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A Dark Spotlight

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There will be a rare, special occasion on my birthday this year. The spectacle I refer to is the first total solar eclipse across the United States since 1918.

Termed the Great American Eclipse, the moon will come between the Earth and the sun, blocking out daylight for about two-and-a-half minutes on Aug. 21.

According to a New York Times science article, “A Dark Spotlight” by Nicholas St. Fleur, “The temperature will dip. Birds will hush. And a dazzling, pearly white halo will emerge, demanding everyone’s attention.”

Carbondale, in Southern Illinois, population 26,000, has been deemed by NASA as “the point of greatest duration.” This small college city is bracing for an onslaught of many thousands, who will want to experience that day in the most dramatic place. Hotels are booked, some at $499 per night with a three-night minimum, seats are selling in the 15,000 seat Southern Illinois University stadium for $25, and local business people are rubbing their hands in expectation of an economic bonanza amid municipal financial struggles.

According to The Times, “People have called from Europe, Japan, Panama and Brazil” looking for accommodations. The city is planning other events leading up to the eclipse, including a music festival called Shadowfest. T-shirts, eclipse hats, coffee mugs and any other items that can carry a logo are selling.

Among the visitors will be excited astronomers, who are fascinated by this rare opportunity to collate new data. With the total eclipse, the sun’s outer atmosphere, called the corona, will be visible separately behind the moon. It has long been a mystery because its temperature is more than a million degrees Celsius while the rest of the sun’s surface registers 5,500 degrees Celsius. Why the extreme difference and why is it hotter farther away from the center? Astronomers will have only 2 minutes, 38 seconds to capture the sun’s secrets. But they can come yet again to Carbondale for the next eclipse, which is predicted for April 8, 2024. Coincidentally, that will be the 48th anniversary day of the founding of The Village Times.

To share with you some interesting trivia I learned from the article, the sun goes through an 11-year cycle. During that period its activity level changes from mellow to being more turbulent. Bet you didn’t know that, unless you are an astronomer or a rabid stargazer. This year, the sun is on the down side, but during the next eclipse activity will be greater, with more sunspots and solar flares.

Now that you know about the coming eclipse, if you didn’t already, perhaps you too can pass yourself off as a “magician.” That is what Hank Morgan does in Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” In that tale, Hank receives a severe blow on the head and when he awakes, he finds himself transported back in time from the 19th century to early medieval England and the world of King Arthur, Merlin and Sir Lancelot. Because Hank is dressed differently and speaks oddly, he is sentenced to burn at the stake. But his execution date, he knows, coincides with a historical eclipse, and he threatens King Arthur with blocking out the sun if he is set alight. As the eclipse begins, the king releases him from prison, and Hank becomes the second most powerful person in the kingdom.

All of which gives me an idea. On Aug. 21, I will proclaim myself publisher of six newspapers, one website, several supplements and maps, and the executive producer of a full-length historic film called, “One Life to Give.” Now I call that magic. And if people don’t believe me, I will threaten on my birthday to blot out the sun.