Occurrences of solar and lunar eclipses

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Monday of last week was a spectacular day in North America because tens of millions of people watched a total solar eclipse. An eclipse is a phenomenon characterized by the alignment of three heavenly bodies – Sun, Moon, Earth. When the Moon blocks the Sun from the Earth, it is called a solar eclipse, and when the Earth blocks the Sun from the Moon, it is termed a lunar eclipse.

The former is what happened last Monday, and the blockage was visible from North America. A total darkening of the Sun was only visible from a narrow band that swept across the USA in a north westerly direction into West Canada. Viewers outside that band could only see a partial eclipse in which the Sun would only appear partially hidden.

There are four types of solar eclipses. The first two, namely total and partial, have been described in the preceding paragraph. A partial eclipse may also occur in the absence of a total eclipse if the alignment of the three bodies is not perfect. A third type is an annular eclipse. This occurs when there is perfect alignment but the Moon is at or near its farthest point from the Earth. It, therefore, appears small and is not able to totally cover the Sun. The last type is called a hybrid eclipse. Due to the curvature of the Earth’s surface, an annular eclipse may appear to develop to a total eclipse as the Moon moves across the Earths curved surface, leading to a hybrid eclipse.

Malawi experienced a total solar eclipse on the 21st of June in 2001. It was a strange phenomenon to many, prompting locals to coin a new Chichewa word, Kadamsana (which would literally translate to “getting dark during the day”). A local alcoholic drink has since been branded to that name. As eclipses are rare occurrences, the next solar eclipse visible from Malawi will take place on the 25th of November, 2030. Although this will be a total eclipse elsewhere, it will only appear as a partial eclipse in Malawi. Viewers in Blantyre should expect to see the partial eclipse between 6:22 and 8:25, with the maximum effect at 7:20 in the morning of that day. Those who want to see the next total solar eclipse in Malawi should wait until the 13th of June 2132.

Eclipses have been used by historians to date past events, whose dates were not recorded. When Zwangendaba Jele led his Ngoni people northwards from South Africa, for example, they crossed the Zambezi at Zumbo on a day on which a total eclipse of the Sun, visible from that place, occurred. From that data historians have been able to determine the crossing date as the 15th of November, 1835. Zwangendaba proceeded north and died in the Ufipa region in Tanganyika in 1848. Several factions emerged following the squabbles over his succession that ensued. One of those factions trekked back south and settled in Northern Malawi, overrunning Chikulamayembe’s Tumbuka people, by killing Chikulamayembe VIII, in 1855.

Many people have been curious about the darkness which the Gospel writers tell us covered the earth when Jesus was crucified. Could this have been as a result of a solar eclipse. The simple answer is that if the darkness was the result of a natural occurrence, it could not have been due to a solar eclipse. The crucifixion happened during the Passover period. Passover always coincided with the full Moon and solar eclipses do not occur when the Moon is in full blossom. At full Moon, the Moon is on the opposite side of the Earth to the Sun, from which it appears to be fully lit.

The only eclipse possible during full Moon is a lunar eclipse. This occurs when Sun, Earth and Moon align in such a way that the Earth blocks the Sun from the Moon.

There is a very real possibility that there was a lunar eclipse on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. The National Aeronautical Space Agency (NASA) has maps of incidences of solar and lunar eclipses stretching as far back as 5,000 years. Searching within such maps, one learns that there were four solar eclipses during the reign of Pontius Pilate in Judea (26 – 36 AD). The one closest to the time of Jesus’ death was on 19th March, 33 AD but it was not visible from Jerusalem, its path of totality being near Antarctica.

But a lunar eclipse, according to the same NASA records, occurred on 3rd April, AD 33. It was likely preceded by a dust storm causing darkness over Jerusalem. The lunar eclipse resulted in a blood Moon (Joel  2:31).

Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top
Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap