“When Night Fell During the Day”

BY AWAKE! WRITER IN BENIN

“WOW! Millions Stunned by Solar Eclipse,” proclaimed Ghana’s Daily Graphic headlines the day after the total solar eclipse on March 29, 2006. The eclipse, first sighted on the eastern tip of Brazil, swept across the Atlantic at approximately 1,000 miles [1,600 km] an hour, reaching the coastal countries of Ghana, Togo, and Benin beginning at about 8:00 a.m. What could West Africa expect?

The last total eclipse over Ghana was in 1947. Theodore, then 27 years of age, recalls: “Many at that time had never experienced an eclipse, so they did not know exactly what was happening. Because of this, people described the event as ‘when night fell during the day.’”

Public-Awareness Campaigns

Authorities initiated extensive public-awareness campaigns to warn of the dangers involved in gazing at the sun during the eclipse. Flashy posters in Togo admonished: “Be careful of your eyes! You are at risk of losing your eyesight!”

Government officials stressed two options. First, stay indoors and watch the spectacle on television. Second, if outdoors, wear specially made protective glasses. Millions were glued to television and computer screens to witness the impressive images. However, monitors could never capture the excitement-sparked atmosphere generated by curiosity and commotion just prior to and during the eclipse. Let us relive it.

Anticipation Mounts

From all appearances it seemed like just another typical West African morning​—bright sun and clear skies. Was the eclipse really going to happen? As their watches ticked toward the announced debut, the observers outdoors donned their glasses and gazed skyward. Some were on their cell phones, asking acquaintances in other areas what they could see.

Over 200,000 miles [350,000 km] above the observers, the moon, although unseen at first, was irresistibly moving toward its rendezvous. Suddenly, it appeared as a dark sliver, beginning to obscure the sun. Excitement mounted as one observer after another spotted it.

During the first hour, observers did not note any changes in their immediate surroundings. However, as the moon continued to triumph, the atmosphere changed. The blue sky began to fade. The temperature  sank. Light-sensitive street and security lights brightened as the morning darkened. Streets emptied. Shops closed. Birds ceased chirping, and animals sought shelter and bedded down. Darkness was taking complete control. Then totality was reached, and silence prevailed.

Totality Was Unforgettable

Stars began to twinkle. The sun’s glorious corona (the outer part of the sun’s atmosphere) appeared as a pearl-white halo around the black moon. Gleaming points of light, called Baily’s Beads, * blazed on the moon’s perimeter as the sun peeked through valleys and irregularities on the lunar surface. The diamond-ring effect glowed. A spectacle of pink and rose colors flashed into the chromosphere (a layer beneath the corona). “This was the most stupendous spectacle I have ever seen​—a marvel of beauty,” exclaimed one observer.

Totality lasted approximately three minutes. Then the sun began to make its comeback. Many spectators cheered it on. The sky brightened, and the stars disappeared. The eerie atmosphere lifted like a morning mist.

The moon is “a faithful witness in the skies.” Thus, eclipses can be calculated centuries in advance. (Psalm 89:37) West Africa had to wait almost 60 years to see this one. The next one visible from West Africa is due during the year 2081. Perhaps you will have the opportunity to observe an unforgettable eclipse in your area much sooner.

[Footnote]

^ par. 13 Named for British astronomer Francis Baily, who first recorded their appearance during an eclipse in 1836.

[Box/​Picture on page 29]

A Solar Eclipse at the Time of Jesus’ Death?

Mark 15:33 states: “When it became the sixth hour a darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour.” This three-hour darkness, from about noon until 3:00 p.m., was miraculous. It could not have been a solar eclipse. First, the longest possible solar eclipse at any one point on the earth lasts about seven and a half minutes. Second, Jesus died on the 14th day of the lunar month of Nisan. The first day of Nisan is fixed by the appearance of the new moon, at which time the moon is located between the earth and the sun and can cause an eclipse. By the time the 14th day of Nisan arrives, the moon has already completed half of its orbit. The earth is then situated between the sun and the moon, which, rather than blocking the light from the sun, reflects it fully. Thus, we see a full moon, a perfect setting to observe the Memorial of Jesus’ death.

[Picture]

Nisan 14 always occurs on or near the full moon

[Diagram/​Map on page 28, 29]

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The path of the eclipse

⇧ AFRICA

BENIN ●

TOGO ●

GHANA ●

[Credit Line]

Map: Based on NASA/​Visible Earth imagery

[Picture on page 28]

The total eclipse of March 29, 2006

[Picture on page 28]

Special protective glasses permitted observers to view the eclipse firsthand