How do eclipses allow us to advance our knowledge of the cosmos?

This Saturday, once again, society will witness a new astronomical spectacle. From parts of South America and Antarctica you can see the first partial solar eclipse of the year, which will occur before and during sunset, after 5 pm (Argentina time). This type of event occurs when the Moon sits between the largest star in the Solar System and Earth. In this framework, the question is: why do astronomical phenomena attract so much attention? The answers can be multiple, but one that experts in the field undoubtedly tend to share is that astronomy is one of the few sciences in which even amateurs can participate. Just look at the sky and then the magic happens: you can see the Sun, the Moon, planets like Venus or Mars, and star constellations like Orion’s belt.

Historically, knowledge of the universe was of interest to humanity and was used as a way for societies to access scientific culture. The origin of the cosmos, the sphericity of the Earth, the Copernican revolution, the discovery of the Milky Way: discoveries, processes and questions that marked the pulse of modern Western science. in conversation with National University of Quilmes Science News Agency, Mariano Ribascoordinator of the dissemination area of ​​the Galileo Galilei Planetarium (CABA), defends that astronomy is the “most democratic of all” science.

“To be an astronomer, you first need to know the basics of the sky and it is very easy to access. The idea is as follows: the universe comes to youYou don’t have to go look for it. Anywhere in the world you have the sky above you and you can see what happens there”, expresses the science journalist and reference in the field of public communication.

The eclipse as a pedagogical excuse

Events like solar or lunar eclipses allow humans to understand what happens beyond planet Earth. It is that, ultimately, humanity is a small part of a huge system. In dialogue with this Agency, Diego Bagudirector of the Ciudad de La Plata Planetarium, explains that When a solar eclipse is total, what happens is that the alignment between the Sun, Moon and Earth is straight, which causes changes at the terrestrial level. Firstly, the temperature drops between two and four degrees abruptly, which is noticeable in people’s thermal sensation.

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Also, there is more wind and the light drops. Although it is not completely dark, the sun’s rays diminish its intensity. Bagú expresses: “Until the Moon finishes covering the Sun, there is a certain amount of light so that the pupils are not dilated. However, when the light goes out, they take a few minutes to adapt, it’s not a quick change. What happens, then, is that little light enters the eye and looks like it’s darker than it really is”.

total solar eclipses also affect animal behavior. People understand what is happening, but the fauna does not, which generates disorientation, since their routine is organized by sunlight. For example, many animals understand that, as there is little light, it is already late and they start doing certain activities, such as eating, when in reality it is not that time of day. In addition, birds feel a lot of noise and loss of flight.

Eclipses and Einstein

As mentioned, astronomy allowed society to access and be interested in science. In addition, more complex events, such as eclipses, have been the kick-off to advance the discovery of the cosmos. With the total solar eclipse that occurred in 1919, the General Theory of Relativity was verified for the first time, published by scientist Albert Einstein in 1915 –unlike previous works, this one included gravity among its principles–.

“Scientists at the time understood that the only way to confirm this theory was with a total solar eclipse, which they only saw in 1919,” says Bagú. He continues: “This phenomenon passed through northern Brazil, the Atlantic Ocean and southern Africa. Two expeditions were sent and found that Einstein’s theory was true. This was the last paradigm shift in modern science.”.

From the UNQ Science News Agency

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