Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/newsletters/action/archives/id/12487-Eclipse-Facts.html
Fantasy: April 03, 2024 Issue [#12487]

 This week: Eclipse Facts
  Edited by: Robert Waltz
                             More Newsletters By This Editor  

Table of Contents

1. About this Newsletter
2. A Word from our Sponsor
3. Letter from the Editor
4. Editor's Picks
5. A Word from Writing.Com
6. Ask & Answer
7. Removal instructions

About This Newsletter

The ancients often believed a celestial event like an eclipse to be a bad omen, that the sun or the moon vanishing from the sky was a harbinger of disaster, a sign of devastation or destruction to come.
         —Jenna Wortham

The reports of the eclipse parties not only described the scientific observations in great detail, but also the travels and experiences, and were sometimes marked by a piquancy not common in official documents.
         —Simon Newcomb

It's best not to stare at the sun during an eclipse.
         —Jeff Goldblum

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Letter from the editor

With a solar eclipse soon to occur for parts of North America, I wanted to set some things straight about the phenomenon, because I've seen it grossly misused in popular fiction.

It's not necessary for fantasy to follow the same rules as reality. That's one of the purposes of fantasy. But, if you stray too far from consensus reality, people will notice. Like if you set a scene in southern Florida, and it's snowing. Or if you put palm trees in Boston—assuming contemporary or historical fiction, of course; if it's set in the future, that'll just say "climate change," but then you also have to build a wall around the low-lying city to keep it from flooding, and I'm really digressing here.

For example, I once saw a movie, which I won't name, that featured a total solar eclipse as a plot point. Story stuff happened, and then the scene jumped to that night. In order to show that it was, indeed, night, they use an establishment shot of the night sky, including a full moon.

This is a bigger error than, say, if you do an establishment shot of the Eiffel Tower while throwing up a title card that reads "London." Maybe in your alternate universe, they built the Eiffel Tower in London. I won't judge. But in no universe will a full moon occur the night after a solar eclipse, if your story is set on an otherwise recognizable Earth. An eclipse happens, it means the moon's on the same side of the Earth as the sun is, so it won't appear that night at all. You have to wait two weeks for the moon to cycle back around to appearing full. A solar eclipse always occurs at a new moon and, if it doesn't do so in your story, there needs to be some explanation (science, magic, aliens, gods, whatever) as to why.

On the other hand, a lunar eclipse can only occur at a full moon.

These sorts of things aren't only trivia bits or continuity errors for nerds like me to obsess over. They can contribute to the spread of misconceptions and misinformation. Using my Eiffel Tower in London establishment shot as an example again, if a viewer has been living under a rock, or is very young, such an error might make them think that the Eiffel Tower really is in London. Because of anchoring bias,   that misinformation will stick with them, and it will take numerous counterexamples, and maybe a trip to France, to convince them that the first information they got was not factual. Some people will never be convinced, no matter the facts or the evidence of their own eyes, and assume it's a conspiracy.

Congratulations, movie director person; you've just made the world a little stupider.

So, a few facts you should be aware of before playing fast and loose with them in Fantasy:

Solar eclipses occur at a new moon. As I discussed at length already.

Not every new moon results in a solar eclipse. The Moon orbits on a plane slightly tilted from Earth's orbit, so most months, its shadow misses the Earth entirely. You'd have to be in space to see it.

A solar eclipse is not a portent of doom. Doom happens on a frighteningly regular basis, but any temporal connection with an eclipse is pure coincidence. Unless your plot needs it not to be, of course.

Totality usually lasts considerably less than five minutes. I've seen fiction presenting it as an hours-long affair. If so, there needs to be technology or magic involved.

Totality is only visible from a relatively narrow track. Outside of this track, there are various levels of partial eclipse, or no eclipse. It will not be seen from an entire hemisphere at the same time, the way a lunar eclipse is.

Not every solar eclipse is a total eclipse. Because orbits are elliptical, sometimes the Moon appears smaller in the sky, and/or the Sun appears larger, and the former doesn't completely cover the latter. While a cool effect, it can't be as awesome to see as a total eclipse.

The average return time for a total eclipse at any given point on the surface of the Earth is about 400 years. This fact will be scoffed at by some people in southern Illinois/western Kentucky, in the area where the 2017 path of totality crosses the 2024 path of totality. But an outlier doesn't disprove an average. A total eclipse returning in 7 years is plain luck.

It is only during a total eclipse that one can see the Sun's corona. That's a region of hot glowing gas extending a long ways from the solar orb. Its glow is always overwhelmed by that of the Sun itself, except during an eclipse. No photograph,   however well-made, can capture it adequately.

There is no sight on Earth more awesome than that of a total solar eclipse. Okay, that's not a fact, but it's my considered opinion. Partial eclipses are cool, but not even close to the awesomeness. Annular eclipses are cool, too, but you can't see the corona. And you might be thinking, "No, seeing my newborn's face for the first time was more awesome," but no, that's just biology convincing you to take care of the thing.

So there it is. If you're planning on watching the eclipse (I am, weather permitting of course), don't look at the Sun without adequate eye protection (you can remove it during actual totality, but only then), and if you tell me it wasn't the most awesome thing you've ever seen, I simply won't believe you.

Editor's Picks

Some Fantasy, not necessarily solar, but maybe stellar:

Bo and Sprinkles, Unwelcome Sky Visitor  [ASR]
Bo and Sprinkles have to deal with a unwelcome sky visitor. Nominated for a Quill.
by Princess Megan Rose GOT Fox

 Simba gets a surprise  [E]
Set in "The Lion King" world. It's a short tale that popped in my head. A light, fun read.
by laure

Broken Dreams  [18+]
"I never believed they existed, but this one is staring right at me."
by Tiggy-Cheers for House Martell

 The Remarkable Age(s) of Steam  [E]
Steam technology, yesterday, today, and when?
by Vincent Coffin

 The Moon and Her Family (part 1)  [13+]
All myths are based on some shred of truth, but is the truth really what you seek.
by zixxfire

Nightmare  [E]
When night and day collide
by Genipher

The Promise  [ASR]
Daganth the Warrior soared the skies ... A DreamTime Dragon Entry
by 🌕 HuntersMoon

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Ask & Answer

Last time, in "Flags, I talked about flags in Fantasy settings.

s : A couple of YT videos about flags:

         Good info; thanks!

tj ~ endeavors to persevere! : Another good edition. Normally I just read through and don't comment, it's a time thing, but after your comment on my comment I thought perhaps I should at least leave a not saying I read this and thank you for the time you put into it.

         Your comments are appreciated!

So that's it for me. See you next time (unless of course the eclipse really does portend global doom)! Until then,


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