Solar Eclipse Viewed at Georgia Tech
May 30, 1984
Rod had been following the predictions of an annular solar eclipse viewable in Atlanta for months. On the day of the eclipse he took Mark and Michael Vinson to see the eclipse at Georgia Tech where a number of telescopes were set up on the roof of the Physics Building.
We watched the projections on screens as the moon took a bite out of the Sun which got bigger and bigger until the shadow of the moon approached the center of the Sun. This was to be an "annular eclipse" since in the particular configurations of the orbits, the disk of the moon didn't quite cover the Sun. As the moon's shadow slipped inside the bright disc of the Sun we saw the "diamond ring" effect as the Sun's light produced a brilliant spot on one side of the ring where there was more of it showing. Then we saw the diamond ring disappear to leave a ring of light, the annular eclipse. I glance down at my watch and it said 12:33 and my heart skipped a beat! I had been reading for months that the Sun would become annular at 12:33 on May 30th. So as a Ph. D. physicist I certainly shouldn't have been surprised, but yet I was awestruck at the precision of the motion of the Sun and moon and its predictability.
After the projected eclipse reached a sizable crescent past the eclipse, we came down off the roof and were walking toward the car. The boys noticed this first and commented about the nature of the shadow under a dogwood tree. I looked at this shadow and my heart skipped a beat again! Of course - the tiny gaps between the leaves of the dogwood tree were acting like pinhole cameras and projecting the image of the crescent Sun on the pavement beneath the tree! It had never occurred to me before. When you see the normal roundish spots of light beneath the tree under normal daylight conditions, those roundish spots are images of the round Sun. Now that the Sun was a crescent, you saw crescent images!
This solved a mystery for me, and I was feeling a bit sheepish about the fact that up on the roof I had briefly thought about the old stories of the terror of a solar eclipse to the ancients, and the fact that they thought some monster was gobbling up the Sun. I thought about it because there was absolutely no impression that something was gobbling the Sun, the light just gradually got dimmer like there were growing clouds over the Sun. But it had now dawned on me that the ancients weren't so dumb - they realized that the bright round spots under trees were Sun images, and then when they saw those images turn to crescents, it was perfectly plausible to assume that something was gobbling the Sun.
Mark and Michael examing the crescent patterns below the dogwood tree. I brought them down to learn about the eclipse, but I think I learned more than they did.
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