On Monday, 21st August 2017, thousands travelled and gathered to observe the once in a lifetime celestial celebration of the Moon passing the Sun in a total solar eclipse along the East Coast of the USA.
Millions more watched it on their TV and Internet. For many it induced feelings of excitement and awe as they watched day turn into night if only for a couple or more minutes. During this time, birds stopped singing, flowers closed and the air got cooler in the absence of the heat and light from the Sun.
It is at times like this, that we can recognise how important the Sun is to our planet and for sustaining all life on Earth.
Retired NASA astrophysicist, Fred Espenak, has stated:
“You get an overwhelming sense of humbleness and how small and petty we really are compared to the mechanics of the solar system, the clockwork of the universe, these events that are taking place that we can in now way affect or stop.”
Although this recent solar eclipse was an important reminder of just how important the Sun is, people have always gathered at other times to celebrate less dramatic reminders of how much we depend upon the Sun for our life on Earth.
These observances took place at the Solstices and Equinoxes each year.
A Solstice is an astronomical event that happens twice each year when the sun reaches its highest position in the sky as seen from the North or South Pole. The day of the Solstice is either the “longest day of the year” which takes place in summer or the “shortest day of the year” which takes place in winter for any place on earth. The length of the time between sunrise and sunset on that day is the yearly maximum or minimum for that place.
An Equinox occurs twice a year (in March and September) when the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun – the centre of the Sun being in the same plane as the Earth’s equator.
Although such celebrations may be steeped in tradition, they are nonetheless an important reminder of how everything is interconnected and how much we rely on natural cycles for our benefit and for life on Earth to exist and grow.