Nov 16

The Total Eclipse of the Sun

By Professor James A. Greenhill — August, 1900

Professor James A. GreenhillClinton, Iowa: The total eclipse of the sun that was scheduled for May 28th, of the present year, can now be numbered among events of the past. Over the greater portion of Iowa and Illinois clouds hid the face of the god of day till after the transit; but we learn from the newspapers that the observations in the line of totality, both in our country and Europe, were obtained under favorable atmospheric conditions.

Eclipses of the sun and moon are very interesting to astronomers, and are becoming more noticeable from year to year, as knowledge becomes diffused among all classes. There can never be more than seven eclipses in one year; never less than two. When there are but two, they are both of the sun. A total eclipse of the sun repeated in any particular place is a great rarity.

Before the circumstances attending the return of eclipses and comets were understood, their appearance was looked upon as something foretelling the displeasure of the Almighty on account of some imaginary slight he had received at the hands of some puny individual, or nation; on our globe. When men were taught such priestly nonsense as to believe that our earth was the most important of all the worlds in existence. That the sun, moon and stars were made as an after consideration, to give light to its inhabitants. That these inhabitants were made exactly like their maker. It was not to be wondered at, if man became egotistical, and looked upon himself as a being of great importance. But we know now that many questioned the correctness of such priestly dictums. Less than two hundred years ago it was dangerous to question. It was dangerous to even doubt. But many questioners and doubters had to appear, and for their temerity sacrifice their lives, before it was possible for a Coleridge to ask with safety, “How do you know?” Or a Darwin to write without molestation.

The priest seemed to be at all times on the watch lest any of the vulgar should get a peep behind the screen, and see him pull the strings that made the puppet jump. But in spite of all his watchfulness and brutality, the desire to know the truth was irresistible. And, notwithstanding the stream of obloquy heaped upon him, the steady, unpretentious work of Charles Darwin stands to-day peerless. And now we reap the benefit of the work of those lovers of the right. To-day the scientist can put the priest at defiance. He no longer need fear the clerical mountebank, whose power is shorn of much of its former virulence, compelling him to resort to slander and misrepresentation; but that does not break bones, nor draw blood, as racks, thumbscrews, and iron virgins were wont to do.

The laws governing the motions of the heavenly bodies are so inflexible, and so thoroughly understood by the scientist, that calculations can be, and are, made with the most unerring nicety, of the times of eclipses both past and to come. And as there is no royal road to knowledge, we all may, by patient study, become possessed of the ability to make such calculations ourselves.

The scientist knows of no such word as chance. Undoubtedly many who read this article have seen diagrams in newspapers and magazines in the past month or two, showing the path of totality across the land and ocean, of the late total eclipse. And· there will not be another total eclipse of the sun visible in North America until August 30th, 1905.

Eclipse Diagram, July 4, 1900

In the image above will be seen a diagram showing the line of totality on that date. And it is to be hoped that all who become possessed of this magazine will keep it carefully until that time, and see the verification of the calculation. Some scientists take such an interest in this class of phenomena that they devote much time to it. An astronomer of the last century, [Alexandre Guy] Pingré by name, calculated the precise dates of all eclipses which have happened during the last three thousand years. And calculations have been made for future events of that kind for hundreds of years to come, showing that a total eclipse of the sun will take place exactly two hundred and sixty years from this day, June 4th, 1900. The moon’s shadow will pass a little south of London, England, at 7 o’clock in the evening.

I know that many will read these words without a question as to their correctness, because men and women of intelligence have seen the calculations of the scientist verified time after time, without fail. But there is a class that call in question anything and everything that can be proven true; and at the same time are ready to swallow the veriest nonsense imaginable from certain sources. We learn that at a total eclipse of the sun on August 21st, 1560, as the light began to fade, some of the folks in one of the sections of France got so excited and unruly, thinking the world was coming to an end, that they broke away, so that the priest could not confess them. And to quiet their fears he had to tell them the eclipse was postponed for two weeks, on account of the great wealth of his penitents. Now that, although an impossibility, was accepted without question. The excitement quieted down, and probably before the two weeks had passed most of them had forgotten how they had been deceived.