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The total solar eclipse in 2017.
The total solar eclipse in 2017.
Photo Credit: Teak Phillips

Southeastern parts of the Archdiocese of St. Louis will experience a total solar eclipse on April 8

St. Louis metro area will experience about 99% totality

“Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon” will display the beauty of God’s creation when a total solar eclipse sweeps across the southeastern part of the Archdiocese of St. Louis on Monday, April 8.

As he described in his hymn, “Canticle of the Sun,” St. Francis of Assisi believed that all of God’s creation is holy — and he likely would have counted an eclipse among that — with the elements of nature viewed as his brothers and sisters.

This is the second time in seven years that parts of the archdiocese have experienced a total solar eclipse. In 2017, the eclipse’s path of totality was visible in the St. Louis metropolitan area; this time, totality will occur in the southeastern part of Missouri, covering towns including Perryville, Ste. Genevieve and Farmington. (St. Louis will still see about 99% of the sun blocked by the moon.)

“You in St. Louis are the most amazing, lucky people — to have two within a 10-year span is pretty incredible,” said Thomas Sheahen, director emeritus of the St. Louis-based Institute for Theological Encounter with Science and Technology (ITEST).

There’s a certain regularity in which God created the universe, and an eclipse is a prime example of that, Sheahen said. There’s a scientific wonder to the precision in which eclipses occur, not to mention the ability of science to measure their occurrence hundreds of years in advance. For example, the St. Louis metro area won’t see another total solar eclipse until the year 2505.

“It’s astonishing that God who is present always could think up all of this stuff so elegantly,” Sheahen said. “We humans can only stand in awe.”

Before Christ, eclipses had a significant religious implication. The Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians learned from eclipses that the world and the moon were round. But they attached to that the idea of eclipses having significant social or political effects, all driven by the gods.

By the time of Jesus’ arrival, the religious significance of eclipses had pretty much diminished, Sheahen said. Part of the reason was that the longer humans experienced this significant event, they saw time and time again that the sun would go dark for a few brief minutes — and that was it. The idea that it was a supernatural event had fallen by the wayside.

In his book, “Everywhen: God, Symmetry and Time,” Sheahen observed that “by believing in the symmetry principles underlying the laws of nature, and following the mathematics, scientists can explain a lot and predict a lot. But every such step points further ahead, toward the brilliance of the Creator who gave us such an intelligible universe. It is astonishing to realize that in this way, God could actually create an intelligent being that is capable of loving God in return.”

Lauren Lester, a science teacher at St. Pius X High School in Festus, will teach classes virtually for a half-day and then head out to view the eclipse with her family, who live in Ste. Genevieve. Many schools within the path of totality have canceled classes so that students may enjoy the eclipse with their families. (In the St. Louis metro area, most schools will be in session, many of which will plan to watch the partial eclipse.)

Even though St. Pius X is just outside of the path of totality, Lester covered the science of eclipses last semester with juniors and seniors in an elective astronomy class. Students made posters identifying the timeline and phenomena of the eclipse. Students also chose a place along the path of totality that they wanted to visit.

At the conclusion of her science classes, Lester connects faith and science, often referring to resources such as physicist Father Robert Spitzer, SJ. “In all classes, I talk about faith and science and remind them that if this (creation) didn’t exist, we wouldn’t be able to be there,” she said. “It’s almost like somebody wanted us to be here.”

With an eclipse, “there’s a precision to it all — it’s very orderly and we can see that order, and it’s a gift in a way to know when these things are coming,” Lester said. “And you know that thing is coming, in the moment you can still feel the power of it. Knowing the science behind that doesn’t diminish the experience, it’s still amazing” and part of God’s creation.

What about the weather? Longtime meteorologist Mike Roberts said that while he and other local meteorologists share a concern about cloud cover that day, it won’t be possible to know until closer to the big event.

“There’s a decent hope for us that we will clear out in the morning and stay that way until mid-afternoon,” said Roberts, who now teaches theology at Marquette Catholic High School in Alton, Illinois, and provides forecasts and programming for The Saint of the Day on Covenant Catholic Radio. “I say if it’s cloudy in the morning, don’t give up on it.”

Roberts, too, clearly sees the connection between the spiritual journey of people of faith and the physical world that God has given to us. An event like an eclipse is reflective of that, “where we can track with such precision on one hand, and on the other hand we can feel something quite visceral that is beyond anything you learn in calculus.”

>> What you need to know

• The partial phase will begin in the early afternoon around 12:42 p.m. Totality will last from about 1:59 p.m. to 2:04 p.m. The eclipse will end about 3:17 p.m. Times may vary by a few minutes across the area.

• Across the United States, the path of totality is about 124 miles wide. This time the sun’s shadow will start in Mexico and move northeast, entering Texas, moving through Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois, then on through Indiana, Ohio and up into the northeast, completing its journey in Canada.

• Clear skies are necessary to have the full eclipse experience, with a clear view of the sun and moon. However, the daytime darkness associated with eclipses is still noticeable with cloud cover.

• To see all stages of a total solar eclipse, you must view it from somewhere along the path of totality. Those outside the path of totality may observe a partial eclipse, where the moon covers most — but not all — of the sun.

• The only safe time to look at the eclipse without eye protection is when the moon has completely covered the sun, the portion of the eclipse known as “totality.” It’s important to note that eclipse glasses are required for the entire duration of the eclipse when viewing from outside the path of totality.

• Plenty of places will be offering solar eclipse glasses. Be sure that they have this numerical designation: ISO: 12312-2. See Suppliers of Safe Solar Viewers & Filters | Solar Eclipse Across America (aas.org).

• Strange events may occur within nature. Because of the brief period of nightfall in the middle of the afternoon, a temperature drop might occur. Dusk to dawn lights may come on and shadows will look strange. Wildlife might become confused by the sudden change in sunlight.

• Other phenomenon during an eclipse include shadow bands, rapidly moving, long, dark bands separated by white spaces that can be seen on the sides of buildings or the ground just before and after totality; Baily’s Beads, which are light rays from the sun streaming through the valleys along the moon’s horizon, which results in several points of light shining around the moon’s edges; and the Diamond Ring, a single bright spot along the edge of the moon’s shadow right before the moment of totality.

• If you decide to stay home, but still want to see the total eclipse, NASA will livestream the event here:science.nasa.gov/eclipses/future-eclipses/eclipse-2024/live/

Missouri will once again be in the path of a total solar eclipse on Monday, April 8. The path of totality will cut across the southeast part of the state, including through Ste. Genevieve, Perryville, Poplar Bluff and Cape Girardeau.

This time the path of totality will be wider, the duration of totality will be longer and the number of people residing within the band of totality will be nearly three times as great as in 2017.

During a 2021 conference of the American Astronomical Society, Dr. Kate Russo, Author, Psychologist and Eclipse Chaser, compared the circumstances of the April 8 eclipse compared to the Aug. 21, 2017, eclipse:

From the Archive Module

Southeastern parts of the Archdiocese of St Louis will experience a total solar eclipse on April 8 9504

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