Tags Posts tagged with "Eclipse"

Eclipse

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The eclipse has come and gone, and for me it lived up to its advanced billing. It was awesome. I can’t say I was prepared to be awed. In fact, since most “great” shows tend to be overhyped, especially with all the different platforms we now communicate on, from radio and TV to blogs, websites, mobile phones, Facebook, Twitter and the rest, they are over previewed and inevitably a letdown.

Not so last Monday’s eclipse. I happened to be taking a vacation day, and my family was visiting, so there were a number of us getting ready for the event. We weren’t particularly excited about what was predicted to happen. I think curious was a better description. None of us had secured the appropriate glasses in advance but fortunately a good friend put a pair in my hands at the last minute, and that made all the difference.

Without the glasses, we were told not to look at the sun for fear of damaging our retinas. The day dawned pleasantly enough, with blue sky and bright sun but, as the morning wore on, the light breeze that started the day disappeared altogether. We noted that fact because we have a little Hobie Cat that we use to get out on the water, and there wasn’t even enough wind to move that slender craft. As we sat around the patio, there was an air of expectancy around noon, although maybe I was just projecting. We heard no birdsong, saw no squirrels and thought the yard unusually quiet. By then the bright sun had yielded to what seemed like overhanging clouds, but there weren’t low clouds in the sky. By 1:30 p.m., there was perceptibly less light.

By 2:30, one by one we looked up at the sun through the protective glasses, and each of us emitted an involuntary noise. The moon, essentially a black disc, was moving west to east across the lower three-quarters of the sun. We could see it clearly, with no clouds in the way. The feeling was of watching something happening that was profoundly greater than any human activity. In fact, I had a similar sensation when I stood at the top of a mountain in Alaska and looked out over the hundreds of miles of landscape with not a human or a human structure in sight. I felt the utter insignificance of humans in the cosmos.

Just as predicted for the New York region, around 2:40 we saw the maximum area of sun occluded by the moon, and just around that time there was a fierce gust of wind that came from nowhere and shook the surrounding trees, with their lush summer leaves, into a frenzy. It was almost spooky. After a few minutes, the wind diminished and turned into a summer breeze.

We sat in a circle, passing the cardboard glasses from hand to hand, and continued to marvel at the sight of the moon blocking most of the sun. But the surface of the moon did not seem uniformly dense, rather appearing to let patches of light through parts of the disc — or so it appeared to me. Then, as the minutes ticked by and the moon moved off, it was almost with regret that we saw it leave. For those all-too-brief moments, we had witnessed what only the gods can see: the movement of the inner parts of the universe as some sort of well-regulated Swiss watch. It was a stately dance of the planets, predictable for its steps but thrilling on its cosmic scale.

Then it was over and, as one, we rose to take advantage of the newfound breeze and get in some late afternoon sailing. But somehow we weren’t quite the same. Yes, we know the basics: That the Earth revolves around the sun and the moon revolves around the Earth, a kind of merry-go-round within a merry-go-round. But to witness a tiny part of that movement, for even the shortest time, can only be described as leaving us in awe. 

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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.

File photo by Elana Glowatz

Skygazers are in for a special treat this weekend — for the first time in 33 years, there will be a supermoon eclipse.

A supermoon occurs when a full moon reaches the point in its orbit that is closest to Earth, known as its perigee, which happens a handful of times a year. The proximity — of about 222,000 miles — makes the moon look brighter, and it appears about 14 percent larger.

The supermoon on Sept. 27 and 28 will coincide with a total lunar eclipse, which occurs when the moon passes through Earth’s shadow, covering its surface in a red tint.

That red tint occurs because of the refraction of light through Earth’s atmosphere on its way to the moon.

According to NASA, a supermoon eclipse is a rare event. It has happened only five times since the beginning of the 20th century — in 1910, 1928, 1946, 1964 and 1982 — and those who miss it this weekend will not have another chance to catch it until 2033.

As a bonus, it will also be a harvest moon, which is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox on Sept. 23.

On the East Coast, a partial eclipse will begin at 9:07 p.m. on Sept. 27, according to NASA, with the total eclipse beginning at 10:11 p.m. It will last a little more than an hour before returning to a partial eclipse. The full event will end at 12:27 a.m. on Sept. 28.

At the time the partial eclipse begins for New York viewers, the \moon will be about 26 degrees above the horizon, in the east southeast direction. It will gradually move higher and southward in the sky, so that at the time the partial eclipse ends after midnight, the moon will be about 50 degrees above the horizon to the south.