Eclipse: Not just a Twilight novel

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By now most people have probably figured out that an eclipse is coming this Monday, as it tends to do here in America every so often. Still, I'm not sure everyone's completely clear on all the details, so I thought I'd answer some common questions:

Q: Why does everybody have to scream at everyone about everything these days?

No, I mean about the eclipse. 

Q: What the heck is this thing? Is this some holdover from the 2012 Apocalypse?

This is a reasonable question, since we're still waiting for the 2012 Apocalypse. An eclipse simply happens when the shadow from one body passes over another body. For instance, one day I was lying on a beach when movie maker Michael Moore moved by. Moore blocked out the sun and ruined my tan, thus saving me from skin disease. (He refused to give me an autograph, just because I asked him when his totality would be over.)

That's Michael, in the middle. Not so very big after all.


Q: Huh?

Moore is rather portly, although I've been gaining on him. If you're a liberal, feel free to insert Trump's name. Oh, you mean "huh" about totality? That's the area of the Earth's surface that's completely covered by the Moon's shadow, usually only for a minute or so. During totality is the only time--and I mean ONLY time--when you can safely look directly at an eclipse without eye protection. Unfortunately, the area of totality is only about 70 miles wide. For example, in northeast Indiana the eclipse will cover about 86% of the sun, so go buy those glasses.

Q: What will happen if I look at it without protection?

Have you ever watched that episode of the TV show Supernatural, when the psychic gets to look at the true face of an angel? It's like that. Nothing left but smoking eye sockets. And yeah, that looks cool for a second, but only to everyone else.

It's perfectly safe to look at the eclipse during totality. But if even a sliver of sun is showing before or after, POOF! Seeing eye dog time. (Or, you could maintain some vision but have "just" permanent damage.)


Q: What's so important about this eclipse?

Well, it's cool, even more cool than smoking eye sockets. Also, it's rare in that, for the first time in almost a century, it will traverse the entire U.S. from coast to coast, over fourteen states. That's happened only 15 times in the last 150 years.

I can block my house from here!


There are between two and five eclipses every year, but a total solar eclipse only happens every 18 months or so. Not only that, but when they do happen it's often in a place where most people don't see it, like over an ocean, or the Pacific northwest. According to this mathematical guy from Belgium, any certain spot on Earth will see a total eclipse once every 375 years. That's an average, and it's math, so I'm just taking his word for it.

This is the first time in 38 years that a total eclipse was visible anywhere in the continuous U.S. For perspective, at the time Jimmy Carter was President, and gas was 86 cents a gallon. St. Louis, which is in the path this time, last saw totality in 1442, when gasoline was even cheaper. Chicago, which saw one in 1806 but will miss this one, will next see totality in 2205, when fueling your flying car might be very expensive.

Scientists have determined there are two small areas of the country--one in northeast Colorado, and one near Lewellen, Nebraska--that haven't seen a total eclipse in over a thousand years. Talk about bad luck.

Q: So I'm guaranteed to get a good show?

Oh, heck no. See above joke about the Pacific northwest; the 1979 total eclipse over that area was largely unseen due to clouds and rain.

This isn't a Hollywood movie: Any number of things could spoil it, from bad weather to having Michael Moore stand in front of you. But I wouldn't sweat Michael (can I call him Michael?) who I've heard is looking after his health much better these days. No, the big question will be whether weather cooperates. My wife and I are heading into the path of totality, and I can pretty much guarantee a day-long driving rain, or possibly a hurricane, will hit central Missouri at about that time.

What I probably won't see


 Q: What effects can we expect?
  
Fire and brimstone, dogs and cats sleeping together, total chaos, new super powers, pretty much the worst parts of the Bible. Wait, that was in the movies. Well, it'll get dark, 'cause--no sun. In the path of totality you'll see stars (or clouds), and you'll also be in for a rare treat of seeing the sun's atmosphere with the naked eye. One cool thing I noticed during a partial eclipse was that sunlight passing through the trees cast thousands of little crescent shaped shadows.

Some animals might be fooled into thinking it's twilight. In fact, eclipses have been known to thin out the local vampire population.

Geeks like me will geek out. People who don't understand, or don't care about, the difference between reality and Hollywood special effects might be disappointed.

Q: What are the greatest dangers?

As with many things in our modern society, the greatest danger might be driving. Officials expect major traffic jams as millions of people try to get into the path of totality. For those who don't make it on time or aren't expecting it, the danger is that they'll be driving down the road, trying to stare at the eclipse, only to ram someone who pulled over along the side of the road to watch the eclipse. Don't do either of those.

Otherwise, there's that smoking eye socket thing. Interestingly, during partial eclipses when the brightness doesn't seem too bad, infrared waves from the sun can still cause damage by overheating the eye, in a boiling egg kind of a way. Disturbed yet? Me, too.

Enjoy these eclipses while you can: The Moon's orbit is slowly getting larger, so the time will come when it will be too far away to completely cover the sun, meaning the end of total eclipses. Scientists predict this will happen in less than 600 million years, so go look while you still can.

Comments

Dino Manalis Added Aug 18, 2017 - 9:23am
 Enjoy the eclipse without harming your vision!
Leroy Added Aug 18, 2017 - 3:04pm
Thanks for the run-down on the eclipse, Mark.
 
The biggest hazard will be the invasion of all the tourist.  The population of the county is expected to double.  Seeing that most will make it into the city, the city population may swell 4 or 5 times or more.  We'll have all the lovely tourist from up north to come down to criticize us.  It seems to be their favorite pastime.
 
If I had given it a lot more thought,  I would have built a bigger deck on the back of the house and charged admission.  I could have bought a thousand pair of glasses for a buck and sold them for ten.  I would have served salted peanuts for free and served $5 bottles of water and $15 beers (extra for cold) and hot dogs from Costco for $7, drink extra.  Oh, well.  Next time.
John Minehan Added Aug 18, 2017 - 6:29pm
"Some animals might be fooled into thinking it's twilight. In fact, eclipses have been known to thin out the local vampire population."
Lady Sekhmetnakt Added Aug 18, 2017 - 9:16pm
I'm looking forward to the eclipse. If I get any decent pictures of it I'll post them on Twitter then post a link to them here. 
Lady Sekhmetnakt Added Aug 21, 2017 - 6:09pm
This is the best image I was able to get https://twitter.com/Sekhmetnakt/status/899734602482364417/photo/1
Mark Hunter Added Aug 22, 2017 - 9:43pm
Sorry I disappeared for awhile--it turns out the eclipse spot we picked was a technology dead zone, at the Meramec State Park in Missouri. Chosen for its isolation, so I should have expected not to be able to get out.
 
We took care of our vision, Dino! The most awesome moment was totality, when we could take our glasses off and see the corona, as well as Venus and Mercury.
Mark Hunter Added Aug 22, 2017 - 9:49pm
I think you have a solid business plan, Leroy. I saw parking being sold for twenty bucks, and homemade snack stations along the way. We just wandered around the park for a few hours afterward, waiting for the roads to clear a little, after getting there in the early morning. We wouldn't have been your desired costomers: we bought coolers of pop and water, and enough food and snacks for three meals. After all, my wife was a Girl Scout.
Mark Hunter Added Aug 22, 2017 - 9:50pm
It's true, John! Have you ever heard of a vampire outbreak following an eclipse?
Mark Hunter Added Aug 22, 2017 - 9:51pm
That's an awesome photo, Jenifer! I took some photos, but didn't have the right equipment to capture the eclipse itself well.
Lady Sekhmetnakt Added Aug 22, 2017 - 11:16pm
Mark writes "Have you ever heard of a vampire outbreak following an eclipse?" 
Yes as a matter of fact. In fiction (obviously). In the, I believe second season of The Strain the stragoli (some REAL disquieting zombie-like vampires) staged a daytime attack on the public during an eclipse in New York City. Since they were directed by the Master (stragoli/vampire) they managed to kill a good number of people, mostly ones caught in traffic jams, before. disappearing back into the sewers. Some good scary stuff The Strain. 
 
Thanks again Mark. 
Mark Hunter Added Aug 23, 2017 - 11:23am
We watched the first few episodes of The Strain--spooky show, well done and especially right up my wife's alley. Sadly, it fell to scheduling conflicts, but we'll catch up someday.

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