Mask of the Sun: The Science, History and Forgotten Lore of Eclipses

Mask of the Sun: The Science, History and Forgotten Lore of Eclipses

by John Dvorak


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They have been thought of as harbingers of evil as well as a sign of the divine. Eclipses—one of the rarest and most stunning celestial events we can witness here on Earth—have shaped the course of human history and thought since humans first turned their eyes to the sky.

What do Virginia Woolf, the rotation of hurricanes, Babylonian kings and Einstein’s General Theory Relativity all have in common? Eclipses. Always spectacular and, today, precisely predicable, eclipses have allowed us to know when the first Olympic games were played and, long before the first space probe, that the Moon was covered by dust.

Eclipses have stunned, frightened, emboldened and mesmerized people for thousands of years. They were recorded on ancient turtle shells discovered in the Wastes of Yin in China, on clay tablets from Mesopotamia and on the Mayan “Dresden Codex." They are mentioned in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and at least eight times in the Bible. Columbus used them to trick people, while Renaissance painter Taddeo Gaddi was blinded by one. Sorcery was banished within the Catholic Church after astrologers used an eclipse to predict a pope’s death.

In Mask of the Sun, acclaimed writer John Dvorak the importance of the number 177 and why the ancient Romans thought it was bad to have sexual intercourse during an eclipse (whereas other cultures thought it would be good luck). Even today, pregnant women in Mexico wear safety pins on their underwear during an eclipse. Eclipses are an amazing phenomena—unique to Earth—that have provided the key to much of what we now know and understand about the sun, our moon, gravity, and the workings of the universe.

Both entertaining and authoritative, Mask of the Sun reveals the humanism behind the science of both lunar and solar eclipses. With insightful detail and vividly accessible prose, Dvorak provides explanations as to how and why eclipses occur—as well as insight into the forthcoming eclipse of 2017 that will be visible across North America.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781681773308
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Publication date: 03/07/2017
Pages: 312
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Dr. John Dvorak, PhD, worked on volcanoes and earthquakes for the U.S. Geological Survey, first at Mount St. Helens, then as a series of assignments in California, Hawaii, Italy, Indonesia, Central America and Alaska. He has written cover stories for Scientific American, Physics Today and Astronomy magazines, as well as a series of essays about earthquakes and volcanoes for American Scientist. Dvorak has taught at the University of Hawaii and lectured at UCLA, Washington University in St. Louis, the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C, among others

Table of Contents

Prologue: New York, 1925 xv

1 The Heretic and the Pope 1

2 The Invisible Planets of Rahu and Ketu 19

3 Saros and the Substitute King 37

4 Measuring the World 53

5 The Waste of Yin 73

6 A Request to the Curious 95

7 The Annulus at Inch Bonney 113

8 A Simple Truth of Nature 127

9 Eclipse Chasers 143

10 Keys and Kettledrums 163

11 The Crucifixion and the Concorde 181

12 Einstein's Error 199

13 The Glorious Corona 221

Epilogue Illinois, 2017 235

Appendix An Eclipse Primer 241

Acknowledgments 245

Sources 247

Index 265

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