The Belton Journal

NASA Solar System Ambassador, Liam Finn, presented an educational slide show on the different types of solar eclipses, annular eclipses, and partial eclipses in observation of the much anticipated total solar eclipse that occured on Monday, April 8.

The presentation was held at Yettie Polk Park on Friday night to provide an open discussion of the celestial phenomena of “Syzygy,” when three or more spatial objects align.

Finn shared insights from his experience during the last solar eclipse visible in the U.S. in 2017.

Highlighting key facts of Monday’s solar eclipse, he mentioned that the sun’s diameter is roughly four times larger than that of the moon, yet it appears the same size due to it being 400 times farther away from Earth. Finn also mentioned that over time, the sun is gradually moving away from Earth, while the moon may eventually become too small to fully block out the sun in about half a million years.

During his discussion, he explained the moon’s unique orbits around Earth, saying these orbits are influenced by Earth’s movement through space and the moon’s elliptical orbit.

Additionally, the moon’s apogee (farthest orbit point to the earth), and perigee (orbit point closest to earth), affect its apparent size, highlighting that these variations, although minimal in reality, can make the moon appear larger, especially during events like the supermoon.

According to Finn, the distance from Earth to the moon is approximately 238,854 miles.

Due to the moon’s orbit not being a perfect circle, its movement can be quite complex. The moon has a tilt of 5.1-degrees in its orbit, occasionally creating what was referred to in ancient times as a “draconic moon,” where it appeared as if a large dragon was consuming the moon according to Chinese beliefs.

Every 6,585.3 days, an eclipse cycle repeats, with an eclipse occurring approximately every 18 years, 11 days, and 8 hours.

During eclipses, various phenomena take place, including strange occurrences such as insects changing their sounds and plant shadows becoming crisper as the eclipse progresses.

For Monday’s eclipse, the overall shadow on the Earth was expected to be around 92 miles wide.

Finn shared how some eclipse chasers will be viewing the eclipse from the Atlantic Ocean to experience the moon’s shadow during the eclipse. The speaker noted that eclipse cycles are not eternal and that this year’s event is part of a cycle spanning from the year 1501 to 2763.

Scientists have meticulously studied over 5,000 years of eclipses, going back in history to ensure the accuracy of their calculations.

Finn said to the group of attendees that everyone will be watching on Monday as the entire eclipse process is estimated to last about three hours, with the total solar eclipse lasting only 4 1/2 minutes in the Belton area.

“During totality, you may witness the corona glowing around the moon’s edge, and a phenomenon known as the ‘diamond ring’ effect as a sliver of the sun becomes visible before totality ends,” Finn said.

If the sky was clear, viewers should be able to see Jupiter and Venus with the naked eye, while Saturn might not be clearly visible due to its proximity to Jupiter.

Thousands of Texans and people from other states and countries waited anxiously with their cameras, telescopes and solar glasses hoping the clouds would part at the last minute.

Just before the total eclipse started, the clouds parted for the awe-inspiring celestial event.

NASA estimated that at least 31.6 million people lived in the ‘path of totality’, where the sun would be entirely blocked by the moon.

According to NASA publications, eclipses are not particularly rare, occurring once every year and a half, but it’s incredibly unusual for so many Americans to have the opportunity to witness this celestial event from their homes, as it often occurs in remote locations.