When Day Turned to Night
Report from Canada
FEBRUARY 26, 1979, will long be remembered by many Canadians in central Manitoba. At 10:47 that morning, broad daylight abruptly turned to night. It was a total eclipse of the sun.
The moon’s orbit around the earth had brought the moon directly between the earth and the sun, completely blocking out the sun’s light wherever the moon’s shadow was projected onto the earth.
Because of the speed at which the shadow raced over the face of the earth, the time of total darkness as seen by observers in the center of the path of totality was slightly more than two minutes. The shadow traveled at about 3,000 km (1,900 mi.) per hour and darkened a path approximately 270 km (170 mi.) wide.
Viewers of solar eclipses generally speak of them as being “one of the most dramatic of all celestial spectacles.” The writers of the Rand McNally “Atlas of the Universe” describe a solar eclipse as follows: “A total eclipse of the Sun is probably the most magnificent sight in all nature. For a brief period, as the Moon hides the brilliant solar disc, the Sun’s atmosphere flashes into view; the red prominences and the pearly corona dominate the scene, and the sky darkens, so that stars may be visible.”
Solar eclipses are more than simply impressive entertainment. Total eclipses provide opportunity for scientific study of the sun’s corona that cannot be carried out at any other time.
Center of attention for the celestial display this time was the area just north of Winnipeg, Manitoba, in Canada—an area picked by scientists as “the best place to observe total darkness.” Other eclipse watchers positioned themselves along the path of totality, which would begin off the Pacific coast of the United States, swing across the northwest, and then travel northward through Canada to Hudson Bay and on to Greenland.
One of the few populated areas that lay directly in the center line of the path of totality was the tiny town of Arborg, about 113 km (70 mi.) north of Manitoba’s capital city, Winnipeg. Eclipse enthusiasts and scientists from all over North America and other parts of the world converged on Manitoba, and many of them on Arborg. It was estimated that at least 20,000 visitors traveled to Manitoba to view the eclipse.
To their joy, at sunrise the skies over central Manitoba were clear. At Arborg, visitors gathered south of town in a field that had been cleared of snow for their use. Cameras, binoculars and telescopes were set up, and eye protectors were checked.
Weeks before the eclipse, astronomers, optometrists and others had warned that looking directly at the partial solar eclipse, the stage just prior to and immediately after totality, could cause permanent damage to the retina of the eye. During totality—the period of total darkness—one could look directly at the eclipse, but the danger was posed by not knowing exactly when totality would begin and end. As well, because of the short duration of totality, viewers would be tempted to continue looking at the eclipse right into the eye-searing time when the sun would come out from behind the moon.
At 9:36 a.m. the first stage of the eclipse began with an ever-deepening twilight. It looked to us as if someone had taken a bite out of the side of the sun—and kept on nibbling as the partial eclipse gradually progressed toward totality.
When the total eclipse approached, the darkening of the sky speeded up and an eerie glow appeared in the northeastern sky. At approximately 10:47 a.m. the circle of the moon exactly covered the sun, blacking it out completely. The sight was, as astronomers have called it, “the glorious phenomenon of totality.” The entire sky was darkened, much like a night with a full moon, except for a glow extending all around the horizon. The pale halo of the sun’s corona came into view, framing the moon’s black disk with glowing crimson-red flares. Around us we could feel a drop in temperature and a brisk wind coming up.
Car lights were turned on. Birds and chickens went to roost and animals acted peculiarly, probably frightened by the sudden darkness.
The crowd of viewers gathered in that small field south of Arborg, struck by the scene above, let out a spontaneous cheer. Others just stood and watched in silent awe.
At 10:49 a.m. a bright light like a brilliant diamond ring suddenly flared out on the right-hand side of the dark moon when the sun started to reappear from behind the moon. As the thin crescent of the sun grew, its rays lit up the white snow around us. Just as suddenly as it had vanished, bright daylight returned. The spectacular show was over.
A writer for the Winnipeg “Free Press,” Alice Krueger, said: “The solar eclipse was such a humbling experience, it should really happen more often. At a time when it’s all too easy to get caught up in one’s own self-importance, there’s nothing like the eclipse to put things back into proper perspective.
“It forced one to contemplate the vastness of the universe and what a small part of it all our planet earth really is. It made one stop and think and it reminded us of how insignificant we, as individual human beings, are in the scheme of things.”
The Bible psalmist was led to say something similar years ago: “When I see your heavens, the works of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have prepared, what is mortal man that you keep him in mind, and the son of earthling man that you take care of him?”—Ps. 8:3, 4; compare Isaiah 40:26.
Scientists tell us it will be sometime in the 23rd century before residents of this area of Manitoba will again witness a total solar eclipse. The amazing thing is that the movements of the sun, moon and earth are so precise and dependable that scientists are able to pinpoint far in advance the time for such an event.
All of this gives evidence of the dependability of the Creator, Jehovah God, the One who is ‘the Father of the celestial lights, and with whom there is not a variation of the turning of the shadow.’ (Jas. 1:17) May such celestial phenomena aid us to appreciate his awesome majesty.
[Diagram on page 14]
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PATH OF TOTALITY