Now I am eagerly looking forward to completing my eighth decade this summer. If I believed in astrology, I’d even think that there was significance in my being a Leo, the sign ruled by the sun. On August 21 (coincidentally, my partner’s and my father’s birthday) there will be a total solar eclipse across the United States. Those within a few miles north or south of the cross-country transit line will have a good view if the weather allows it. We plan to watch it from a carefully selected spot in eastern Oregon. For the first time in my life, I will see a total eclipse.
|Waiting for the eclipse|
Around 10 A.M., the syzygy (alignment of three bodies) will be exactly right. From this distance the sun and moon appear to have the same diameter. As Earth turns on its axis, our view of the sun will be blocked by the moon, which will appear to rush across the sun. For a few awe-inspiring minutes only the sun’s corona (outermost atmosphere) will be visible, looking like a ring of sparkling diamonds. The sky around it will be black, illuminated only by stars. Animals may behave strangely, affected by the sudden change in light and temperature.
Understandably, many myths and superstitions started with the idea that during an eclipse something was eating the sun. During a partial eclipse, or the beginning of a total one, it does look as if a huge bite has been taken out of the sun. Ancient Norse people thought wolves were the predators; Vietnamese, a giant frog. Dogs, dragons, and bears were blamed in other cultures. Even now, some people fear that an eclipse is a danger to pregnant women, or that food cooked during an eclipse will become poisoned. The temporary disappearance of the sun is often viewed as an omen of disaster.
Magical thinking is unneeded, though. The exciting, beautiful reality is more than enough. Unless bad weather interferes with the view, we can for a few minutes take off our eclipse-viewing glasses and look directly at the sun (it’s the only time doing so does not risk blindness).
Even those with no interest in astronomy can find comfort in looking at the sky. Contemplating the vastness of the universe and of time enables us to see our lives and world events in perspective. For the past several months many of us have sunk into despair and anger because of what the right-wing political and religious leaders are doing to our beloved country. Perhaps they will be like the moon, though—obscuring the sun for only a short time, and even then allowing us to see a sparking corona of possibilities.