Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Lunar eclipse

On March 3rd, a lunar eclipse will be visible to the eastern half of the United States. The moon will enter the penumbra at 3:16 EST and will leave the penumbra at 9:25 EST.
The Greeks and Romans considered lunar and solar eclipses as portents; the story of Nicias' final defeat in Sicily is heavily dependent on the idea of the ominous eclipse. Thuycidides and others in the 5th century understood that lunar eclipses only take place during a full moon and several hundred years later Ptolemy provided precise methods for predicting the time of not only lunar, but solar eclipses as well. The dates of many historical events are better known due to the mention of eclipses (and because of this and archeological records, we'll all learn not to doubt Herodotus). It became customary in the 5th century to associate historical events to the occurrence of lunar eclipses; their prediction (rather anachronistically) was associated with past great thinkers like Thales.

I don't think anyone still believes in portents anymore, but the eclipse will occur at the same time as a scheduled ruling on the USACE's New Madrid-St. John's Bayou Floodway Project. The project has been tied up in the courts for months now; the Environmental Defense Fund has argued that the project's mitigation, which will involve the reestablishment of 8,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forests, meander scrolls and swamps to southeast Missouri, is not sufficient for spawning fish populations. The present ditch system, which the EDF aims to protect, supports a healthy population of contaminated rough game fish who live in polluted waters which have drained from fields. With the mitigation project in place, Mississippi River water will be pumped into an 8,000 acre area twice a year, somewhat replicating the river's natural flood cycle. Not only will rough game fish be healthier in this environment, but non-game species like cypress minnows, shortnose gar, and even the liminal alligator gar stand to benefit from the increase in available habitat.

Paleographers maintain that Odysseus' slaying of Penelope's suitors upon his return home correspond to a datable lunar eclipse. As a portent for good things to come, perhaps March 3rd's event bodes well for the mitigation project. Or maybe it's just an eclipse we can go out and watch on my mother's 65th birthday.

No comments: