How to view the solar eclipse

Opinion: Editorials

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By Tom Holmes

Monday is the big day for the solar eclipse. The edge of the moon's disk will touch the edge of the sun's disk at 11:54 a.m.; here in Forest Park, 87% of the sun's disk will be blocked by the moon at 1:30 p.m.; and the edge of the moon's disk will leave the sun's disk at 2:42 pm.

If you want to see a total eclipse, drive to Carbondale, or if you miss this one, you'll have a chance to see another eclipse in 2035 — that is, if you go to Asia or an island in the Pacific Ocean because it won't be visible here.

First, a warning. The American Astronomical Society is reminding us that if we don't want our retinas to be permanently damaged, we should get hold of eclipse viewing glasses with an optical density of 5 or greater. A website called eclipseglasses.com advises that the lenses should block out 100% of ultra-violet and infrared rays and 99% of intense visible light.

Kristine McCall, Director of the Cernan Earth and Space Center at Triton College (2000 5th Ave. in River Grove) said she will have 250 pairs for sale at a modest price on Aug. 21 in addition to the following full schedule of activities:

  •  9:30 a.m. - Ticket Window and Star Store open
  •  10:30 a.m. - Totality planetarium program - all seats $4.00
  •  11 a.m. - Solar observing and indoor and outdoor activities begin - FREE
  •  11 a.m. - Clavio's Café Food Cart opens for visitors to purchase
  •  11 a.m. - Totality planetarium program - all seats $4.00
  •  11:45 a.m. - Live streaming video in the planetarium theater - FREE
  •  12:15 p.m. - Tentative: U.S. Postal Service Solar Eclipse Stamp Unveiling, Free
  •  1 - 1:30 p.m. - Ticket Window and Star Store closed
  •  1:45 p.m. - Live streaming video moves to room I-111, Free
  •  2 p.m. - Dark Side of the Moon laser show (music by Pink Floyd) – all seats $5.00
  •  2 p.m. - Clavio's Café Food Cart closes 
  •  3 p.m. - Dark Side of the Moon laser show, all seats $5

To my mind, there are two ways to approach the viewing of the eclipse: 

One way I'll call the scientific way. For example, you can learn that the moon which is only a little more than 2,000 miles across can completely blot out the sun which is 865,000 miles across in an eclipse because of the principle of perspective. The moon is on average a mere 239,000 miles away from our planet while the sun is 93,000,000 miles away from us. The moon, because it is so much closer to Earth, acts like a fan sitting in front of us at a ballgame who keeps standing up, which blocks our view. Even though the guy is maybe 3 feet wide, he can block our view of a field 100 times as wide because he is close to us.

If you want to impress your friends with your scientific knowledge, memorize the following explanation of an eclipse which I got from Director McCall. Here goes: The anomalistic month of the Moon, from apogee to apogee, is 27.55 days. 27.55 x 239 cycles = 6,585.54 days. The synodic month of the Moon, from new Moon to new Moon is 29.53 days. 29.53 x 223 cycles = 6585.32 days. The eclipse year of the Sun, the time between when the Sun crosses one of the Moon's ascending nodes and when the Sun reaches the next ascending node is, 346.62 days. 346.62 x 19 cycles = 6,585.78 days.

Got that?

Personally, I prefer another way of viewing a natural phenomenon like an eclipse — call it the poetic way of thinking. All of the following are from Director McCall. The Chinese word for eclipse is shih which means "to eat" because they believed the Sun was being eaten by a celestial dragon. They would bang pots and pans, making as much noise as possible to scare the dragon away. Of course, their efforts always worked, but the eclipse was still seen as a bad omen.

A myth from India says that a head with no body, named Rahu, seeks revenge on the Sun and the Moon. He occasionally eats them but because he has no body, they always reappear. The story of Rahu spread across China, Siberia, and Mongolia. In Indonesia and Polynesia, he is called Kala Rahun, all head and no body, who eats the sun, burns his tongue and spits the sun out.

A Germanic myth says the Sun and Moon are always quarreling. Every so often they stop fighting long enough to meet, but the peace only lasts a short time. Soon they start quarreling again and go their separate ways. Sometimes the stories are just the opposite, the Sun and Moon are loving husband and wife.

Here's my favorite: The Fon people of Benin in West Africa say the Sun and Moon love each other but are always busy, in motion. They get together whenever they can, which is not often, but when they do, they modestly turn off the light.

Martin Buber, in what became a famous book titled, I and Thou, wrote that when we humans interact with anything or anyone, we can experience what we encounter either as an "it" or as a "thou." For example, a person in the lumber business might look at a Sequoia tree and think, "I wonder how many board feet of lumber are in that tree and how much money I could make by cutting it down." That's viewing the tree as an "it."

But I have a friend who, on hearing that the village was going to cut down a dying tree outside of her condo unit, went outside, put her hand on the tree and said goodbye to what had been a real friend of hers for many years. She was relating to the tree as a "thou."

To my mind, the Cernan Earth and Space Center, has the right balance when it comes to the eclipse. If you go there on Monday, you'll get a lot of scientific facts. But you will also be able to view a laser show with music by Pink Floyd which is designed to make you exclaim, "Oh, wow!" when it's over.

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Jordan Kuehn from Forest Park  

Posted: August 18th, 2017 1:40 AM

Tom, isn't there a total eclipse that will come near Forest Park in 2024? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_eclipse_of_April_8,_2024

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