What is an eclipse?
A shitty Japanese car.
No, that’s an Eclipse. What is an eclipse?
No, that’s Eeklipz. Stop fucking around.
A solar eclipse is when the moon passes directly between earth and the sun; this causes the sun to disappear for a minute or two. A lunar eclipse is when the earth passes between the sun and the moon, which blots out the moon for a similar period of time.
The sun just goes away?
Yup. Middle of the day. Boom.
That must have scared the shit out of people back in the day.
Oh, yeah. Mass sacrifice, armies would turn tail and run home, goats would explode. Imagine it: you’re walking around minding your own business at three in the afternoon, nice sunny day, and WHAMMO it’s pitch-black for a couple minutes. And, you know: the sun was pretty much God to most of these ancient fuckers, so they didn’t know whether to shit or go blind. I guess the ones who stared at the sun went blind. Everybody probably shit, though.
You can’t look at an eclipse? But the sun’s not there.
It is most certainly still there. The moon’s in front of it so you can’t see it, but the cosmic hoodoo the sun spits out will still fry your eyeballs if you look at it.
How can I view the eclipse, then?
Through your phone or a camera lens.* Or with special glasses that you can’t buy anymore and are almost certainly Chinese knock-offs that won’t work and will leave you blind.
What about that thing with the cardboard and the pinhole?
If you want to look like a second-grader on a field trip, sure. Oh, wait: Trump supporters can look directly at the eclipse.
Yeah. They’re immune from any ill effect. Trust me. In fact, they should start staring at the sun about an hour before the transit just so they can get some context.
I think you’re telling fibs.
No, I’m deliberately trying to hurt people.
Putting that aside. How often do eclipses happen?
Often. You can have anywhere from two to five eclipses in a calendar year.
So why is this one getting so much attention?
Because the earth is 66% ocean, so 66% of eclipses can only be seen from the ocean. Or way out in the hinterlands. Humans occupy the whole planet, but we only take up a little bit of it. Hell, this one’s cannonballing across the good ol’ USA and it still only hits four major-ish cities. The path of totality is only 70 miles wide. Plus, you know: it might be cloudy.
So much is dependent on the weather.
When did humans start predicting eclipses?
Forever ago. When the sun disappears, the king puts his best brains on the job right away. Everyone figured it out: Greeks, Mayans, Chinese. Eclipses occur in regular patterns, so if you pay attention for a while, you can figure out the math and start predicting them.
Why do eclipses occur in patterns?
The cosmic ballet.
Just say that you don’t know.
Because everything in the universe rotates around something else. And while rotating, everything wobbles a little bit. These wobbles have a cycle to them.
That doesn’t explain anything.
Those three sentences literally explain orbital mechanics. And the tides. And the seasons.
No one likes a smartass.
Well aware of that, thank you.
End with an interesting story, please.
Sure. There was a place called Babylonia.
I heard they had condos made of stone-a.
Nicely done. Anyway, the Babylonians were some clever bastards. They invented just about everything.
What about the Chinese?
The Chinese also invented everything. I’m talking about the Western hemisphere. The Babylonians invented maps and writing and math and irrigation and the sailboat.
Haven’t even mentioned the big thing yet.
Kinda. They figured out the wheel. More specifically, the axle.
Yup. And they also were the first folks we know of (who weren’t Chinese) that figured out the sky. That everything was in motion, and that motion was regular and could therefore be predicted. Cycles of the moon, movement of the planets, all that stuff. Plus eclipses.
Sound like some forward-thinking people.
Sure, but wait. Like I said: the sun was God to the majority of the world before the monotheisms and whatnot took over. (Even after that, most deities are still associated with the sun. Jesus is literally the son.) And, of course, the king was put on his throne by God.
So for the sun to disappear in the middle of the day was seen as not propitious for the king.
But you said the Babylonians knew that eclipses were natural phenomena.
I didn’t mean all of them. Most Babylonians were farmers or merchants or craftsmen or whatnot. The rich fuckers might have understood that eclipses were just really big math problems, but your average guy or gal thought a dragon was eating the sun.
Dummies. We’re smarter than that.
You been watching the news lately?
I retract my statement.
Okay, so: an eclipse makes the king look bad. It’s like being president when an economic bubble bursts: might not be your fault, but you’re getting blamed for it. So what the Babylonians would do is find themselves a temp.
A temporary king?
A farmer or a gardener or a criminal. A patsy. The real king would dress up in rags and the new guy would put on the robes and say the prayers–I’m sure animals were sacrificed, too–and now the schmuck is the king.
Like in History of the World.
Pretty much. Then, when the eclipse was over, the men would switch places once again, and the king would thank the pauper by giving him a plot of land and a pension.
Fuck, no. Executed in public to appease the gods.
That sounds right.
Past was terrible.
Anything else we should know?
If you make a baby during the eclipse, it will be a werewolf.
Good to know.
Keep it in mind.
*It turns out that this is terrible advice and will destroy your phone or camera.