If I had not read that it was the moon, I could have seen the sight a hundred times and never thought of the moon once. (If, however, I had not read that it was the moon – if, like most of the world’s people throughout time, I had simply glanced up and seen this thing – then I doubtless would not have speculated much, but would have, like Emperor Louis of Bavaria in 840, simply died of fright on the spot.) It did not look like a dragon, although it looked more like a dragon than the moon. It looked like a lens cover, or the lid of a pot. It materialized out of thin air – black, and flat, and sliding, outlined in flame. …

The second before the sun went out we saw a wall of dark shadow come speeding at us. We no sooner saw it than it was upon us, like thunder. It roared up the valley. It slammed our hill and knocked us out. It was the monstrous swift shadow cone of the moon. I have since read that this wave of shadow moves 1,800 miles an hour. Language can give no sense of this sort of speed – 1,800 miles an hour. It was 195 miles wide. No end was in sight – you saw only the edge. It rolled at you across the land at 1,800 miles an hour, hauling darkness like plague behind it. Seeing it, and knowing it was coming straight for you, was like feeling a slug of anesthetic shoot up your arm. If you think very fast, you may have time to think, “Soon it will hit my brain.” You can feel the deadness race up your arm; you can feel the appalling, inhuman speed of your own blood. We saw the wall of shadow coming, and screamed before it hit.

This was the universe about which we have read so much and never before felt: the universe as a clockwork of loose spheres flung at stupefying, unauthorized speeds. How could anything moving so fast not crash, not veer from its orbit amok like a car out of control on a turn? … (more…)

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