Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Today a solar eclipse will be seen across large parts of India and China. Eclipses have had a long history history in relgion. Cultures that worshiped a sun god might see an eclipse as a particularly ominous occasion. Even today, some in India are concerned about ill omens associated with this day, as one of the gods of the Hindu pantheon, Surya, is a sun diety. In Hindu mythology, an eclipse occurs when two demons swallow the sun. Pregnant women should avoid going outdoors to protect their children, while others partake in ritual prayers and bathing.

Just to note other religious ties to eclipses, in one of the ten plagues described in Exodus, God causes darkness to fall across Egypt, and in the story of the crucifixion of Christ the sky turns black. Some have pointed to eclipses as natural explanations of these phenomena.

Here is a motorized LEGO Orrery built by George Moody and his son. An orrery is a model of the solar system or part of the solar system. Follow the link to see a movie on Moody's site showing the relative motions of the earth, sun and moon. In the picture above we see them in their relative positions for a solar eclipse.

I could, by the way, have used this same model to illustrate a different topic relevant to this blog. The Copernican revolution in understanding the solar system was very tied in to the whole science/religion debate. Perhaps I'll go into that in another blog post.

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