I wrote this post as a Sunday interlude 6 days and 5 hours since after our clocks struck 10:20 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, Monday August 21, the exact moment that the moon passed precisely in front of the sun to create a shadow across the northwest, to a greater or lesser extent. By the time we post this, the media mania of the moment will be onto something else, which assuredly will not be anywhere near as benign as a solar eclipse.
It’s a recent benignity. In earlier times feared eclipses were caused by giant frogs gulping the sun, polar bears biting the sun, or even the sun retreating to its home in a disgruntled huff. Ominous signs of bad tidings. Pregnant women and children needed to stay indoors and any food on the stove was best thrown out. Even during this current eclipse we all were cautioned to avoid looking directly at the sun, and current President aside, that still seems good advice.
The moon butts in front of the sun with great regularity, somewhat less so if you insist on limiting your vantage points to earth, and less so again if you stay rooted in the Pacific Northwest. In fact our next full eclipse reportedly will be on June 24, 2169. So depending on the degree of our notorious cloud cover, you will need those eclipse glasses again just a few months shy of 151 years. Pack them away carefully in a place you’ll easily remember.
The twilight, the swooshes and the sudden chill were amazing natural effects. There was a wonderful human phenomena too; the community of the eclipse. I shared a street corner with dozens of people trading glasses, quips, and amazement.
In Seattle the degree of our eclipse was 91.9 percent of totality. Even receiving only 8.1 percent of the sun’s typical strength for a clear August 21st morning, there was still enough twilight to see, colors and all. Admittedly, there were strange things happening in the shadows with those Nike swooshes taking over where dappled sunlight normally played—perhaps a remnant of those earlier more mystical times. But make no mistake, the energy hitting the earth was comparatively minuscule.
If I did the math close enough for slide rule accuracy—remember those?—during the deepest moment of the eclipse, we were getting as much solar energy at the southwest corner of 6th and Madison where I was standing, as we could expect at a street corner on a clear noonday in the great city of Whitehorse in the Yukon—at the Winter Solstice, December 21! (In case you’re wondering about the sudden temperature drop.)
The twilight, the swooshes and the sudden chill were amazing natural effects. There was a wonderful human phenomena too; the community of the eclipse. I shared a street corner with dozens of people trading glasses, quips, and amazement. An inventive guy made a 3 pinhole camera with stepped down apertures, projecting the eclipse with correspondingly sharper resolutions. And then, within five or ten minutes, all were gone but a few stragglers, back to their work worlds.
This community of the eclipse, as transitory as it may have been, was replicated in countless instances along its path. We proved once again the enduring humanity of humans. A moment of shared awe during a year of grave political divisiveness. Here’s to community. Let’s keep working at it—for the sake of those humans who will be watching our next solar eclipse on June 24, 2169.