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The 2017 "Let Them Be For Signs" Series

I've decided to make this year's ongoing astronomical discussion an official series.  So, for your convenience, links to articles...

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Throwing Cold Water On Astronomical "Signs"

I was informed by a relative today that there was, apparently, a lunar eclipse yesterday.  She was confirmed when I checked the news to see that, lo and behold, the Eastern Hemisphere of the Earth was indeed treated to this solar spectacle.  And then, to think, we get to witness the Perseid Meteor Shower later this Saturday.

What an amazing and eventful astronomical month this has been.  And what a year.  In fact, I think that the only astronomical event that would amaze me even more would be the supernova of Betelgeuse, there in the armpit of Orion.  I cannot imagine what it would be like to have two suns in the sky for a period of months (if calculations are correct).  

When Betelgeuse explodes, it will be brighter than the moon, and visible during the day.
This event could happen tomorrow, or 1000 years from now.  A neutrino flood will alert us
to the star's intense destruction.  But it's explosion is imminent in astronomical terms.  

Yet if this is truly a time for God-sent astronomical signs in the sky--signs and wonders in the Heavens--then perhaps it would not be a total surprise to see the Betelgeuse supernova.

However, I'd like to finish this week's series of astronomy articles with a bit of sobriety.  Namely, I'd like to take down any unreasonable expectations of this upcoming total solar eclipse.  I've built up how awe-inspiring and coincidental the event is to many religious phenomena.  I demonstrated yesterday that, in these matters, I will draw a line on fads that go too far for my taste.

So, now for the sake of balance, let's consider the possibility that this upcoming eclipse is not a supernatural event.  After all, total solar eclipses have occurred in the United States before. 

The Solar Eclipse of 1979

The last time a total solar eclipse traversed the North American continent--but not the contiguous United States--was February 26, 1979.

I honestly can't think of anything significant that may have happened to the United States in 1979 other than the Iranian hostage crisis. I mean, it was an important moment in American history to be sure. However, did such an event honestly merit a total solar eclipse?

Are there any other significant events for the U.S. that year? Should we include the visit of Pope John Paul II--the pope who was born and died from the labor of the sun? Yet his visit was in the beginning of October, while the 1979 eclipse occurred on February 26th.

Does the 1979 introduction of the Happy Meal count?

And to be even more honest, that eclipse really didn't pass over the United States in a total and complete way. Instead, the 1979 eclipse passed across Canada. So, should we look at the 1979 eclipse as Canada's solar eclipse? And what happened in Canada in 1979? Anything "biblical," notable, or ominous?

I suppose we should consider the victory of Progressive Conservative Joe Clark, who beat the Trudeau Liberals and became the youngest Prime Minister of Canada, ending 16 years of Liberal rule. His office was brief, however, and it would only be a few years later that Canada would transfer the country's highest law, the British North America Act to Canada's oligarchical political structure. This latter effort was spearheaded by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who previously stated that he was not going to seek office again after his prior defeat.

Should we consider the events surrounding Prime Minister Joe Clark's brief stint in office to be a major cultural shift for Canada, marking the beginning of a destructive era of Leftism? Does that merit an eclipse?

The Solar Eclipse of 1918

Perhaps this eclipse deserves a little more attention.  This total solar eclipse actually went across the contiguous United States.

But what happened in 1918?  

There was the Spanish Flu outbreak.  Okay, that's sort of big.  Stanford states that it infected 500 million people worldwide, and that it killed between 20 and 40 million people, and it's considered the most devastating epidemic in world history.  (Other sources, such as Wikipedia Infogalactic cite the death total at between 50 and 100 million people.)  

The Spanish Flu killed more people than even World War I, which actually ended in 1918.  So, if the world hadn't had enough of death and mortality from The Great War, it would get more than double its share with the Spanish Flu:
"The 1918 has gone: a year momentous as the termination of the most cruel war in the annals of the human race; a year which marked, the end at least for a time, of man's destruction of man; unfortunately a year in which developed a most fatal infectious disease causing the death of hundreds of thousands of human beings. Medical science for four and one-half years devoted itself to putting men on the firing line and keeping them there. Now it must turn with its whole might to combating the greatest enemy of all--infectious disease"
-From the Journal of the American Medical Association, December 28, 1918
Of the U.S. soldiers who died in WWI, half of those deaths were from the Spanish Flu.  A quarter of Americans became infected with this virus, including President Woodrow Wilson.  The average lifespan in the U.S. decreased by 10 years.  

This was a big deal.  Perhaps America's 1918 total solar eclipse could have been viewed as an omen for the end of the Great War, but a new punishment in the form of a plague.  

The Solar Eclipse of 1776

How fortuitous!  A total solar eclipse that touched North America in the year of the founding of the United States!

Not so fast, though.  This total solar eclipse actually spanned itself across Mexico.  Mexico City, in fact.  Furthermore, it occurred on November 30, 1776.  So the Declaration of Independence had been signed for almost four months.  Maybe this one's not all about you, U.S.A..

So, a total solar eclipse that touches Mexico City ought to be considered a big deal, right?  Was there anything tectonically massive happening in Mexico at around this time in history?

Well, the Commandancy and Captaincy General of the Internal Provinces was established in New Spain.  

What was this?  

Basically, the northern part of New Spain (extending up into what is now the Southwest portion of the United States) was a war zone.  Spanish settlements, ranchos, haciendas, and missions were besieged by hostile Native Americans tribes. If you were to travel across this place, you would require an escort from a local militia unit. Often times, military campaigns had to be carried out against marauding clans.  This wild land was far from the centers of power in Mexico City--and certainly Spain, so there was a great amount of corruption here.

So a new district had to be formed to deal with the constant fighting.  The Crown of Spain agreed to provide more autonomy to this region.  It was believed that a unified government in political, military and fiscal affairs would "invigorate economic and population growth in the region to stave off encroachment on the region by foreign powers."  

Unfortunately, that "encroachment on the region by foreign powers" would take place by the very foreign power that coalesced that same year, the United States.  

However, we must now ask a question: like Canada's 1979 eclipse, was this Spanish/Mexican Government administrative restructuring worthy of an eclipse?  


Is the Canadian election of Progressive Conservative Joe Clark and the administrative restructuring of a Spanish province worthy of being punctuated and remembered with a total solar eclipse as its omen?  

L'eclipse, by Félix Bracquemond
Perhaps massive spontaneous illness and death following an unforgettable world war is worthy of a signature by the moon's shadow.  Perhaps in 1918, the United States deserved to be autographed by the moon from sea to shining sea.  

Yet, if we're going to consider the eclipse of 1918 and 2017 to be momentous occasions and omens, then we certainly cannot discount those other two eclipses that traversed the northern and southern portions of North America--Canada and Mexico, respectively.  

Is the United States the only nation, then, fit to have bigger-than-life eclipses marking bigger-than-life historical events?  I suppose that would fit our national character.  

But I must admit, when considering the previous three eclipse events of 1776, 1918, and 1979, I must take pause and reconsider my bombastic speculations about this year's astronomical extravaganza.

It would not be unexpected for someone to accuse me of superstition.  I grant that.  


  1. I can't say I agree with you on everything but you do keep it interesting!

  2. A "For What It's Worth",
    September 23rd is the Feast day of Padre Pio,who had a great devotion to Our Lady, and Her Rosary. It is also the Saturday of Ember Week in September this year.

    1. According to the 1945 Missal,St.Linus and St.Thecla are celebrated feast days on Sept.23.