In Totality

Olafur Eliasson - The weather project
Olafur Eliasson - The weather project 

As I'm sure you already know, there will be a total solar eclipse passing over a thin strip of North America tomorrow starting in Mexico’s pacific coast and ending in Newfoundland’s Atlantic.  A total solar eclipse is when the moon passes directly over the sun, completely blocking solar rays from hitting the earth for a few minutes. At that time, you can stare directly at the sun, viewing the ‘corona’ shining as a thin line around the black void that is the new moon.  Lucky for me, the total solar eclipse will be happening over most of Montreal.

This optical anomaly happens because of an incredibly strange fact that we all inherently already know.  The diameter of the moon when viewed from earth is almost the exact same diameter of the sun viewed from earth.  Think about this for a second, as there is no reason for this. Life on earth is not beholden to the sun and moon being identical in diameter. It is by complete happenstance that our moon formed into a ball around our earth, and that that ball is the same size as the other big ball in the sky. 

This fact has had immense cultural effects on humanity as the two celestial bodies have always been represented in equal duality through metaphor.  Man and woman, lightness and darkness, rational and irrational; all binary narratives many cultures project onto the sun and moon. They are two sides of the same coin. These narratives would not be so obvious or so universal if the moon was two times the size of the sun (from earths perspective of course), or if we had multiple moons, something common not only in the universe but in our own solar system.  Mars for instance has two moons. Saturn has 146. 

But we have one moon, and its shape will perfectly eclipse the sun tomorrow for many people in North America.  Birds start screeching. Livestock panic.  People who have witnessed eclipses in the past report to be shocked at how moving the experience was. This is what I’m most curious about.  With a full understanding of what is happening people still feel an uneasy awesomeness. The sun and moon are so mind-bogglingly huge, but you can only feel this once they are slightly altered from how they usually act. We are dulled by their ever-presence until that presence is taken away.  Day becomes night. The sun becomes black. The core source of energy for life on earth turns off. A voice inside you asks, “Is everything going to be ok?”

I really hope there are no clouds tomorrow…

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1 comment

I like what you said about the duality this invites, and how it could be different. I can’t wait to experience this eclipse!


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