Trivia 086: Eclipse special

I hope that everyone was able to see the total solar eclipse today! If you didn’t, the picture at the top of the page is one I took during totality. Although This is the first time I got to see a total solar eclipse; I was not able to travel for the one in 2017. I have to say that it was absolutely phenomenal, and I am so glad I was able to see it. I can see why people travel around the world for them. I might consider doing so as well for future ones.

As we first started looking at the sun (with solar glasses and solar filters on my camera and binoculars, of course), not much seemed different. But as we continued to stare, a tiny curve of darkness began obscuring the right side. We continued watching, through gaps in the clouds, as the darkness continued to grow, like a bite taken out of the sun. Once the sun was over halfway obscured, the effects started to become more noticeable. The light levels outside started dimming. However, it was a very peculiar experience. Unlike a sunset, things were still being illuminated from above, and there were not long shadows. Also, since the sun was still high in the sky, the sky did not turn red like it does during sunset. Everything was just getting darker.

As totality neared, the darkening became much more noticeable much more quickly. As the sunlight faded, the temperature also dropped. A hot, Texan day gave way to a cool twilight.

And then, all of a sudden, it was gone. It was replaced in the sky by a shining silver circle – the corona. There was a perfectly black circle surrounded by a bright white ring. To the left of the missing sun, Venus appeared. To the right was Jupiter. Looking closely at the sun, you could even see red spots around the edges – solar prominences arcing into the corona. The picture at the top of the page was taken without any filter on my camera – that’s actually what it looked like to the naked eye.

It is hard to describe the feeling of seeing this white circle hang in the sky where the sun once was. Up until the moment of totality, the light from the sun was bright enough that you could not look at it without protective eyewear. But the moment totality hit, everything changed.

And then, three minutes and nine seconds later, we all put our glasses back on as the sun peeked out from behind the other edge of the moon. the sky immediately began to brighten up, though Jupiter and Venus were still visible for a few more minutes. Soon enough, everything seemed back to normal, though it was another hour until the eclipse was fully over.

Watching the eclipse, it was clear to see why ancient cultures who saw them would have considered them magical and mythical events. However, I think it is important to note that, although our ancestors did not have the tools and knowledge we have today, they still had keen eyes and logical minds. Many past civilizations were able to predict when eclipses would occur, including the Babylonians, the Maya, and the Chinese. Though they still may have considered them omens, they knew they appeared with regularity.

This made me annoyed when I heard people talking about today’s eclipse, saying things like “Who knows when this will happen again?” Thanks to the internet, anyone can check when and where the next total solar eclipse will occur (it’s August 12, 2026). I was equally annoyed by people saying “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event!”. Although the next total solar eclipse in the United States won’t occur until August 3, 2044, you can see one every few years as long as you are willing to travel. I have actually met some people who use eclipses as an excuse to travel around the world.

If you missed today’s eclipse, start making plans to travel for another one! I can guarantee that it will be worth it.  Unfortunately, the mainstream news often does not report on these things in as timely a fashion as we’d like. People in the astronomical community have been talking about and planning for this eclipse for several years, in some cases. And yet the major news outlets did not start bringing it up until a few weeks before – not much time for people to prepare. If you do not want to get caught off guard with other cool astronomical events, consider checking in with your local astronomy group every few months to see what’s up. There’s almost certainly someone in your area you can reach out to. I plan to add lots more information to my Events and Opportunities page, so hopefully that can also be a resource for people in the future.

This has been a busy few weeks for me, but things should be normalizing soon, so your normal trivia will resume next week!

If you know anyone who would like to receive these, please have them send an email to [email protected]. And if you didn’t see totality and are jealous, let me know and I can take you off the list.

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