Eclipses in History: Learn some science - it may save your ass some day.

Posted On: Monday - August 21st 2017 6:57PM MST
In Topics: 
  General Stupidity  Music  History  Science

Long before this amazing solar eclipse we saw today, I had picked up a used copy of "Eclipse" by Duncan Steel. It has some basic science, the history of that science, history of eclipse prediction and observations, including the story in this post, and some more general information for those who may observe one in the future - like today!

One story it contains is about a very important man to traditional Americans, Mr. Christopher Columbus, of Genoa, sailing and exploring on behalf of the King and Queen of Spain, first in 1492 to sail the Ocean Blue. Besides having general interest in science, it being the early part of the enlightenment (It was right? If not, someone please enlighten me!), the commanding crew of an ocean-going vessel in those days would have scientists on board for exploration per the mission's charter and lastly, for navigation. The science of astronomy was useful in a way most would not think much about now, but it was in helping to ascertain one of the two elements of the ship's or explorers' position, the longitude. (That is a great subject for another science post.)

Now, the great Columbus did not just make that one voyage with the ships Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. He was on his 4th and final voyage in 1503, when his last 2 ships out of 4 were found to have succumbed to marine worms, and the explorers were stranded in Jamaica. Some crew had tried to make it to Hispaniola (island on which the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic lay today) for help, with canoes, but were not heard back from. Others then mutinied and bugged out in the same direction. Columbus and his 50-odd men had been trading trinkets with the natives for provisions for 6 months already, when "Both the novelty and supply had run out...". They did not want to abandon their ships due to all the logs/records of their mapping an exploration of parts of central America and the Caribbean. They cared about their mission and the science.

Well, it seems Columbus had 20-year-old almanac-type books onboard that gave astronomical information for the purpose of navigation. A lunar (not shown here, sorry, but much more common AND widespread) eclipse was due at moonrise on February 29th. OK, the guys were desperate - help was not available via Sat-phone or wifi using We-Chat, right, so give them a little leeway here if you have any criticism of their very un-PC and even possibly blasphemous behavior. Columbus told the natives that the Christian God was more powerful than the natives' own, and that he was not happy with how things had been going lately in terms of charity for the stranded explorers. He was going to prove it. Well, you can guess that the natives were damned impressed when the moon turned blood-red, and apparently Columbus was pretty savvy and held out for the totality (about 1 1/2 hours - remember lunar eclipse) until just about the end, as the natives were freaking out, man! They promised much support for as long as it was needed, until a rescue by the Spaniards on Hispaniola happened in June.

Did it help save Columbus and crew that the white man knew and had an interest in science? You bet his ass it did!


"Good Heavens, Miss Yakomoto, you're beautiful!"

Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded me with Science". (Please don't ask - I know nothing about the artist or the album. Trigger warning! - Not as much T and A as I recall and not as much as any of us would like.)

Apologies here too, as firstly, the tune is not really good, but this one really just was one hell of a video and weird enough to like a lot during the early 1980's. That brings up the point that this is NOT the original video. The 4 segment split-screen is very annoying to me too. it just goes with this post, so ....

So, how can a science post be on Peak Stupidity anyway? Well, it shows quite the stupidity reversal, as the natives were clearly the stupid ones back then, and stupidity levels for the "western" world were quite low and still decreasing. How about now?

A friend who lives in the path of totality came out to see the eclipse from his not-so-white neighborhood. He has had a few problems with theft and vandalism, but not too bad though. This friend remarked to me that he wish he had told his neighbors that were any more ladders to be stolen or cars scratched, he would make "the skies darken, and the sun would be swallowed up by the Gods (ok, for a coupla minutes) so, LEAVE MY SHIT ALONE!"

It woulda worked too, if it hadn't been for that meddling internet!

Updated [morn, 8/22]:
Added friend's story.
Updated [10/12/19:] Obviously Thomas Dolby doesn't want anyone to see his great video. Had to replace the turned-blank one with this. Got the music, but no video.

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