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An Interview with a Solar Eclipse Engineer

An Interview with a Solar Eclipse Engineer

Whoever knew the job could be this complex—and exasperating?

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This August 21 (eve of the month of Elul on the Jewish calendar), daylight will suddenly become twilight. Birds will cease their chatter. Temperatures will plummet. Massive streamers of light will streak through the sky around the silhouette of the moon.

There will also be some real bad traffic. About 25 million people live within a day’s drive of the “narrow band of totality”—the perfect view of the solar eclipse that will make its path across America.

And how could you miss it?

Astronomy is pretty much built into Judaism. For much of our history, that’s how you figured out when the months and years began, and which direction to face so that you could pray towards Jerusalem.

It’s also considered Astronomy is considered a great way to get to know your Creator and fall in love with Him.a great way to get to know your Creator and fall in love with Him.

In the words of the great codifier of Jewish law, Maimonides:

When a person contemplates G‑d’s wondrous and great deeds and creations and appreciates His infinite wisdom that surpasses all comparison, he will spontaneously love, praise and glorify Him, yearning with tremendous desire to know His great name, as David sang: “My soul thirsts for the L‑rd, for the living G‑d” [Psalms 42:3].1

And the sages of the Talmud:

Anyone who knows how to calculate the astronomical seasons and the movements of the constellations and does not do so, the verse says about him: “They do not take notice of the work of G‑d, and they do not see His handiwork” (Isaiah 5:12).2

“Do you want to recognize the One who spoke and the world came into being?” said Rabbi Meir. “Do astronomy.”3

As for the solar eclipse, we found a true expert on the topic:


Cosmic Design For Meat-Heads—An Interview With an Expert

Tzvi Freeman for Chabad.org: Hey Solly, it’s great to have you on the show. So you were on the original team that engineered the solar eclipse?

Angel: Let’s just say we took care of implementation. The design…

TF: So what’s the big deal for a cosmic engineer? Just line up a moon in front of a sun, and, hey, you’ve got an eclipse!

A: [Blank stare]

TF: Like, earth . . . moon . . . sun . . . umm . . .

A: You humans are made of meat, aren’t you?

TF: Meat?

A: I mean, like your brains, too. It’s meat up there? ’Cuz that explains a lot. [holding head in hands] Oh, why? Why did we ever bother attempting this? They’ve had thousands of years, and they still don’t appreciate our incomprehensible genius. What can you expect from a walking meat patty?

TF: Let me explain again. It’s simple . . .

A: Not so simple, Tzvi. You see, to get a perfect solar eclipse, from the perspective of some meathead standing on Earth and looking up at our favorite orbs, the moon has to appear to be exactly the same size as the sun—but just a very slight degree smaller. Problem there: The sun’s diameter is overwhelmingly gigantic compared to the puny little moon. Like 400 times bigger.

TF: Whoa—so how does such a tiny speck cover up such a giganormous sun?

A: Yes, that was the problem. Like let me hold up a picture of what happened when we did a beta-test eclipse with Mars and its moon:

TF: Lousy job there.

A: No worries. We knew there wouldn’t be any people on Mars to see it for a really long time. So we did the math real careful-like for Earth and concluded we’d have to put the sun exactly 400 times further from the earth than the moon—but just a nudge less. I’m going to project a diagram now for the audience.

TF: But we don’t have a projector!

A: You do now—courtesy of Heaven Incorporated.

A: Get it? 1392000/3478 = 400.23001725.

TF: Cool.

A: Distance of earth from sun: ~150 million km. Distance of moon from earth: ~384 thousand km. 150000000/384000 = 390. That gives you a moon just slightly smaller than the sun—perfect for viewing the sun’s most outer layer with the naked eye.

TF: Well that’s pretty simple.

A: Oy.

TF: Can I get you a cold glass of water?

A: Tzvi, I’m sure even meat-patties like you get some tough assignments in life. The kind where the boss throws so many requirements at you, it looks downright impossible.

TF: Sure, like interviewing an angel.

A: Well, we were given a rather detailed spec sheet for this job. Take a look at this:


Project Solar Eclipse

Objectives:

  1. Human beings will gradually learn to predict movement of cosmic bodies and recognize elemental forces of cosmos, including insights into the principles of gravity (through observation of movement of cosmic bodies), the electromagnetic spectrum (through observation of chromosphere during solar eclipse), and nuclear forces (with the aid of that same solar eclipse), with an ever-receding horizon of understanding.

  2. Humanity will come to realize that like everything in nature that they take for granted, a solar eclipse is another exemplar of the astonishing miracles of everyday creation.

Requirements:

  1. Intelligent life, capable of recognizing cyclical patterns and reducing them to formulas that attain accurate predictions.

  2. Habitat capable of sustaining such intelligent life.

  3. Atmosphere to protect such life from hazardous cosmic rays, asteroids, etc., while simultaneously allowing such life to observe cosmic bodies and their movements.

  4. Habitat must be placed in a geometrically guided system simple enough to deduce from frame of reference of this intelligent life, sufficiently distant from dense galactic center for clear observation, yet close enough to have something to observe.

  5. Large, spherical light-emitting body (heretofore known as “sun”) close enough to be observed as well as to provide necessary conditions for said intelligent life, yet far enough so as not to toast it.

  6. Smaller body closer to frame of reference of said intelligent life, placed so as to appear just as round as abovementioned sun, large enough to cover the photosphere of the sun, but not so large as to cover the (otherwise imperceptible) chromosphere of the sun.

  7. Said smaller body must follow a trajectory that allows for predictable perfect alignment with that sun.

  8. Simultaneously, said smaller body will act as a critical element for favorable conditions of said intelligent life.


TF: Whoa, that’s ridiculous! Too much! Just no way! So how did you handle that? Didn’t you want to just throw your hands up in the air and walk off the project?

A: Well, we don’t have hands, for one thing. And we don’t walk. We’re just intellect without bodies. What you see here are avatars. But it was tough nonetheless. At first we thought it was impossible.

TF: So you asked for some wiggle room in the requirements.

A: So at first we figured, maybe we’re meant to make this habitat a moon. Maybe that would make the eclipse much easier.

TF: Hey, good thinking!

A: But no, that just made orbits and sizes even more impossible. And, besides, the intelligent life would never be able to figure out the movement of things. It would all look just so complicated that it might as well be random.

TF: I can imagine Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, et al, on the moon, trying to figure out what on earth is going on. One too many degrees of complexity.

A: So back to planets. We had to find a perfect ratio for the size of the sun and the distance of a planet spinning about it that would allow for the right temperatures, visibility, etc.

TF: You couldn’t fiddle with those parameters?

A: Hey, we’re just implementation. The gravitational constant, speed of light, electron charge and all that stuff was already set before we came on the job.

TF: So you were stuck.

A: Actually, no. That’s when we realized those constants were set up perfectly for the job. The fundamental parameters of the universe were dictating to us precisely how this event was to be set up.

TF: Okay, so now you found the right distance for the sun . . .

A: Which is real tight. Just a little closer or further, the whole H2O deal, the oxygen, carbon, nitrogen levels, temperatures—none of that could work.

TF: And the moon distance?

A: Same deal. We couldn’t make the moon smaller and super-close, because that would be a big problem for tides, axial instability—lots of stuff. So it had to be super-big in comparison to the planet.

TF: Hey, you just told me it was a speck!

A: Relative to the sun, yes. But humongous in comparison to the habitat planet. Here’s a chart to show that:

TF: That’s incredible! But wouldn’t such a relatively large moon just rip apart the planet?

A: Has it?

TF: No.

A: It’s all an outcome of those original parameters. We were able to put it far enough away that it wouldn’t be ripped apart and make rings like those around Saturn, but close enough to provide a total eclipse.

TF: Talk about economy of design!

A: We haven’t even touched on that yet. Get this: Once we determined the exact size and distance needed for the photosphere eclipse, we realized those were also the perfect conditions necessary to sustain an intelligent life-form observer on the planet!

TF: How does that work?

A: Without an enormous moon like this, your planet’s axis would be real wobbly. But the moon’s mass, at its perfect distance, is just what’s needed to stabilize the planet’s rotational axis.4

TF: I’m losing you.

A: The tilt of the axis is what makes the seasons. So with an unstable axis, sometimes you would get wildly extreme seasons, freezing half the planet and burning the other. And sometimes you would have almost no seasons at all. Without the stabilization that the moon’s mass provides, these changes would happen too quickly for life to adjust.

TF: So you might have life, but it wouldn’t be intelligent like us.

A: Hey, it takes a lot of stability to sustain intelligent meat.Then there’s the planet’s rotation, which gives you day and night. With the moon as it is, you get a nice 24-hour day that keeps the temperature fairly even from pole to equator. Change that, and you’ll either spin so fast that the poles get colder and the tropics hotter, or so slowly that the days are too hot and the nights too cold.

TF: Just because it’s in the right place for an eclipse?

A: And as soon as the moon drifts out of the zone where it can make the ideal eclipse, all that stability is kaput!

TF: But why should earth’s stability have anything to do with requirements for an eclipse?

A: And then there’s tides. Tides keep nutrients flowing from land to sea, sea to land. They help transport heat from the equator to the poles—so Miami doesn’t melt. And that’s how the deep sea currents work, too. Hey, Europe would be frozen over without the gravitational pull of that enormous moon on the ocean!5

TF: And there are no other planets in the solar system with eclipses?

A: Well, there’s one. Out of close to 200 moons, there’s one. There’s the potato moon.

TF: Potato moon?

A: A.k.a. Prometheus. It’s a moon to Saturn. It comes into alignment with the sun once in a while.

TF: So we’re not unique!

A: But there’s a problem. It’s a potato.

TF: Oh. I see. That wouldn’t look too spectacular.

A: It does do an eclipse—for about a second. And as you can see, no total eclipse. But the closest you get outside of Planet Earth.

TF: But it’s an alignment.

A: Well, yes, alignments are good. That way, humans begin to realize how clockwork everything out there is. They start putting math and science together.

TF: Never understood why math and science should work together.

A: No reason. Just another set-up job.

TF: Huh?

A: But alignments alone are not enough to achieve our objectives. The idea is also to make the chromosphere visible. And that happens because the visible sphere of the moon is just slightly smaller than that of the sun. So it blocks out the photosphere of the sun—the sphere you usually see—thereby allowing you to see the outer layer, namely the chromosphere. And some of the outer flares, as well.

TF: What for?

A: Hey, without viewing that chromosphere, you people would never have discovered helium—the second most plentiful element in the universe. You would have little idea of what stars are made of. Astrophysics would never have gotten off the ground.

TF: Astrophysics is cool.

A: Along with a lot of physics.

TF: We need physics.

A: Including Einstein’s relativity—which was proven by observation of the bending of light during an eclipse! Basically, the solar eclipse provides the clues that the universe is a never-ending mystery. Not some closed system, but a wonder of infinite depth.

TF: So let me get all this straight. You’re saying that the same conditions that are necessary to stage an eclipse that will reveal the chromosphere are the same conditions necessary to support intelligent life that can observe that eclipse and learn from it!

A: Yes! Now you’re getting it!

TF: Because an eclipse is entirely a subjective experience. So no observer, no eclipse.

A: You’re really thinking now!

TF: And these conditions, like the distance and mass of the moon, of the sun, our place in the universe . . .

A: All amazingly synchronized to fulfill two conditions at once!

TF: And there’s no real reason that should be so!

A: No. No physical reason. Like you said, economy of design. Way beyond anything that ever came out of Cupertino.

TF: But how could that be?

A: Are you getting it? Are you getting it? There’s only one way this could be. There’s no way you can design without any workarounds or glitches like this and such economy of design unless…

TF: Unless?

A: Unless the same One who makes the design is the same One who sets up the fundamental parameters of time, space, energy, mass and movement! Basically, existence and design—hardware and software—all from the same Manufacturer.

TF: What an amazing coincidence! Wow, life’s like that, you know. Full of coincidences!

A: I think I need a therapist.6

See Also

Footnotes
1.

Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Foundations of Torah 2:2.

2.

Talmud, Shabbat 75a. Further, there:

Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani said that Rabbi Yochanan said: From where is it derived that there is a mitzvah incumbent upon a person to calculate astronomical seasons and the movements of the constellations? As it was stated: “You shall guard and perform, for it is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations” (Deuteronomy 4:6). What wisdom and understanding is there in the Torah that is in the eyes of the nations [i.e., appreciated and recognized by all]? You must say: This is the calculation of the astronomical seasons and the movements of the constellations [as the calculation of experts is witnessed by all].

3.

Cited as a Baraita by Maimonides in a responsum (Pe’er Hador 53).

4.
D. Waltham, “Anthropic Selection for the Moon’s Mass,” Astrobiology 4 (2004): 460–468
5.
W. Munk and C. Wunsch, “Abyssal Recipes II,” Deep-Sea Research 45 (1998): 1976–2009, confirmed by G. D. Egbert and R. D. Ray, “Significant dissipation of tidal energy in the deep ocean inferred from satellite altimeter data,” Nature 405 (2000): 775–778.
6.

The author would like to thank Dr. Gordon Drukier for his assistance and fact-checking on this article.

In addition, the following books proved invaluable in preparing this article:

Weird Astronomy by David Seargant.

The Privileged Planet by Guillermo Gonzales and Jay W. Richards.

Improbable Planet by Hugh Ross.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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Izzy Kalman Staten Island October 25, 2017

Tzvi, I am so impressed with your article! Several years ago, I had a the same realization about the eclipse and I recently wrote it up in my Psychology Today blog. I searched on the Internet and found only one person that had a similar understanding (but what the person wrote got a bit nutty, so people couldn't take him seriously). I even offered to write up my article for the Jewish audience on this Chabad.org site. (I didn't get an answer.) And now I discover that someone already did it! Yasher Koach!

If you want to read my article, Google "A Possible Sign from God That He (It) Exists" Reply

RadarRecon Texas August 21, 2017

I'll start by admitting that I haven't yet read the article, but if this eclipse can't be seen from Israel, why should we think that it's important in prophecy? As far as I can tell, Israel is the center of the Universe for biblical prophecy. Reply

Joe Matlock Texas August 18, 2017

Might the meaning of the eclipse on 8-21-2017 be a warning/suggestion to the United States that we should repent (turn from self to G-d) over the next 30 days to prepare for the Holy of Holies 30 days later; and thus better experience of the "Awe of G-d" 40 days from the beginning of the 6th month of the Jewish Calendar?

Is 7 a number for fulfillment? Could 7 years be the time frame G-d is giving the U.S. to repent and return to Him?

This time (8-21/22-2017) the eclipse travels across the center of the U.S. from West to East. Approximately 7 years from now (4/08/2024) the eclipse will travel across the U.S. from East to West. Is there any significance that the two lines cross in Little "Egypt", IL?

Let's grow in daily repentance for 7 years and take no chances, right? What harm could it do? Loose weight? Eliminate vices? Rebuild relationships with family and friends? I'm in...are you? Reply

Tzvi Freeman August 17, 2017

Article revised and expanded today (08/17/2017). Reply

Anonymous Camarillo, CA, USA via chabadcamarillo.com August 13, 2017

If the purpose of eclipses was so that we could see them, then they would have made it possible for us to look at them safely. Since looking at them makes us go blind (forever), I think it's pretty obvious that they don't exist for the purpose of being seen by humans. Reply

Yudi Altein Brooklyn August 15, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

During the few minutes of the actual total eclipse, when the sun is entirely covered, it can be viewed safely even without eclipse glasses (which are needed before and after that time, as well as in the areas outside the path of totality). Reply

Esther Astruc from Tucson August 17, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

But it IS possible to see them using special glasses, devices, cameras, videos, etc, so that is also called "seeing".

Thanks a million Rabbi Freeman for an absolutely amazing article that increases our sense of Awe for our Creator and the incredible design of the Universe He created! Reply

Laurel Kornfeld Highland Park August 10, 2017

"...but not so large as to cover the (otherwise imperceptible) chromosphere of the sun."
~This should read corona, not chromosphere. The corona is the outer layer of the sun visible only during a total solar eclipse.

Your chart showing the relation of Moon Mass/Planet Mass is missing the planet Pluto, which does have a large moon, Charon. Charon is 50 percent the size of Pluto and was likely formed in a giant impact much like the one that created Earth's moon. Reply

Tzvi Freeman August 14, 2017
in response to Laurel Kornfeld:

You are correct that the corona, the third layer of the sun, can also be seen during the solar eclipse. But so can the chromosphere, the second layer, which is otherwise to be seen against the brilliant photosphere.

Pluto used to be on that chart, but it's no longer considered a planet. Reply

Anonymous Camarillo, CA, USA via chabadcamarillo.com August 14, 2017
in response to Laurel Kornfeld:

Pluto doesn't count. First, Pluto is no longer officially considered a planet. Second, Pluto is so far from the sun that the sun doesn't look much brighter than some other stars, and the stars are always visible because it's darker in the day than on earth at night, so an eclipse would not really be all that impressive. It would just be one fewer bright spots in the dark sky. It's wouldn't get dark, because it's always dark. The stars would not come out in the day, because the stars are always out, and there is no "day". A lunar eclipse would be even more of a dud, because the moon is always dark (because it's also so far from the sun) so you wouldn't notice anything. Reply

Laurel Kornfeld Highland Park, NJ August 17, 2017
in response to Tzvi Freeman:

You're correct about the chromosphere; both it and the corona can be seen only during a total solar eclipse.

However, you are not correct about Pluto. The status of Pluto remains a matter of debate in the planetary science community. Only four percent of the International Astronomical Union voted on the controversial demotion, and most are not planetary scientists but other types of astronomers. Their decision was immediately opposed by hundreds of professional astronomers led by New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern. Stern and like-minded scientists favor the alternative, geophysical definition that does not require an object to clear its orbit to be a planet, and counts dwarf planets as a subclass of planets. Google and visit "Laurel's Pluto Blog" for more on the Pluto debate. Reply

Laurel Kornfeld Highland Park, NJ August 17, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Please note my comment above. Pluto's planet status remains a matter of debate; many leading scientists in the world do consider it and all dwarf planets to be a subclass of planets. So yes, Pluto does count. At its noon, Pluto has about the darkness of early twilight on Earth. It is not completely dark. The Sun still looks bigger and brighter from Pluto than other stars do. Pluto and Charon do at times eclipse one another; it is from such eclipses that Pluto was discovered to have an atmosphere.

I have been actively leading opposition to the controversial demotion of Pluto for 11 years. This is not a settled issue. Reply

Yudi Altein Brooklyn, NY August 9, 2017

If this won't amaze us, what will?

On a different note, I have a hunch the amount of hours spent preparing this article is somewhat proportionate to the amount of paragraphs contained thereof. Kol hakavod. Reply

Anonymous Oak Park August 8, 2017

Disagree with these statements: So you were on the original team that engineered the solar eclipse?

Angel: You bet. We developed the design for the first one, and every one that has ever happened since.
It was designed by G-d. Not the angels. Reply

Tzvi Freeman August 9, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

You're right. Those angels, always trying to take credit for work that is not of their own design!

Like I said, all they did was the engineering. And even then, they're just conduits of wisdom. Reply

S.A NJ August 9, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Wasn't there a commandment not to wander physically past the clouds? Were humans really supposed to be knowledgeable about Mars Jupiter Saturn and creating space junk? The irony is the question and the platform it is being asked on. Really deep stuff. Reply

Anonymous Camarillo, CA, USA via chabadcamarillo.com August 14, 2017
in response to S.A:

Did the Tower of Babel go higher than 100 miles (160 kilometers)?

If so, how did they breath? Airplanes need pressurized cabins about approximately 8000 feet (25,000 meters).

If no, why were the angels so bothered by the possibility that it might reach heaven, but not so concerned about Apollo spacecraft going all the way to the moon -- approximately a quarter of a million miles (400,000 km)? Reply

S.A August 15, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

I've read that the Apollo spacecraft imagery was a hoax. There have been spacecrafts that plunged back to the earth in flames (ex. Challenger on live television) Reply

ML London UK August 8, 2017

Dear Tzvi. Thank you for a wonderful exploration of the eclipse phenomenon. I just wanted it to carry on longer with even more striking evidence. When you say an eclipse can only be subjective do you mean that only an observer feeling awe at seeing the precise superposition of moon over sun makes it an eclipse? So when it happened before people were there to see it , it was an alignment of three bodies but not an eclipse? I love the idea of eclipses as a gateway to a sense that even though Existence is unfathomable we can keep on understanding it better and better. Reply

Tzvi Freeman August 9, 2017
in response to ML:

Hi ML. I meant something much more basic than that.

Without an observer, all you have is an alignment of the sun, moon and earth. That's not an eclipse. An eclipse means we see the moon covering the sun.

An eclipse by definition requires an observer, standing in the right place, seeing what he sees. Reply

SG Ohio August 8, 2017

”The tilt of the axis is what makes the seasons”. ”Then there’s the planet’s rotation, which gives you day and night”- isn't this contrary Jewish belief? Reply

Tzvi Freeman August 8, 2017
in response to SG:

Not that I know of. How could anything that can be empirically demonstrated be contrary to a true belief? When calculating and predicting orbits and forces, we use whatever frame of reference works easiest.
What does seem contrary to our belief system is the notion that there is no "special" frame of reference. From a Torah perspective, the human observer, and you in particular, are a special frame of reference. And, btw, the anthropic principle concurs. Which is what this article is about. Reply

Yudi Altein Brooklyn, NY August 9, 2017
in response to SG:

Regarding the tilt of the Earth's axis, this phenomenon is mentioned in numerous Jewish sources. See, for example, Rabbi Ovadya Seforno, Bereishit 8:22 and Maimonides, Laws of Sanctifying the New Moon, Ch. 19.

Regarding Earth's rotation, some say this is what is meant by the Zohar (Vol. 3 p. 10a): "The entire civilization rotates in a circle like a ball." Reply

Anonymous Camarillo, CA, USA via chabadcamarillo.com August 14, 2017
in response to Tzvi Freeman:

Psalm 104:5 and 1 Chronicles 16:30 both say that the earth does not move. (Chabad now translates these as saying that it will not "falter" but the traditional translation, which presumably follows Oral Torah, is that the earth will be be stationary and will not move.) Reply

Hessel Meilech Cape town August 8, 2017

The biggest problem in Torah is how over one million people survived for one day in the sands of Sinai without water, food and fruit and tents and firewood to protect them from the extremes of temperature.It is no longer science versus religion but archeology versus religion.Therefore when Joshua entered Canaan it was an Egyptian Provence. Reply

Tzvi Freeman August 8, 2017
in response to Hessel Meilech:

Sorry, Hessel, but I don't see the problem here. The Torah itself describes the miracle of the manna, the well of Miriam and the clouds of glory.

As for archaeological artifacts —there are plenty of major events for which no artifacts remain.

For example, there is no trace left of the myriads employed to build the pyramids. There is no archeological evidence of the sacking of Carthage. Many more examples can be cited. Reply

Hessel Meilech Cape town August 17, 2017
in response to Tzvi Freeman:

Did manna contain proteins,carbohydrates,vitamins and fats.There is no river under Sinai to supply 3 million gallons of water per day.The ruins of homes next some of the pyramids have been found. From the Roman senate Carthage delenda est.The first flats in the world were at Carthage.Therefore there is documents from Carthage. However from the 40 yrs in the desert nothing because nobody could survive that long,without dehydration. The Egyptians in Sinai lasted 3 days before dying in the 1967 war.If we had proof of the exodus If would be easier to defend Torah. Best regards,Hessel Meilech Reply

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