Eclipses Often Feature Prominently in Popular Culture Such as Television Shows, Novels and Films

A total solar eclipse will occur on April 8, creating a blackout of the sun, the first to pass over the lower 48 United States since 2017. While the next such eclipse to cross Canada and the U.S. won’t happen until 2044, TIME has summarized notable depictions of eclipses in novels, TV shows, and movies to help pass the time until then, courtesy of Lisa Yaszek, a Professor of Science Fiction Studies at Georgia Tech.

Eclipses seem to appear in stories when dramatic changes take place in the plot and in moments of “dangerous and negative change, chaos and confusion,” Yaszek says. Below are eight examples of eclipses in pop culture.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

Yaszek calls Twain the first person who used a solar eclipse correctly in a work of modern science fiction. In the story, a 19th century engineer named Hank Morgan gets knocked out and wakes up in medieval Europe, and uses his knowledge of solar eclipses to gain power over Merlin and everyone else in King Arthur’s court. One description of an eclipse reads, “It grew darker and darker and blacker and blacker, while I struggled with those awkward sixth-century clothes. It got to be pitch dark, at last, and the multitude groaned with horror to feel the cold uncanny night breezes fan through the place and see the stars come out and twinkle in the sky. At last the eclipse was total.”

“Nightfall” by Isaac Asimov

This short story is about a group of scientists who have very emotional reactions to an eclipse. As Yaszek puts it, “It’s a really powerful story about both how scientists can get it wrong, but also how scientists have feelings and how we all have feelings and how moved we are by these massive events around us.” One perception of what will take place after an eclipse, from a psychologist: “‘First the eclipse — which will start in three quarters of an hour — then universal Darkness and, maybe, these mysterious Stars — then madness, and end of the cycle.'”

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

This book, which was recently adapted for a Netflix series, technically features a syzygy, which happens when the sun, moon and earth are in close to a straight line during a solar or lunar eclipse. In the 2008 novel, eclipses are seen as destructive. Aliens are looking to invade Earth because their planet has become unstable and uninhabitable due to multiple eclipses. As Yaszek describes how this science term is used in the novel, “It reminds us of the awe and the terror of eclipses. We tend to associate eclipses with changes in luck, fortune, and history, and is an amazing dramatization of that.”

The Eclipse: Courtship of the Sun and Moon

In this roughly 10-minute 1907 short film, the director Georges Méliés plays an astronomer lecturing a class of young astronomers about an upcoming eclipse. When the time has come, he peers through a giant telescope to watch an eclipse and sees the moon and the sun both have human faces and are winking at one another and sticking their tongues out, seductively, as the moon makes its way to the sun. When the moon covers the sun, the implication is that they’re having some sort of sexual encounter. According to the film, Méliés is considered a “father of the science fiction genre in film.”

2001: A Space Odyssey

Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 classic begins with an eclipse, the Earth, Moon, and the sun in alignment. The Moon gradually moves towards the bottom of the screen, revealing the full sun in an orange glow. It’s not a view from Earth, but from somewhere else in the solar system. Then the movie segues to “the dawn of man.” To Yaszek, opening the movie with an eclipse represents how they “get used to mark these sorts of changes in history and in moments.”

Pitch Black

David Twohy’s 2000 film is set on a remote planet where a spacecraft has crashed, killing most of the passengers. A prisoner played by Vin Diesel turns out to be really helpful during a solar eclipse because he can see perfectly in full darkness. When an eclipse occurs, and chaos erupts during the moment of darkness, the prisoner leads the effort to get things under control. Amid the darkness, an English antiquities dealer finds his stash of fine wine can be used as fuel.

The Simpsons: “Marge vs. the Monorail” and “Gone Maggie Gone”

In the 1993 episode an eclipse occurs while the solar-paneled monorail is speeding out of control. The monorail stops briefly, and when the eclipse passes and the sun comes out, the monorail goes back to speeding out of control. In “Gone Maggie Gone,” the Simpsons family is looking at an eclipse in Springfield through contraptions made out of shoe boxes and a toilet paper roll. Homer looks at the eclipse without glasses and then has to wear a bandage over them for two weeks. A news anchor jokes “a total eclipse is like a woman breastfeeding in a restaurant, it’s free. It’s beautiful. But under no circumstances should you look at it.”