Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Eclipse 2017 : A Review


The Great American Eclipse of 2017 has come and gone, and I wish I could tell you what it was like to see totality, but I can’t. It isn’t that I can’t find the words to describe it, but rather because we had the dumb luck to pick the worst place to watch from: St. Joseph, Missouri.

No offense, folks, St. Joe is a fine town with a rich history — it was the starting point for the Pony Express back in the day. It’s just that the weather sucked. Bigly. We were going to go to the event at Rosecranz Airport, but nobody told us it was a ticketed event and was sold out. After driving around a while, we ended up at Lewis and Clark State Park a little southeast of town. Things looked hopeful at first, and we were able to see first contact and the first ten percent of the eclipse before the clouds and rain moved in and persisted throughout totality. I never got a chance to see the corona.

I did see something. It still got real dark, not as dark as night because the clouds were diffusing the light (damned laws of physics) and off in the distance we could see eerie glow on the horizon, as we were looking out of the umbra into the penumbra, where the eclipse was only partial. Some people brought their dogs, and they started acting really skittish. (Animals react to eclipses, it seems.) Birds stopped singing and crickets started chirping, thinking it was night. A few minutes after totality, the clouds broke for a minute or so, and we were able to put on our eclipse glasses and see a thin sliver of the returning sun. Then it clouded over again. It didn't look like it was going to let up, so we left. We had dinner in town, and by the time we got back to the hotel, the sky had cleared and I got to see the end half of partiality. And of course I was wearing my eclipse glasses, a good sturdy plastic wraparound pair that I can hold onto and use again. I only got one picture of the sun before it was obscured by clouds.

The sun over Rushville, Missouri at 11:05, about
half an hour before the eclipse began.
Fortunately, with a little luck and a lot of medications, I’ll have the chance to use them again in about six and a half years, when another eclipse will cut across the United States from Texas to Maine.

April 8, 2024
The path of totality will cross over or at least very close to Austin, Dallas, Little Rock, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Erie, Buffalo, and Niagara Falls. The little town of Carbondale, Illinois will have the rare privilege of seeing two total eclipses in seven years, as it is the point where the 2017 and 2024 eclipse paths intersect. It’s probably going to be a really big show, even bigger than this one was. For reasons I’m going to have to ask my go-to astronomer, Phil Plait about, totality is going to be longer next time. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to see it this time without a rainstorm eclipsing the eclipse. Jim wants to go to Niagara Falls, but I’m trying to talk him into some place that won’t be as chaotic… like Sandusky, Ohio. Jim loves roller coaster, and they’re the roller coaster capital of the world. Cedar Point usually isn’t open in April, but I’ll be surprised if they don’t make an exception for the 2024 eclipse.

Even if there wasn’t going to be another eclipse in seven years, I’d still hold on to the eclipse glasses and binoculars. They can serve as a reminder of the brief, fleeting moment we all came together and forgot about politics for a while. Maybe it’ll come again in 2024, right as we’re heading into an election season. This could be interesting… because as Pink Floyd pointed out 44 years ago, “Ev’rything under the sun is in tune when the sun is eclipsed by the moon.