SPOILER ALERT: I mention that there is an eclipse in the prior two episodes of Heroes and how they got the science wrong for 2008 by mentioning places on the planet heroes are located.Â¬â€ I won’t say who, just the where.
Since I don’t consider the spoilers in this blog to be more then what you’d get watching previews on NBC, I’m now going to move on with life and blog.
So… I watch Heroes. It gets stored on our Windows Media Center and sometimes I just binge. It is not a particularly great show, but I have a special soft spot in my heart for corny science fiction. (I also like Sanctuary, although the fake British accent is driving me crazy). Heroes, however, crossed a line from corny to just plain misplaced in time in their past two episodes. Creatively titled Eclipse 1 and Eclipse 2, these two episodes detailed what happens to our Heroes during a solar eclipse. The only problem is, the events can’t happen until 2041! Specifically, they have an eclipse that is visible for several hours to people in Kansas, Haiti, and someplace that I *think* was California (but I admit to missing a few details). One of the Heroes also mentioned how solar eclipses are events shared across the globe. While generally eclipses are events only seen by a lucky few who take off (often via ship or bus) to exotic locations, there are rare occasions when the world gets lucky.
Solar Eclipses occur when the Moon passes directly in front of the Sun when viewed from a given position on the surface of the Earth. This is a very careful alignment and you have to be in just the right place at the right time to see it. It’s along the lines of walking around to frame a photo so that it looks like a friend is holding the full moon in their hand. Sure, you can stand in more than one place, but those places are all pretty close together and along one line and you have to be in the right place at the right time.
Solar eclipses work much the same way, but more than just the moon is in motion so you have to move rather radically if you want to try and maintain alignment. All at the same time we have the Earth rotating and sweeping the position of eclipse from East to West, the moon orbiting (which also moves the shadow), and then of course you have the whole Earth-Moon System orbiting the Sun. All these motions together create an arcing eclipse path across the planet that is only about 160 miles wide (although admittedly a partial eclipse of the Sun will be observable over a huge swath of planet). From any given location it can take up to 4 hours for the moon to go from just starting to touch the Sun to barely no longer touching the Sun. During half that time, less than half the Sun is covered.
I looked at a bunch of eclipse maps to figure out just how insanely wrong the episode was and found myself surprised to find that there is an eclipse in 2045 that almost pulls off what they showed in the last two episodes of Heroes. Totality does pass across America (North *I think* of the California/Arizona characters and south of the Kansas characters) and over Haiti. It is visible at some level to people in pretty much all of the USA. If you click on the image above, it will show you the path of the total solar eclipse (The blue path containing circles), and areas of different percentages of coverage (the blue lines from East to West mark varying amounts of eclipsing).
So, while I was annoyed with the episode for taking advantage of an astronomical event in a way that initially seemed very improbable, it turns out that if Heroes were placed in 2045 what they showed about the eclipse could be true. Sadly, I think the show is supposed to be placed about now and not 33 years in the future. While there will be a rather cool eclipse of the Sun this summer, you’ll need to join me on a boat off the coasts of China and Japan if you want to see it. The next major eclipse to be seen in North America will occur in 2017.