Partial Solar Eclipse of August 2017

Isn’t astronomy an exciting science? There is so much wow-factor in the celestial: planets with rings and moons and all kinds of colors, comets, meteor showers (a.k.a. shooting stars–I mean, let’s not let such a lovely, whimsical name go to waste for the sake of being accurate!), constellations, mysteries like black holes, and spectacular events like supernova explosions, planetary transits, and solar and lunar eclipses.

I vividly remember looking out the rear window of our childhood minivan, eyes glued to the glowing orb with a glimmering tail. I’d been informed by my grade-school teachers that we may never see another comet in our lifetime, so I took seriously the charge to enjoy the view.

I was less interested in the lunar eclipse that took place in my teen years. Yeah, ok, cool, snap some pictures, move on. But the one  wilderness camping adventure I was convinced to take as a teenager imprinted on my mind forever the glory of the heavenlies as I star-gazed with a few of my closest friends on a small island far from civilization with a rushing river the soundtrack to a magnificent, horizon-to-horizon shooting star that made us gasp in awe!

While I’ve never allowed my minute fascination to blossom into a career or even a hobby (shucks, I never even opted to take astronomy in high school when I had the chance!), it was a thrill to get caught up in the excitement overtaking the country this August as the solar eclipse neared!

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The night before August 21st, I pulled out the globe, a flashlight, and a little toy ball and made the resident rocket scientist explain and demonstrate an eclipse to two eager little students bedecked in their outer-space pajamas. Eddie’s response to Dad’s “clips”: “Tomorrow is going to be soooooo FUN!”

We trekked to the local library about 15 minutes before their eclipse-viewing event was about to start. The line awaiting entrance to the cordoned off part of the parking lot where two telescopes were set up was already stretching around the corner. “There’s no way we get glasses,” I thought to myself. Why didn’t I pick up a pair in the weeks leading up to the event, when they had them just sitting there on the checkout desk? But somehow they were still handing them out when we finally wound our way up to the front of the line. Shortly after us, they ran out, but kind neighbors were passing around their glasses all during the two and half hour show. The atmosphere was one of excitement, anticipation, and community togetherness. We had a blast milling around seeing friends and neighbors, chatting about the eclipse, and peering through the safety glasses every few minutes. But, for all his enthusiasm the night before, Eddie refused to look through them and see the wonder of the darkening sun. He’s kinda weird like that sometimes. It’s bright, why even try to look at the sun? So he had to settle for watching the image the telescope inverted onto a poster board.

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We only had 62% coverage here in Southern California, so it only ever got a little dusky. Next time (2024), we’ll plan ahead. Totality just sounds too fun to miss!

The best part of our eclipse experience? Later that week, a not-so-sleepy Eddie was caught well after bedtime, neck craning as he looked out the window at the half moon. “Look, Mom, the moon is covering the sun again!” I allowed my excitement over his simple understanding of a solar eclipse to overcome my frustration at finding him out of bed.

“Sorry, buddy, that’s just the moon this time,” I said. But I still pulled up the shade so we could get a good look, together, and wonder and the awesome, mundane glory of the night sky. After all, who knows, maybe he’ll remember that moment–stargazing with Mom from his childhood bedroom when he was supposed to be asleep–with as much fondness as he does the thrill of his first solar eclipse.

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