On August 21, 120 RTB staff members and guests will experience a perfect solar eclipse during our conference at the Washington Family Ranch in eastern Oregon. A perfect solar eclipse occurs when the disk of the Moon exactly blocks out the disk of the Sun. Such eclipses are a relatively recent phenomenon and humans are privileged to be able to witness these wonders.
For the past 4.5 billion years, the Moon has been moving away from the Earth. Currently, it is speeding away at a rate of 3.82 centimeters per year. The Moon’s recession from Earth means that the window for observing perfect solar eclipses is only about 300 million years wide. We humans “happen” to be living on Earth at the midpoint of those 300 million years. In other words, the only place where humans can live in the solar system is also the only place where perfect solar eclipses occur and these eclipses are occurring at the one time when human observers can appreciate them.
What benefits, besides an awesomely beautiful sight, do perfect solar eclipses yield? First, perfect solar eclipses permit the observation of the Sun’s atmosphere, chromosphere, and flares. Much of what astronomers have discerned about stellar atmospheres, stellar chromospheres, and stellar flaring has come by observing perfect solar eclipses.
Second, the timing of perfect solar eclipses at various locations on Earth provides humans with a sophisticated clock. The timing of solar eclipses allowed historians to produce a calendar of events in the early history of humanity. It also allowed astronomers to measure the slowing down of Earth’s rotation rate as a consequence of the tidal interactions between the Sun, Earth, and Moon. Thanks to solar eclipse timing measurements, astronomers know that Earth’s rotation rate is slowing down at a rate of two milliseconds per day per century.
Third, perfect solar eclipses provided the first confirmation of Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which catapulted Einstein to worldwide fame and provided the first scientific evidence that a God was necessary to explain the existence of the universe. Einstein published his theory of general relativity in 1916.1 It was a radical model of the universe that contradicted the reigning cosmic model of that time. Before Einstein’s theory of general relativity astronomers and physicists were convinced that the universe was eternal and static throughout its history. Einstein’s theory asserted that the universe had a finite age—it had a beginning, which implied that there was a cosmic Beginner. Einstein’s theory contradicted the notion of a static universe. The universe, according to general relativity, was either expanding or contracting. (Observations by Slipher and Hubble affirmed that it was expanding.)
Einstein showed in his paper that one of the implications of his theory of general relativity was that light passing by a massive body would be bent by the gravity of that body. In particular, Einstein showed that the Sun’s gravitational field would bend starlight by a maximum of 1.751 arcseconds.2
During a perfect solar eclipse astronomers and others can see stars close to the limb of the Sun. Britain’s famed mathematical physicist, Sir Arthur Eddington, organized an expedition to observe the total solar eclipse in Brazil that occurred in May 1919. Measurements by Eddington and his colleagues determined that starlight was bent by the Sun’s gravitational field by 1.8±0.2 arcseconds.3
News of the confirmation of a prediction of Einstein’s theory of general relativity was picked up by newspapers around the world. Albert Einstein became a household name globally. More importantly, the theological implications of Einstein’s theory of general relativity began to sink into the consciousness of scientists and others.4 The most significant are space-time theorems establishing a Creator beyond space and time. The universe now clearly testified of the supernatural, super-intelligent handiwork of the God of the Bible.
The solar eclipse of August 21 will be the first to cross America in 99 years. Millions of Americans will witness a perfect solar eclipse. Everyone in the contiguous 48 states will see at least a very good partial eclipse. Don’t miss it and rejoice with us that God created humans beings at the one time and the one place where we could enjoy and benefit from experiencing perfect solar eclipses.
Featured image credit: Luc Viator
- Albert Einstein, “Die Grundlage der allgemeinen Relativitätstheorie,” Annalen der Physik 49 (1916): 769–22. The English translation is in The Principle of Relativity by H. A; Lorentz, A. Einstein, H. Minkowski, and H. Weil with notes by A. Sommerfeld and translated by W. Perrett and G. B. Jeffrey (London: Methuen and Co. 1923): 109–64.
- F. W. Dyson, A. S. Eddington, and C. Davidson, “A Determination of the Deflection of Light by the Sun’s Gravitational Field from Observations Made at the Total Eclipse of May 29, 1919,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series A 200 (1920): 291–33, doi:10.1098/rsta.1920.0009.
- I describe and explain these implications in The Creator and the Cosmos, 4th ed. This book will be released in early 2018.
Subjects: Sun, Solar System Design