Saturday, August 19, 2017

Getting Ready for the Eclipse: An Essay, a Poem and a few Facts

An app you can download gives precise countdown.
We've all heard the expression "Too little, too late." I suppose that there are a lot of people who have now experienced the expression as well, rushing off at the last minute to try and find a pair of special glasses that would enable us to watch first-hand Monday's upcoming solar eclipse, the first total eclipse in the U.S. in 38 years.

Two nights ago I scooted off to Wal-Mart because the newspapers said they had the glasses, but when I got there they only had an empty display. Best Buy had nothing and that was that.

Then last night I needed a fluorescent bulb and used that as an excuse to see if I might find those special glasses at the hardware store. C'est la vie. Nada. nothing. They'd had them, but were now sold out and didn't expect to get any more.

Even without the glasses you can sort of have an experience by making a pinhole projector. I remember the eclipse of 1979 and ended up writing a poem about it in my journal. (see below)

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People who are into astronomy in a big way have been counting the days since last year, I think. Here is a link to a page of 25 facts about this year's eclipse. It's probably been used by journalists as a background source for the past month in preparation for the story. It's a pretty big event, though it's not having the same "end of the world" effect as the last day of the Mayan calendar. For the record, everyone in the U.S. will be able to see at least a partial eclipse. At least, in theory.

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After failing to find glasses to watch it with, I decided to look for an app that might help make this event an even more special experience. It turned out to be a pretty easy business. Go to the app store on your smartphone and you will find quite a few to choose from. This C-Net link is also a useful guide.

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Another way to prepare for the Eclipse would be to read Annie Dillard's essay Total Eclipse, reprinted temporarily at The Atlantic online. I'm not entirely sure why the essay has such a short online lifespan, but their plan is to only leave this posted until the day after the eclipse and then to remove it, a somewhat strange notion to me. Then again, there are a lot of strange things in life, and one of them is the behavior of nocturnal creatures when the sun hides its for a brief spell. Here's a doodle that Annie sent me once. How appropriate it feels for this special event.

Total Eclipse

In the days of the Solar Eclipse

when the sun for a time hid its face

the creatures of night all emerged to explore

the strange world of non-light at mid-day.

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Here's a strange thought. Is there a reason that the sun and the moon both appear the same size when we look up and see them in the sky? The sun is 93 billion miles away and massive. The moon is quite near, relatively speaking, and one-sixth the size of the earth, a relatively small heavenly body. The sun is 400 times further from the earth than the moon. What are the odds that these two bodies would match up so perfectly when one passes before the other. And considering the vastness of the sky, what are the odds of these two bodies occupying the identical spot in the sky simultaneously?

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The Countdown is underway. At this moment, it's now 2 day, 4 hours and 39 minutes.... Enjoy!

1 comment:

LEWagner said...

The ratio of the diameter of the moon to the diameter of the earth also seems too incredible to be a mere coincidence.
I still remember being told in 8th grade geometry class that the geometric problem of "squaring the circle" had still not been solved, (as of 1966, or whatever year I was in 8th grade).
I was amazed to have heard about 3-4 years ago (since I was back in Thailand) that the problem has been solved, and within our life-time -- and that the solution is so simple and seemingly obvious, it is just amazing that no one had thought of it before.