October 20, 2017

Ghosts of Eclipses Past

Trouvelot’s classic view of the 1878 eclipse over Wyoming.

Image in the Public Domain.

Are you ready?

There’s a great line from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on the Three Stages of Sophistication which every civilization must pass: “1. How can we eat? 2. Why do we eat? And 3. Where shall we do lunch?” [Read more...]

Review: Being in the Shadow by Dr. Kate Russo

On sale now!

Headed to the August 21st total solar eclipse? You could do well to listen to those who have stood in the shadow of the Moon before. Like many other umbraphiles (those who chase after eclipses), we’ll be headed northward to greet the Moon’s shadow two short lunations from now as it races across the contiguous United States from coast-to-coast for the first time in nearly a century.

This will be the first total solar eclipse for us, and the celestial spectacle is sure to mint a whole new generation of eclipse chasers… but what is totality really like? Dr. Kate Russo’s Being in the Shadow gives us a glimpse of how the November 13th, 2012 eclipse unfolded through the testimonies of several individuals who share their experiences leading up to, during and after the eclipse. These aren’t astronomers, scientists or even veteran eclipse chasers: rather, these are all eclipse neophytes who, for one reason or another, decided to witness the event. These testimonies offer a unique perspective on the eclipse. They also give you a sense of what so many other eclipse chasers reiterate: it’s hard to describe the eclipse experience, a “false dawn” at midday where reality turns on its head.

These stories also underscore two key facets of a total solar eclipse that are sure to come into play this August: 1. getting into the path of totality is a must for the true experience. We saw the 1994 annular solar eclipse from the shores of Lake Erie, and can attest that a 99% eclipsed Sun is still pretty darned bright. And 2. While all safety precautions need to be undertaken during the partial phases of a solar eclipse, you can indeed look at totality (the solar corona is about twice as bright as a Full Moon). Often, the public gets bombarded with “don’t look at the Sun” messages leading up to an eclipse, to the point that people hide inside and shutter their windows. But if you fail to see the ethereal glow of totality, you’re missing the key climax of a total solar eclipse.

Being in the Shadow is an essential read leading up to the Great American Eclipse. I’d also recommend Dr. Russo’s Total Addiction. And us? We’ll be waiting for the shadow of the Moon in Columbia, South Carolina on August 21st, a fine display of hubris owing the the possibility of clouds on a summer afternoon, we know… hey, we’ll have our trusty Fiat handy, ready to dash down (or up) the path as needed on eclipse day. And then just seven short years later April 8th, 2024, the United States gets another total solar eclipse crossing from the southwest to the northeast, right over my hometown of Presque Isle, Maine… where will you be?

- Also: Read our free e-book 101 Astronomical Events for 2017, for a tale of eclipses, Edison’s Chickens and more.

- Check out 12 Great Eclipses in History via www.listosaur.com

- Eclipse… science fiction? Check out our original tales: Exeligmos, The Syzygy Gambit and Peak Season.

U.S. Postal Service to Issue Changeling Total Solar Eclipse Stamps

A mind-bending stamp.

Credit: USPS.

Ready for the Great American Eclipse? If you’re like us, you’ve been planning on where you’ll be meeting totality on August 21st, 2017 for going on a decade now. It’s the big ticket celestial show of 2017 for sure, maybe the decade (we’re assuming, of course, that a killer comet or alien invasion isn’t on tap for our unsuspecting planet in 2018 through 2020).

Just last month, the U.S. Postal Service got in on the act, with the announcement of a release of a Forever Stamp commemorating the total solar eclipse on June 20th. The first-day-of-issue ceremony takes place at the Art Museum in Laramie, Wyoming, which lies on the eclipse path of totality. Ceremony participants will catch a rare spectacle of June 20th, as a sunbeam meets a silver dollar embedded in the museum floor, an event which only occurs during the June summer solstice. We’ll note if they carry the event live.

And check out this amazing video simulation of the Moon’s umbral shadow gliding across the contiguous United States on August 21st from west to east courtesy of umbraphile Michael Zeiler:

Fly over the Great American Eclipse from Michael Zeiler on Vimeo.

The eclipse stamps are printed using thermochromic ink, and will change from totality to an image of a Full Moon when heated, say, by the owner’s thumb, then revert to the eclipsed Sun once again upon cooling. The photo depicts the total solar eclipse snapped from Libya on March 29th, 2006 by Fred Espenak.

Here’s a cool idea; mail a letter/postcard to yourself or a friend on August 21st, 2017 for a one of a kind “postal cover” postmarked with the date of the eclipse… maybe this could become a tradition for eclipse-chasers on subsequent expeditions.

This will be an eclipse for the ages for sure… be sure to pre-order your USPS Eclipse Stamps now, they’re sure to sell out quick!