Science

  • Issue 92 / March - April 2013



    The Solar Eclipse and Its Fine Balance

    Gokay Goktolga

    A heavenly spectacle happening every 6585.32 days, lasting up to 7.5 seconds, can be seen along a track 300 kms wide but cannot be observed with the naked eye

    A solar eclipse is a celestial event that takes place when the moon gets in between the earth and the sun. This event has always caught the attention of mankind since the beginning of time and has always been a matter to ponder upon. For example, why can a lunar eclipse be observed everywhere on earth under the night sky yet seeing a solar eclipse is only limited to a corridor 300 km in diameter? A solar eclipse is dependent upon two conditions: First there needs to be an intersection of a lunar orbit with the earth’s orbital plane; second the phase of the moon at the time needs to be a new moon. Because there are 12 months in a year, one would expect 12 solar eclipses, but a 5 degree difference between orbital planes makes this intersection a less frequent event. The diameter of a lunar shadow on earth during a solar eclipse is only 300 km while the shadow of the earth falls on the moon as wide as 12,000 km in diameter.

    The sun and the moon, the brightest objects that are most visible to our eyes, are not hanging up there without any purpose. In addition to their many significant effects on our biological, psychological and social conditions, the sun and the moon offer us incredible reasons to be amazed not least during the eclipse when we observe from the earth their complete overlap: a star as big as almost 1.5 million km and a satellite as small as 3,500 km in diameter. The sun and the moon need to be positioned in their orbits with such a precise calculation that this enormous size difference does not get noticed during a solar eclipse by an observer on the ground. This is only possible when both the sun’s and the moon’s distances to the earth are reversely proportioned to their sizes. This fine balance is called “angular diameter” or “visual angle” by scientists. Therefore, in order for a complete solar eclipse to take place, the sun’s and the moon’s angular diameter need to be equal to each other.

    If we have to explain this with mathematical expressions:
    Lunar diameter / Moon-Earth distance = Solar diameter / Sun-Earth Distance
    If we take numbers as below:
    Lunar diameter 3,474 km, Moon-Earth distance 376,000 km, solar diameter 1,400,000 km, Sun-Earth Distance 149,000,000 km

    Then we get two similar ratios:

    3,474 / 376,000 = 0.009239361
    1,400,000 / 149,000,000 = 0.009395973

    As seen above, the ratio of the two independent and unrelated numbers turns out to be very similar to each other indicating the management of the universe through fine care, calculated fashion and wisdom. The significance of the angular diameter in this solar phenomenon is oftentimes ignored or covered not sufficiently enough in documentaries, books, and journals, whereas it offers a lot for us to ponder deeply over how the entire universe relates to our lives through many apparently irrelevant events. The sun and the moon and their eclipses are substantial reasons for awareness, appreciation and prayer, as highlighted in a Qur’anic verse:

    “And the night and the day, and the sun and the moon (all the phenomena and objects you see in the universe) are among His signs (guiding to His absolute Oneness). Do not prostrate in adoration of the sun or the moon, but prostrate in adoration of God, Who has created them, if indeed it is Him that you worship.” (Fussilat 41:37)

    A solar eclipse, as do all other things in our material universe, takes place in a world of causations. Yet, it takes place in such mysterious finely tuned measurements that may become a reason for divine testing, and it has been more so in the past for that matter. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, gave a warning on this issue for us not to fail this test: “The sun and the moon are two signs of God; they are not eclipsed on account of anyone’s death or on account of anyone's birth. So when you see them, glorify and supplicate God, observe prayer, give alms.” Thus, it is important to observe the universe and use our intelligence to discover the laws operative in nature and the divine wisdom behind those seemingly supernatural events.

    Share/Bookmark

    comments powered by Disqus