Recommended reading before August 21

Sun Moon Earth by Tyler Nordgren

If you are getting prepared for the August 21 total solar eclipse, this book should be on your “To Do” list. Subtitled “ The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets” this is a tight collection of historical tales woven with personal events in the life of the author.

Tyler Nordgren does a marvelous job weaving his experiences in with the long and glorious history of one of the greatest shows on Earth. Beginning in the middle, with Columbus, Nordgren moves back into ancient history and forward to a wooden bench on a cliff top in Faroe Islands in 2015.


Nordgren is dismayed with the over reaction of some to the danger of observing a solar eclipse.  He tells of whole villages in the path of totality whose citizens hide in their homes.

He reminds us that “once totality begins and the Sun disappears, you can take your glasses off, and the spectacle is as safe as it is awesome.” I have been cautioned that telling people to take off their glasses is dangerous, and people might get hurt.


Nordgren’s explanation of time dilation is, I think, the most eye-opening part of this book. He clearly describes the perception of time being affected by motion in such a way that I think I begin to understand it.

Tucked way in a corner of the chapter five about the 1919 eclipse, you will find yourself standing in a moving rocket holding two protons in your hand.  The experiment that unfolds when you open your hand is the grounds for understanding that time passes differently for people at different velocities.  Oh my!


The book ends with the current Director of the Vatican Observatory claiming that the proof of God is the fact that the universe is knowable.

I’m more a fan of a previous director, Father George Coyne, fired by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 for opposing “intelligent design.” Father Coyne once told me that he thought he knew what “dark matter” was.   Then, with the hint of a sly grin, he pointed at his temple.

I recommend this book to all astronomers who plan to talk about the upcoming eclipse with anybody. The background will provide depth to your understanding while the foundation will help you communicate accurately. Read this book!

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