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A very rare total solar eclipse will cross the continental United States during the morning and afternoon of Monday, August 21, 2017. Particularly interesting to Latter-day Saints is that the total eclipse will be visible from Independence, Missouri, the center place of the Millennial city of Zion, the New Jerusalem. I would certainly consider this eclipse to be a sign and a wonder from the Lord “to the intent that there should be no cause for unbelief among the children of men.” (Helaman 14:28)[i]
Eclipses: Exactly Predictable Celestial Signs
Various orbital parameters of the moon, earth and Sun determine the equations that can predict solar and lunar eclipses. The size of the earth, moon and Sun, the distances between them and their particular orbits in 3-D space of the moon around the earth, the earth around the Sun and the starting positions of the moon and earth on their orbital paths—all this data inserted into physics equations allow us to predict solar and lunar eclipses to the minute and second accuracy, past, present and future.[ii]
Rarity of Total Solar Eclipse Viewing Locations
In contrast with the widely visible total lunar eclipses, a total solar eclipse is only visible on a limited 65 mile wide band along the passage of the full shadow of the moon across the earth’s surface. Even though the orbital intersection of the moon around the earth and the earth around the Sun occurs twice a year, enabling possible lunar and solar eclipses, the visibility of a total solar eclipse at a particular location is very rare.
The 2017 total eclipse is the first one visible from any of the 48 contiguous United States since 1979. It is the first eclipse to cross the nation from sea to shining sea since June 8, 1918. It is the first total eclipse visible ONLY from the modern mainland United States since 1257. The last total eclipse that was visible from the Kansas City and Independence, Missouri area was in 1806. This is a rare eclipse indeed![iii]
Tutorial on the New Jerusalem by the Prophet Ether
The great Jaredite prophet Ether received revelations regarding the establishment of the New Jerusalem in America prior to the glorious return of the Lord Jesus Christ to the earth.
“For behold, they rejected all the words of Ether; for he truly told them of all things, from the beginning of man; and that after the waters had receded from off the face of this land it became a choice land above all other lands, a chosen land of the Lord; wherefore the Lord would have that all men should serve him who dwell upon the face thereof;
“And that it was the place of the New Jerusalem, which should come down out of heaven, and the holy sanctuary of the Lord.
“Behold, Ether saw the days of Christ, and he spake concerning a New Jerusalem upon this land.
“And that a New Jerusalem should be built up upon this land, unto the remnant of the seed of Joseph, for which things there has been a type.
“Wherefore, the remnant of the house of Joseph shall be built upon this land; and it shall be a land of their inheritance; and they shall build up a holy city unto the Lord, like unto the Jerusalem of old; and they shall no more be confounded, until the end come when the earth shall pass away.
“And there shall be a new heaven and a new earth; and they shall be like unto the old save the old have passed away, and all things have become new.
“And then cometh the New Jerusalem; and blessed are they who dwell therein, for it is they whose garments are white through the blood of the Lamb; and they are they who are numbered among the remnant of the seed of Joseph, who were of the house of Israel.” (Ether 13:2-4, 6, 8-10)
Joseph Smith received revelation that Independence, Missouri is the “center place” of that prophesied New Jerusalem. (D&C 57:3) This very rare total solar eclipse will be visible from that important site.
Tutorial on Signs and Wonders by the American Prophets Samuel and Nephi
Also in the Book of Mormon, we are very fortunate to have extensive writings relating to signs and wonders in the heavens above and the earth beneath.[iv]
Samuel the Lamanite enjoyed the distinction of receiving the prophesies of the magnificent signs and wonders of the birth, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ visible in America and additionally to include precise timing intervals as to their fulfillment—very unusual for prophesies. Nephi, one of the twelve Nephite disciples at the time of Christ, witnessed the fulfillment of these prophesies.
“And behold, he said unto them: Behold, I give unto you a sign; for five years more cometh, and behold, then cometh the Son of God to redeem all those who shall believe on his name.
“And behold, this will I give unto you for a sign at the time of his coming; for behold, there shall be great lights in heaven, insomuch that in the night before he cometh there shall be no darkness, insomuch that it shall appear unto man as if it was day.
“Therefore, there shall be one day and a night and a day, as if it were one day and there were no night; and this shall be unto you for a sign; for ye shall know of the rising of the sun and also of its setting; therefore they shall know of a surety that there shall be two days and a night; nevertheless the night shall not be darkened; and it shall be the night before he is born.
“And behold, there shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld; and this also shall be a sign unto you.
“And behold this is not all, there shall be many signs and wonders in heaven.
“And it shall come to pass that ye shall all be amazed, and wonder, insomuch that ye shall fall to the earth.
“And it shall come to pass that whosoever shall believe on the Son of God, the same shall have everlasting life.
“And behold, thus hath the Lord commanded me, by his angel, that I should come and tell this thing unto you; yea, he hath commanded that I should prophesy these things unto you; yea, he hath said unto me: Cry unto this people, repent and prepare the way of the Lord.
“But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord.
“Yea, and it bringeth to pass the condition of repentance, that whosoever repenteth the same is not hewn down and cast into the fire; but whosoever repenteth not is hewn down and cast into the fire; and there cometh upon them again a spiritual death, yea, a second death, for they are cut off again as to things pertaining to righteousness.
“But behold, as I said unto you concerning another sign, a sign of his death, behold, in that day that he shall suffer death the sun shall be darkened and refuse to give his light unto you; and also the moon and the stars; and there shall be no light upon the face of this land, even from the time that he shall suffer death, for the space of three days, to the time that he shall rise again from the dead.
“And the angel said unto me that many shall see greater things than these, to the intent that they might believe that these signs and these wonders should come to pass upon all the face of this land, to the intent that there should be no cause for unbelief among the children of men—
“And this to the intent that whosoever will believe might be saved, and that whosoever will not believe, a righteous judgment might come upon them; and also if they are condemned they bring upon themselves their own condemnation.”
(Helaman 14: 2-9, 17-20, 28-29, emphasis added)
The prophet Nephi, the great grandson of Helaman the son of Alma, chronicled the unbelievable disbelief of the people amid prophesy and fulfillment of these gigantic and magnificent signs of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to the earth.
“But it came to pass in the ninetieth year of the reign of the judges, there were great signs given unto the people, and wonders; and the words of the prophets began to be fulfilled.
“And angels did appear unto men, wise men, and did declare unto them glad tidings of great joy; thus in this year the scriptures began to be fulfilled.
“Nevertheless, the people began to harden their hearts, all save it were the most believing part of them, both of the Nephites and also of the Lamanites, and began to depend upon their own strength and upon their own wisdom, saying:
“Some things they may have guessed right, among so many; but behold, we know that all these great and marvelous works cannot come to pass, of which has been spoken.
“And they began to reason and to contend among themselves, saying:
“That it is not reasonable that such a being as a Christ shall come; if so, and he be the Son of God, the Father of heaven and of earth, as it has been spoken, why will he not show himself unto us as well as unto them who shall be at Jerusalem?”
(Helaman 16:13-18 emphasis added)
“And it came to pass that thus passed away the ninety and fifth year also, and the people began to forget those signs and wonders which they had heard, and began to be less and less astonished at a sign or a wonder from heaven, insomuch that they began to be hard in their hearts, and blind in their minds, and began to disbelieve all which they had heard and seen—
“Imagining up some vain thing in their hearts, that it was wrought by men and by the power of the devil, to lead away and deceive the hearts of the people; and thus did Satan get possession of the hearts of the people again, insomuch that he did blind their eyes and lead them away to believe that the doctrine of Christ was a foolish and a vain thing.
“And it came to pass that the people began to wax strong in wickedness and abominations; and they did not believe that there should be any more signs or wonders given; and Satan did go about, leading away the hearts of the people, tempting them and causing them that they should do great wickedness in the land.”
(3 Nephi 2:1-3)
And, a footnote from Nephi, the son of Lehi.
“They … turn their hearts aside, rejecting signs and wonders, and the power and glory of the God of Israel.”
(1 Nephi 19:13)
Enjoy this Amazing Sign and Wonder!
Can there be any doubt that Ether, Samuel and Nephi would declare that a very appropriate message to attach to this total solar eclipse would be that we as a nation should repent and believe in Jesus Christ, the God of this Promised Land?[v]
And, if the accounts in the books of Helaman and Third Nephi are indeed a prophetic pattern of events in the last days, many, many more and much more impressive signs and wonders than a total solar eclipse are yet to come.[vi]
What a blessing to have our turn on earth during this wonderful time in history!
[i] “Path of the solar eclipse,” CNN.com, retrieved 8/10/2017.
“For a few hours, from the West Coast to the East Coast, the sun will disappear during the middle of the day. On August 21, the moon will block part of the sun in every place in the United States.”
[ii] “2017 Solar Eclipse,” itsco.org, retrieved 8/10/2017.
Michael E. Bakich, “25 facts about the 2017 solar eclipse,” Astronomy Magazine, Retrieved 8/10/2017.
“1. This will be the first total solar eclipse in the continental U.S. in 38 years. The last one occurred February 26, 1979. Unfortunately, not many people saw it because it clipped just five states in the Northwest and the weather for the most part was bleak. Before that one, you have to go back to March 7, 1970.”
“10. You want to be on the center line. This probably isn’t a revelation, but the Moon’s shadow is round. If it were square, it wouldn’t matter where you viewed totality. People across its width would experience the same duration of darkness. The shadow is round, however, so the longest eclipse occurs at its center line because that’s where you’ll experience the Moon’s shadow’s full width.”
“12. The center line crosses through 10 states. After a great west-to-east path across Oregon, the center line takes roughly nine minutes to cross a wide swath of Idaho, entering the western part of the state just before 11:25 a.m. MDT and leaving just before 11:37 a.m. MDT. Next up is Wyoming, where the umbral center line dwells until just past 11:49 a.m. MDT. The center line hits the very northeastern part of Kansas at 1:04 p.m. CDT and enters Missouri a scant two minutes later. At 1:19, the shadow’s midpoint crosses the Mississippi River, which at that location is the state border with Illinois. The center line leaves Illinois at its Ohio River border with Kentucky just past 1:24 p.m. CDT. Totality for that state starts there two minutes earlier and lasts until nearly 1:29 p.m. CDT. The center line crosses the border into Tennessee around 1:26 p.m. CDT. Then, just past the midpoint of that state, the time zone changes to Eastern. The very northeastern tip of Georgia encounters the center line from just past 2:35 p.m. EDT until not quite 2:39 p.m. EDT. Finally, it’s South Carolina’s turn. The last of the states the center line crosses sees its duration from 2:36 p.m. EDT to 2:39 p.m. EDT. One further note: The extreme northeast part of Georgia does experience some totality, but at no point does the center line pass through that state.”
“25. This event will happen! As astronomers (professional or amateur), some of the problems we have are due to the uncertainty and limited visibility of some celestial events. Comets may appear bright if their compositions are just so. Meteor showers might reach storm levels if we pass through a thick part of the stream. (Oh, and the best views are after midnight.) A supernova as bright as a whole galaxy is visible now, but you need a telescope to view it. In contrast, this solar eclipse will occur when we say, where we say, for how long we say, and in the daytime, no less. Guaranteed!”
[iii] “The Great American Eclipse!,” eclipse2017.org, Retrieved 8/10/2017.
“That may not sound like much, but it turns out to be an amazingly rare event! You see, the paths of totality for most eclipses wind and meander over oceans and islands and continents, with no regard whatsoever for human borders or the geography of the landscape over which they pass. For an eclipse path to touch only one county and no other, is reasonably rare. (Though admittedly, it did happen in 2012, in Australia.) Even the great eclipse of 1918, which swept across the U.S. from west to east as this one will, did not fit the bill – it hit the Bahamas as well! Upcoming eclipses (such as the one in 2024) will have the same outcome, touching down in Mexico, Canada, and Central America — as well as the USA.
“It is an astounding fact that you have to go all the way back to the total solar eclipse of 13 June 1257 (!) in order to find another eclipse which touched only American soil!
(And of course, America wasn’t a country at that time!)
“When will the next eclipse like this happen? One that touches only American soil?
Not until 25 January 2316!
“Make sure you see this one!”
James A Russell, “Total eclipse of the sun headed to KC for first time n centuries,” kcstar.com. Retrieved 08/10/2017.
“The last time Kansas City saw a total eclipse this close? 1806. The next time we will get one: 2205.”
“Great American Eclipse,” StLouisEclipse2017.org, Retrieved 8/10/2017.
“The St. Louis Eclipse Task force has been working since 2014 to raise awareness of the August 21, 2017 Total Solar Eclipse. Our task force includes leaders from over 100 organizations such as schools, cities, parks, associations and businesses. In 2016, we delivered more than 100 programs to area schools, libraries, cities, parks and business to raise awareness of this historic event which has not happened in St. Louis since the year 1442.”
John P. Pratt, “Clothed with the Sun, Moon under her Feet,”johnpratt.com, 2016.
“Another possible sign next year is the total eclipse of the sun on Mon 21 Aug 2017 in a narrow path across the entire United States. The last such eclipse visible in the U.S. was in 1979, so they are not common in any given location. Moreover they are spectacular because the sky becomes so dark that stars appear, but only if observed in the path of totality, shown in Figure 10. The reason this is being mentioned here is that path crosses the city of Independence, Missouri, the location where the Kingdom of God was apparently born in 1833. The meaning of the eclipse is not obvious to me.”
Benjamin Raven, “Solar eclipse 2017 will cross 21 National Parks from Oregon to South Carolina,” Aug 8, 2017.
“Path of the solar eclipse,” cnn.com, Retrieved 8/10/2017.
[iv] “How was There a Night without Darkness?” Book of Mormon Central, September 15 2016.
“When a Lamanite came into Zarahemla prophesying that there would be “great lights in heaven,” leading to a night with “no darkness … as if it was day,” and “many signs and wonders in heaven” (Helaman 14:2–6),1 some Nephites were skeptical, and even hostile (Helaman 16:2).2 In the next five years, both the skepticism and the hostility grew, and a date was set by which “all those who believed in those traditions should be put to death” if the sign failed to appear (3 Nephi 1:7, 9). Yet, as prophesied, “at the going down of the sun there was no darkness” and “it was as light as though it was mid-day” (vv. 15, 19).3”
[v] “For behold, this is a land which is choice above all other lands; wherefore he that doth possess it shall serve God or shall be swept off; for it is the everlasting decree of God. And it is not until the fulness of iniquity among the children of the land, that they are swept off.
“And this cometh unto you, O ye Gentiles, that ye may know the decrees of God—that ye may repent, and not continue in your iniquities until the fulness come, that ye may not bring down the fulness of the wrath of God upon you as the inhabitants of the land have hitherto done.
“Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ, who hath been manifested by the things which we have written.”
“Uh oh eclipse mapping may be off,” rushlimbaugh.com, 8/11/2017.
“RUSH: From the Kansas City “Scar” newspaper: “Those Maps of Eclipse’s Path? ‘Wrong,’ Experts Say — Off By up to a Half-Mile at Edge.” Uh oh! Uh oh! ‘Anyone who has been using online maps to decide where they intend to view the historic Aug. 21 total eclipse of the sun may want to take another look. Those maps, provided by NASA and others, show a crisply defined, 70-mile-wide path of totality where the moon will block 100% of the sun. But they are not as precise as they appear, at least on their edges. The southern edge of the path as shown on the maps could be off by as little as the length of a football field or as much as a half-mile, eclipse mapping experts say.’”
[vi] Ezra Taft Benson, “The Savior’s Visit to America,” Ensign, April 1987.
“Recently I have been reading again the marvelous account in the Book of Mormon of the visit of the resurrected Savior to the American continent. As Easter approaches, I have been deeply impressed with the beauty and power of this scriptural account in 3 Nephi, and with its great value for our time and our generation. The record of the Nephite history just prior to the Savior’s visit reveals many parallels to our own day as we anticipate the Savior’s second coming.” [emphasis added]