Eclipse showcases beauty of God’s creation
Astronomers detail spectacular show eclipse-watchers can expect on Aug. 21
The first total solar eclipse in the contiguous United States since 1979 will sweep across the continent Aug. 21 and treat observers to one more example of the beauty God created on this special little planet. The eclipse will cut a 70-mile-wide path of totality, the region where the moon will completely block the sun.
For those fortunate enough to be in the path of totality, a swath that stretches from Oregon to South Carolina, the sun and moon will put on an especially spectacular show. As the moon moves in front of the sun, a narrow band of light around the dark silhouette of the moon will look almost like a beaded necklace due to the ragged terrain of the moon’s surface. When the moon slides directly in front of the sun, the beads will disappear until only one remains and the sun will look like a brilliantly shining diamond ring. Observers will see the diamond ring again when the moon slips away from the sun.
As the moon completely blocks the sun, stars will shine in the sky and several planets, including Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Mercury, should be noticeable.
But by far the most spectacular event during the eclipse will be the twisting, fiery ribbons of light emanating from the sun’s atmosphere. “It’s not just an amorphous glow,” Rick Fienberg, press officer for the American Astronomical Society, told Science.com. “It’s a tangle of streamers and jets and loops and twists and all kinds of stuff, because it’s controlled entirely by the sun’s magnetic field, which is very tangled and twisted.” These streamers are always present but typically the brightness of the sun’s central disc obscures them, he said.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, observers will witness other awe-inspiring phenomena. When the sun disappears behind the moon, the temperature suddenly drops by as much as 15 degrees, birds stop singing, and observers may see the moon’s shadow racing toward them like a dark cone or tornado. They may also see the shadow flee away when the moon uncovers the sun again.
The change in lighting will make shadows appear sharper, so much so that individual hairs on the heads and arms of observers may be apparent.
Some observers may also witness an unpredictable phenomenon called shadow bands, thin undulating lines of alternating light and dark that move in parallel on smooth, light-colored, uniform surfaces. Shadow bands appear for only a few seconds before totality. Scientists are unsure what causes them but believe they are related to turbulence in the Earth’s atmosphere.
And if cloud conditions are right, the sun may give observers a special treat—a 360-degree sunrise and sunset glow around the horizon.
Scientists fret over sneezing sun
Reading University scientists recently announced a discovery that could make it harder to protect Earth from electronics-blasting sun eruptions.
Scientists once believed coronal mass ejections (CMEs) consisted of super-heated particles the sun blasts into space like billions of flaming billiard balls. But in a study published on Phys.org, the Reading scientists say “sun eruptions hit Earth like a sneeze” of cloud-like ionized plasma structures, making them harder to predict and deflect.
The new discovery is a good reminder of how God designed our planet to support life, Henry Richter, a physicist and electrical engineer formerly with the Jet Propulsion Lab, explained on the Creation Evolution Headlines blog.
As our world becomes ever more dependent on electronics, scientists fret about the damage a large blast of CMEs could do to Earth’s power grid and electronic devices. Scientists are working on ways to better predict the course of CMEs. Blasts that erupt and travel as a cloud rather than single bubbles are more difficult for scientists to predict because solar winds produce a much stronger effect on them.
Most CMEs, which happen anywhere from once a week to several times a day, pose no threat to Earth. But strong CMEs can erupt with the power of 20 million nuclear bombs. CMEs barreling toward Earth could reach the planet in as little as one day. In 1989, a particularly strong solar blast plunged all of Quebec into a 12-hour blackout.
Without the factors God created to protect our planet, the fallout from CMEs would be much more serious than that, Richter said. Rings of charged particles, known as Van Allen belts, orbit the Earth and deflect most CMEs that come our way. Without the Van Allen belts, he explained, these solar blasts would strip away our atmosphere and evaporate our oceans: “Our Creator had to put many, many things in place to make the Earth open to support life, and in particular advanced life.” —J.B.
Biologists analyze 900-year-old Gospel of Luke
Scholars study old manuscripts by analyzing linguistics and writing styles to learn about the authors and the world in which they lived. But researchers are missing a wealth of information they could glean from biological materials in the texts because libraries prohibit invasive sampling of rare and precious books.
“It’s even harder to sample a rare book than human fossils or teeth,” Matthew Collins, a biochemist who has spent the last five years studying a 900-year-old copy of the Gospel of Luke, told Science Magazine.
Collins and his team have created a non-damaging way to collect DNA and other biological substances from old manuscripts by sampling tiny fibers librarians pull out of the books when they dry clean the pages.
Researchers who analyzed the biological material from the Gospel of Luke learned scribes at St. Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury, England, most likely produced the book around 1120 A.D. and used calf, sheep, and goat skins for the pages.
Timothy Stinson, a medieval poetry scholar at North Carolina State University, anticipates biological analysis of old texts will reveal “the whole bustling medieval world of monks, scribes, readers, poets, country gentlemen” and anyone who touched the books over the centuries. —J.B.
Scientists discover glow-in-the-dark shark
Despite our best efforts to catalog all the different forms of life in existence, scientists say we’ve only discovered the tip of the iceberg: 86 percent of existing plant and animal species remain unidentified. Researchers recently discovered one of those unknown species, a glowing shark hiding in the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean near the Hawaiian Islands. The shark measures less than a foot long and weighs less than 2 pounds. “A large part of biodiversity is still unknown, so for us to stumble upon a tiny, new species of shark in a gigantic ocean is really thrilling,” researcher Stephen Kajiura said in a statement. —J.B.
NASA posts Earth-protector job opening
Attention all space alien hunters! NASA is accepting applications for a planetary protection officer to guard Earth from alien invasions. The winning candidate will get a galactic annual salary of up to $187,000, plus benefits. The position may conjure images of Star Trek’s Enterprise crew boldly searching for extraterrestrial life where no one has gone before, but the reality isn't quite that glamorous. The planetary protection officer will make sure humans don’t contaminate planets and other objects in space with earthly microbes and that no alien microorganisms hitchhike back to Earth. One industrious applicant sent a letter to NASA outlining his qualifications: The 9-year-old said his sister believes he is an alien. —J.B.
Alternative to addictive opioids
Abuse of opioid prescriptions that work well for pain relief but are highly addictive has become a national crisis. But doctors may soon have an alternative. A San Francisco-based biotech company, Nektar, has developed a non-addictive type of opioid, NKTR-181, that provides pain relief without the euphoric highs that can lead to abuse and addiction. —J.B.
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