The Sun is 400 times larger than the Moon, but it is also 400 times further away. What this means is that, when viewed from the Earth, the Moon is *exactly* the correct size to perfectly obscure the Sun when they are aligned during a total eclipse. As you can see in the picture to the right, the Moon covers the sun perfectly, leaving only the corona visible around the edges.
I have a compulsion, for lack of a better term, to understand things. How they work. Why they happen. What they mean. It took a few years for Marie to get used to me going into EngineerBoy-mode when she did something I didn’t understand, and so would begin quizzing her about it. For example, if she drove a different route to a familiar destination I would ask her why she chose that route. In the beginning, she interepreted it as me questioning her route choice – in the sense of doubting that it was the most correct/efficient route.
But what I was doing was actually paying her the compliment of knowing that she wouldn’t just absent-mindedly pick some unexpected route, and that there must be a logical reason for it, and I wanted to know her reasoning. In retrospect it’s easy to see why it was annoying, because I did a poor job of couching the questions in any sort of way other than, “Why did you turn left there? Aren’t we going to Place X? We usually go *that* way, why would you choose to go *this* way??”. That sounds like skepticism and doubt, and what it really is is the quest for information and knowledge, and the answer of “I just felt like taking a different route today” makes perfect sense, I just hungered to know “why?”.
Eventually she realized that I do that about anything and everything that I don’t understand. If we pass by an interesting door and I can’t figure out how the hinges work, I’ll stop and assess it (within reason, given other pressing matters). It’s not that I think the door is “wrong”, it’s that I don’t understand it, but it obviously works, and I want to *get* it. I know that me understanding how a particular door works doesn’t really do anything other than satisfy my curiosity, and as long as it works that should be good enough for a random door.
And it’s not every door that I have to figure out, just those that seem to me to not fit what i already know about doors. I’m the same way with people – when they behave in ways that I don’t understand, I have to try and figure them out. For the most part it’s not about agreeing or disagreeing with the way a person behaves, it’s about being able to understand a person’s motivations to act in a way that doesn’t make sense to me, when it obviously makes sense to them, because they’re doing it.
So a lot of my curiousity comes from the fact that I freely acknowledge that I don’t know everything. In fact, given the totality of human knowledge, and the unfathomable scope of all possible knowledge, I really don’t know anything much at all.
But if I can observe something, and understand all of its facets, and it still doesn’t make sense, that bothers me. A lot. And it doesn’t happen much – not that I am somehow able to figure everything out, it’s more that I’m usually able to see the line that separates things that I personally can’t explain and things which cannot be explained, period.
One of the things-which-cannot-be-explained-period is the relative visual size of the Sun and Moon. There are two possible explanations for their perfect ratios.
Both of those explanations leave me skeptical, frustrated, and continuing to search for answers. As for it being a coincidence, the odds of all the factors occuring randomly are so astronomically high that I can’t blithely accept that as the answer. If the Moon were slightly farther away from the Earth, or slightly closer, it wouldn’t happen. If the Moon were slightly larger or smaller than it is, it wouldn’t happen. If the orbit of the Moon didn’t have it line up perfectly with the Sun regularly, it wouldn’t happen. If the Sun were slightly larger or smaller, it wouldn’t happen. If the Earth’s orbit it kept is slightly closer to or further from the Sun, it wouldn’t happen.
But *all* of those things happen. The odds of it being a coincidence are staggering.
But if it’s not a coincidence, that leaves purposeful design. Well, whose design? God(s)? Aliens? Ancestors? Some combination of those? I mean, it’s hard to argue with evidence – there’s the Moon, there’s the Sun, and a couple of times a year, there’s the demonstration during an eclipse. We can all see it, we can all understand it from the purely physical aspect. There’s nothing to interpret, because it happens, an event that all humanity can observe and which cannot be denied. It’s not a fake, it’s not a stunt, it’s not a legend, it’s not a myth, it’s not Photoshopped. It’s just there for all of us to see.
But if we are assessing the “design” explanation, then the phenomenon is clearly a message. It has meaning. It says something. But what?
If we start with just the facts, the message is obviously directed at inhabitants of Earth, because it is only from the perspective of the surface of the Earth that it can be seen. But what is the message? The actual obscuring of the sun by the moon doesn’t seem to convey much in and of itself. What seems to be the important part is the exact fit during a total eclipse.
The closest explanation that I can conjure up is similar to a plot point from the film “2001: A Space Odyssey”. In the film, there is a rectangular black monolith that is not a random object, it was obviously created by something intelligent. The monolith is buried on the far side of the moon, such that man will not discover it until he has made enough technological advancement to actually go to the dark side of the moon and find it.
And once men uncover the monolith, it responds by beaming a signal elsewhere in the solar system, indicating that man had sort of stumbled across a tripwire that indicated that we had advanced enough to travel to the moon. One element of the Moon/Sun eclipse phenomena could be that humans couldn’t understand until such time as we grasped the nature of the stars and planets, and even further, until we realized that the chances that the perfect fit is a random coincidence is nearly 0%.
So, okay, we did it. We’ve figured out the stars and planets, at least at a basic conceptual level. We understand the effects of gravity and the nature of orbital mechanics. We’ve been to the Moon and back. We’ve even sent man-made objects out of our solar system and into deep space.
But…now what? The Moon perfectly obscures the Sun during a total eclipse, it’s improbable that it’s pure coincidence, we *get* it. But, now what? What does it mean that we understand it? What should it be telling us? What should we be learning from that?
There are some whose philosophy will allow them to attribute this phenomenon to a higher power, and thus endeth the inquiry. However, to me, no matter who set it up or why, there has to be more to it than a simple display of god-like powers – that would seem so…conceited of him/her/it/them.
My take is that the purpose of this astronomical alignment is for us to understand two things:
Thing Number One
The first thing that this is trying to tell us that we are not alone. There is someone or something else out there, and they are far more advanced than we are. They were able to set the size and shapes of planets to the precise ratios such that, once our puny-but-ravenous human brains advanced enough to understand it, we would *get* it.
Thing Number Two
The second thing that this is trying to tell us is that, compared to the vastness of available knowledge, we know nothing. Right now, humans know enough to see the phenomenon, to understand the mechanics of it, and to begin to question the meaning of it, but that’s it. So, in this sense, it’s like a trail of breadcrumbs, designed to lead us to the desired destination (both physically and intellectually). It’s saying, come on, take a few more steps, make a few more theoretical leaps, come out of our shell of earthboundedness and step into the wider universe.
In closing, I freely state that all of the above is pure conjecture and deduction and has a high probability of being completely wrong in every facet. However, it represents my best interpretation of the undeniable facts. The fact that there isn’t more discussion of and amazement about this phenomenon serves to both frighten and confuse me. There are many who say, show me proof of a higher power and/or of other intelligent life in the universe. Well, there it is. There are many who say, I already knew about the higher power, I know that he/she/it is omnipotent, and so the phenomenon is nothing more than confirmation of what I already knew and no further introspection is needed. Uh, really?
I will also freely state that there is a very small, but non-zero, chance that this phenomenon is purely a coincidence.
But I doubt it.