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Paper: Oh Glorious Geometry: Eclipses, Transits, and Occultations
Volume: 501, Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena VIII
Page: 195
Authors: Sinclair, R. M.
Abstract: Astronomical objects are like a grand clockwork in the sky; they follow steady patterns in time. However, these bright objects we see are not just points of light but have finite dimensions and thus can get in each other's way. As a result, some stars puzzle us by brightening or dimming, or the Sun can frighten us by going out unexpectedly when something else blocks its light. There is nothing unusual about these eclipses, occultations, or transits—they are demonstrations of simple physics—and we take some for granted, like the rotation of Earth moving us into darkness each night. The periodic dimming of a bright star worried mankind for millennia and helped give astronomy a shove. And unexpected events, like a solar or lunar eclipse, can inspire awe and change the course of history. Now that we can observe through telescopes and travel by proxy throughout the solar system, we find the universe is rife with shadow and light shows. Those taking place within our solar system have been useful to astronomy (like the recent transits of Venus or the ever-present eclipses of the Jovian satellites), and were of considerable popular interest, allowing us to think beyond the confines of Earth. Now we detect distant exoplanets transiting their parent stars, announcing the presence of other solar systems in our corner of the Galaxy and changing the discussion about life elsewhere in the universe from mere speculation to plausible possibility. Distant galaxies can make visible ever-further galaxies by forming Einstein rings, allowing us to see behind them and make the structure of the universe more evident. This paper will discuss these phenomena, from those visible easily on Earth to those that can now be seen for the first time from probes in space. We will also discuss how this has expanded popular knowledge of the universe we live in. This paper is illustrated by a number of examples ranging from eclipses and transits throughout the solar system and the nearby stars to the visibility of the gossamer-like strands of gravitational fields at the edge of the observable universe.
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