On May 20 a great celestial event will take place: The moon will obscure the sun—almost. Although the moon made its closest approach to Earth for the year a couple of weeks back, it has now receded to the point where its disk will not quite cover the sun.
The result is a more spectacular than usual eclipse called a Ring of Fire, in which the moon moves directly in front of the sun but the difference in size leaves a flaming red ring around the edges. Millions along the eclipse’s path will be riveted, but among Indigenous Peoples the site is not so compelling. In fact, they may hide.
This annular eclipse will cut a swath through Indian Country. In the southwestern U.S. the eclipse goes right through Navajo territory, but the Nation won’t be opening its borders to onlookers any time soon: An eclipse is considered a bad omen, and the tribe’s most traditional members will stay inside. The tribe is not even letting tourists in to see it on parts of the reservation, Melba Martin, a Navajo teacher and amateur astronomer who serves as the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s ambassador to the Navajo Nation, told Indian Country Today Media Network.
Eclipses are a touchy subject, as it turns out. The Navajo word for eclipse is Eating the Sun, and the most traditional will not even leave the house during it, let alone find a way to watch it.
“When there is an eclipse, either lunar or solar, this is a sacred time where the sun, the moon and the earth are kind of like in an intimate position when they line up, so it’s such a sacred thing that’s happening, you don’t look at these things that are happening out in the sky,” said Rudy Begay, a Navajo cultural resource specialist working with the federal government.
Stay tuned for more detailed coverage on ancient cultures and the eclipse over the weekend, as well as tips on how to watch safely. Meanwhile, watch the NASA video below to find out why this event is taking place and what it will do to our shadows. Then click here to find the level of visibility in your state.