Solar Eclipse

The Sun was still bright enough to dazzle my lens, but you can see the lensflare has a crescent shape.

||Some of you may have noticed that we had an eclipse today! It was a remarkable event to experience, and I watched it from downtown Portland. We were about about 20 odd miles from the path of totally which translated to 99% of an eclipse for us. At its peak the Sun was only a thin crescent, and while we didn’t make it to full dark, we definitely got to experience an early dusk and a late dawn within a few minutes of each other. The slow movement of the Moon across the Sun’s face case gave me time to think beyond the eclipse’s immediacy as well. It wasn’t just a once in a lifetime experience, it was a once in a lifetime experience shared to one degree or another by just about everyone in the US.

Most such shared memory events are catastrophic in nature. For my generation the times we all “remember where we were when we found out” are the Challenger explosion, 9/11, and any large natural disaster that we we’ve gone through. (For me that’s the ’82 flood in Soquel, and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.) This was a unique and beautiful experience though, that we’ll all be able to not just remember, but share in commonality for decades to come. It was also a reminder on in sharing that we all share a single planet. And to hearken back to Carl Sagan’s famous quote about that “pale, blue dot,” everyone we have ever known, or will know, is also here.

This planet is all we have had for the entirety of the human race, and all we will ever have. We are, and have always been, one people, but we let fear, insecurities, and hatred lead us into conflict. Our societies invariably drop to the level of the most violent, greedy, and dishonest because they are the ones most hurtful to others. So much of our time and energies are spent protecting the majority of peaceful individuals just wanting to live, from the capricious fuckeries of the few, that I have to wonder what we could accomplish as a people if we didn’t have to protect ourselves from ourselves? Even as a thin crescent of just 1% of its fullness, the Sun was bright enough to dazzle the my phones camera, and hurt to look at. The Sun pours energy upon all of us, enough to power everyone multiple times over, yet we still resist embracing it. We find excuses about costs and reliabilities, even though all of them, at the end of the day, are just engineering challenges. We are moving in the right direction, but slowly and in spite of those same greedy, dishonest, and uncaring individuals who value their own comfort over the sufferings of everyone else.

The eclipse was also a wonderful reminder of the inherent beauty within science, and its ability to predict such events to within the minute. The Earth’s rotation has the ground beneath our feet moving at around 600 miles per hour, and it orbits the Sun at 19 miles per second, or 67,000 miles an hour. The Moon meanwhile, is moving at a “slow” (but still impressive) 2,300 miles an hour in relation to us, and both are traipsing along with the Sun as it moves in relation to galactic center at 450,000 miles per hour. But we perceive ourselves to be still as these celestial objects move slowly across the sky, with the entire transit in front of the Sun taking the Moon over 2 hours!

There was a time, many years ago, where I thought of becoming an astronomer. While my path definitely strayed far from the hard sciences, I still have a deep love and appreciation for the “magic” of our universe. Even the Moon’s size is too big to fully grasp for us, and it’s some 400 some times smaller than the Sun! The relative motion between the Sun, Moon, and Earth is nigh on impossible to discern- until there’s an eclipse. Then we can watch as the Moon slowly moves across the Sun (or vice-versa), and witness first-hand the intricate dance of gravity amongst star, planet, and satellite. It is awe inspiring to not just watch the eclipse, but to account for every piece of motion between the three, and witness first hand their movements.

Finally, the Sun was still a fat crescent when I saw a jet traverse it. It was a tiny dot, a speck really, but there was no mistaking the movement. When I took off my eclipse glasses and looked past the Sun to where it was headed there was only the faintest of contrails to see, and with the speck itself lost to the high, blue sky. Within a few seconds even the contrail drifted apart and it was well and truly gone.

We now regularly soar amongst the clouds and beyond their tops. We’ve sent men to walk across the surface of the Moon, and sent dozens of probes throughout the solar system. We are learning to use the abundance of energy dropped by the Sun upon us day in, and day out, on the only planet we will ever call home. The eclipse was a reminder of all of these things to me, not just of how far we have come, but of how much further we need to go, and that nature’s beauty will be a constant backdrop for us through it all- a beauty we can all share and cherish.

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