(This article was written to be published this coming Monday, August 21, but we decided to post it a few days early due to the tremendous interest in the upcoming total solar eclipse.)
My name is Andy Puckett, and I’m a professional astronomer. When I look at the world around me, I tend to see the big picture. The Sun “rises and sets” because the Earth rotates. Seasons change due to the tilt of the Earth’s axis. The position and phase of the Moon are based on the predictable motions of the Moon and the Earth. And all of these are based on the physical laws of the universe: motion, gravitation, acceleration.
I am also a Christian, so I see God’s hand in all of this. I know that He doesn’t move the moons and planets capriciously. I see the order and predictability of their motions. And I believe that God wrote the underlying laws of motion, and that he also gave me the curiosity to try to understand them.
Today (August 21st), many of you may get to see a total eclipse of the Sun. That’s when the Moon gets directly between the Earth and the Sun, and you find yourself in the darkest part of the Moon’s shadow. The Moon is 400 times smaller than the Sun but also 400 times closer, which is the happy “coincidence” that makes this amazing event possible. But the Moon’s orbital plane doesn’t line up perfectly with the Earth’s, which is what prevents solar eclipses from being regular monthly events.
It’s very rare that a total solar eclipse passes within driving distance of your house, and even rarer for one to pass directly over where you live. If you do happen to be within the 70-mile wide “path of totality” today, you’re in for a treat! For up to 2 minutes 40 seconds, it will become as dark as night; the wind will get cooler and change direction; the solar corona will pop into view; and everyone around you will know that they’ve experienced something extraordinary.
I’m a scientist, and there’s great science to be done during an eclipse, but that’s not my plan for today. I’ve been looking forward to this eclipse for 20 years, so I’m going to just take it all in. And I’m going to make sure my family gets to experience it safely, including my brother-in-law Shannon and all of our kids. I hope to help them see the big picture, and God’s hand in all of it.
A note from Shannon about this week’s article:
Andy Puckett is my brother-in-law and the Assistant Professor of Astrophysics at Columbus State University in Columbus, GA. Andy is also a practicing Catholic and is perhaps more excited than anyone else I know about the much-anticipated Total Solar Eclipse, set to dazzle us this Monday. For this article, Orin and I asked Andy to do an eclipse-related followup to Orin’s joy-themed article from a few weeks ago, entitled “Ongoing Creation”. In that article, Orin asked the question: “What is it that you are doing these days, using the creative gifts given you, at the service of God and the Church?” In our view, through the witness of his Catholic faith and the joyful enthusiasm with which he shares his knowledge of our physical universe, Andy is daily answering God’s call to glorify God with his life. We thank Andy for taking the time to write this for us.