Monday, April 10, 2006
Reality In Blue - Solar Eclipse Turkey 2006
March 29, 2006, a solar eclipse dazzled over Turkey. A dark orb hung in the sky haloed in glowing white wisps of solar corona. Crowds gazing up from the dark shadow of the moon found the sun blocked from view and cheered at the wondrous sight. For those who took a moment to glance at the surrounding ancient ruins and countryside, there was the realization that a total solar eclipse offers an alternative perception of the world. For as the moon blocks our vision of the sun, it also blocks direct light from our star and thereby introduces us to an image of our world we would not ordinarily see.
As the sun slips behind the moon, the light that bathes the earth is unlike any other. The “normal” color spectrum, by which we expect to see our world, alters. The balance between the long lightwaves of red and the short lightwaves of blue is skewed–blue becomes dominant.
Typically as sunlight grows faint each evening and shadows stretch ever longer, we expect a reddish tint. The long waves of red light travel in a straight direction and paint the rosy hues of sunset and sunrise. They make the world appear warm and romantic. Blue lightwaves, however, have a tendency to scatter because they are short in length. As the sun drops beyond the horizon, we slid momentarily through the cool blue of twilight.
But a solar eclipse brings a retreat of daylight even at midday. There are no long shadows. As more and more of the sun’s direct rays are blocked by the moon, the dispersed short lightwaves of blue swath the world in alien hues. Gradually, fine differences in color become more pronounced. In the Roman theater in Side, near Antalya, Turkey, the subtle grays and browns in the ruin’s marble friezes became more distinct and the relief of the sculpture more defined.
As more sunlight is lost, a unique opportunity arises to experience a new perception of the world. The green tones of plants become more vibrant. Stone and earth, that may have appeared as mere backdrops, become vivid and alive. The deep blue of the sea mutes. Human skin tones gray toward paler. The temperature not only of the light, but also the air, plunges.
It is easy for humans to lose track of what it is important, to place emphasis on a few temporary things while life races past. But during the assent into a total solar eclipse the familiar illusion of reality transforms, flexes, reaches beyond itself to another place. What we see changes. How much we actually perceive depends on the individual, but the opportunity is there to touch another dimension of being–a completely different way of perceiving the world.
What is real? The rich green laurel leaves that I see awash in blue eclipse light or the laurel leaves I saw two hours earlier, dulled by the brilliant midday sun. If I close my eyes and touch the laurel leaf, perhaps my impression would be completely different.
The moments we give ourselves to question reality are few. Perhaps I chase solar eclipses for the opportunity each of these cosmic events offers, however momentary, to experience a unique instant of time, place and perception. The eclipse in Turkey was blue from horizon to horizon because of the high layer of clouds and the subsequent diffusion of blue lightwaves. There were no visible stars. There were small, but brilliant, red solar flares at the positions of 12:00 and 4:30. The atmosphere was buoyant and chaotic because of the energized crowd in the theater at Side. It was different from South Australia 2002, Curaçao 1998, and Hawaii 1991.
Each solar eclipse offers a different view of our tiny planet. An opportunity to feel the rush of a shadow created by a perfectly placed moon. The chance to experience the universe moving forward without regard for humans. Where will you be in 2008? Canada, Greenland, Siberia, Mongolia? Don’t let the opportunity slip by; there is always 2009–India, Bhutan, China?