'Eclipse mania': The dragon ate my sun

The Great American Eclipse will happen Monday, August 21 and it's safe to say that in the grand history of the human race, no eclipse has come close to generating the hype, the hoopla, and just plain silliness that this one will.

A worldwide audience of several billion people will follow the path of the eclipse as it moves from the Pacific Northwest to South Carolina, cutting a 70 mile wide swath across the continental United States. People will watch it live on TV, on their smart phones, on their desktops, and millions will travel hundreds and even thousands of miles to witness the celestial event in person. The suffocating coverage of this rather mundane astronomical phenomenon is unprecedented. It will dwarf coverage of the World Cup soccer tournament, a global event that is followed by up to 2 billion people.

It's mundane because a solar eclipse occurs somewhere on earth every 18 months. But most eclipses occur over the oceans or in out of the way locations. Veteran eclipse chasers are usually forced to watch the event from cruise ships or on nearly deserted spits of land.

But America is the information and media capitol of the world. Nearly 11 million people live along the path of totality the sun will take. This will make the eclipse one of the most shared events in human history.

But, this being America, there is much silliness that will attend this event. How about this from The Atlantic?

On August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will arrive mid-morning on the coast of Oregon. The moon’s shadow will be about 70 miles wide, and it will race across the country faster than the speed of sound, exiting the eastern seaboard shortly before 3 p.m. local time. It has been dubbed the Great American Eclipse, and along most of its path, there live almost no black people.

Presumably, this is not explained by the implicit bias of the solar system. It is a matter of population density, and more specifically geographic variations in population density by race, for which the sun and the moon cannot be held responsible. Still, an eclipse chaser is always tempted to believe that the skies are relaying a message. At a moment of deep disagreement about the nation’s best path forward, here comes a giant round shadow, drawing a line either to cut the country in two or to unite it as one. Ancient peoples watched total eclipses with awe and often dread, seeing in the darkness omens of doom. The Great American Eclipse may or may not tell us anything about our future, but its peculiar path could.

Oh. My. God.

But really, it's no sillier to say that a dragon is going to eat the sun, as the Chinese believed, or my favorite ancient explantation for an eclipse from Hindu texts:

Perhaps the most creative version of this strand of mythologies comes from certain branches of Hindu culture. In that version, the mortal Rahu is said to have attempted to attain immortality. The sun and moon told the god Visnu of Rahu’s transgression. As punishment, Visnu decapitated Rahu.

Ever since, Rahu has sought to exact vengeance on the sun and the moon by pursuing them across the sky to eat them. Once in a while—at the time of an eclipse—Rahu actually catches the sun or the moon. In the case of a solar eclipse, Rahu slowly devours the sun, and it gradually disappears into Rahu’s throat – only to reappear from his severed neck.

In other branches of Hindu culture, the “sun eater” took the more traditional form of a dragon. To fight this beast, certain Hindu sects in India immersed themselves up to the neck in water in an act of worship, believing that the adulation would aid the sun in fighting off the dragon.

I dare say the Hindus took a more realistic approach to the eclipse than our racially sensitive friend at the Atlantic.

But the ancients could never have imagined the kind of excitement being ginned up over "our" eclipse:

Here in the high desert of central Oregon, the focal point of Eclipse Mania is the town of Madras, population 6,200. This weekend the town expects roughly 100,000 visitors. This place is just about perfectly situated on the centerline of the path of totality, and most importantly, it’s climatologically gifted in late August, having a lower probability of cloud cover than any other place in America along the eclipse’s path.

The problem is smoke. You can see a long tongue of smoke extending from the Cascades, coming from a wildfire near a small town called Sisters. It’s wildfire season, so this is all completely normal — except that on Monday, anything that interferes with eclipse perfection will be completely unacceptable.

The smoke situation will probably be just fine. That’s the official word from experts monitoring the situation. The wind is supposed to shift this weekend and ensure blue skies. But make no mistake, the standards for this eclipse here in the Oregon desert are astronomically high.

Madras, Oregon is only the tip of the iceberg. Dozens of small towns along the route of the total eclipse will be swamped with many times their population. Huge traffic jams are expected, Authorities have warned people driving on the interstate not to stop their car and get out to take a selfie. Really.

During totality, I'll be far enough away - about 200 miles - that I can avoid the crush but close enough to experience about 70% totality. That translates into a darkening of the sun that we'd see at dusk. 

Here's a handy map that gives you an idea of where and when totality will occur.

 

 

The Great American Eclipse will happen Monday, August 21 and it's safe to say that in the grand history of the human race, no eclipse has come close to generating the hype, the hoopla, and just plain silliness that this one will.

A worldwide audience of several billion people will follow the path of the eclipse as it moves from the Pacific Northwest to South Carolina, cutting a 70 mile wide swath across the continental United States. People will watch it live on TV, on their smart phones, on their desktops, and millions will travel hundreds and even thousands of miles to witness the celestial event in person. The suffocating coverage of this rather mundane astronomical phenomenon is unprecedented. It will dwarf coverage of the World Cup soccer tournament, a global event that is followed by up to 2 billion people.

It's mundane because a solar eclipse occurs somewhere on earth every 18 months. But most eclipses occur over the oceans or in out of the way locations. Veteran eclipse chasers are usually forced to watch the event from cruise ships or on nearly deserted spits of land.

But America is the information and media capitol of the world. Nearly 11 million people live along the path of totality the sun will take. This will make the eclipse one of the most shared events in human history.

But, this being America, there is much silliness that will attend this event. How about this from The Atlantic?

On August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will arrive mid-morning on the coast of Oregon. The moon’s shadow will be about 70 miles wide, and it will race across the country faster than the speed of sound, exiting the eastern seaboard shortly before 3 p.m. local time. It has been dubbed the Great American Eclipse, and along most of its path, there live almost no black people.

Presumably, this is not explained by the implicit bias of the solar system. It is a matter of population density, and more specifically geographic variations in population density by race, for which the sun and the moon cannot be held responsible. Still, an eclipse chaser is always tempted to believe that the skies are relaying a message. At a moment of deep disagreement about the nation’s best path forward, here comes a giant round shadow, drawing a line either to cut the country in two or to unite it as one. Ancient peoples watched total eclipses with awe and often dread, seeing in the darkness omens of doom. The Great American Eclipse may or may not tell us anything about our future, but its peculiar path could.

Oh. My. God.

But really, it's no sillier to say that a dragon is going to eat the sun, as the Chinese believed, or my favorite ancient explantation for an eclipse from Hindu texts:

Perhaps the most creative version of this strand of mythologies comes from certain branches of Hindu culture. In that version, the mortal Rahu is said to have attempted to attain immortality. The sun and moon told the god Visnu of Rahu’s transgression. As punishment, Visnu decapitated Rahu.

Ever since, Rahu has sought to exact vengeance on the sun and the moon by pursuing them across the sky to eat them. Once in a while—at the time of an eclipse—Rahu actually catches the sun or the moon. In the case of a solar eclipse, Rahu slowly devours the sun, and it gradually disappears into Rahu’s throat – only to reappear from his severed neck.

In other branches of Hindu culture, the “sun eater” took the more traditional form of a dragon. To fight this beast, certain Hindu sects in India immersed themselves up to the neck in water in an act of worship, believing that the adulation would aid the sun in fighting off the dragon.

I dare say the Hindus took a more realistic approach to the eclipse than our racially sensitive friend at the Atlantic.

But the ancients could never have imagined the kind of excitement being ginned up over "our" eclipse:

Here in the high desert of central Oregon, the focal point of Eclipse Mania is the town of Madras, population 6,200. This weekend the town expects roughly 100,000 visitors. This place is just about perfectly situated on the centerline of the path of totality, and most importantly, it’s climatologically gifted in late August, having a lower probability of cloud cover than any other place in America along the eclipse’s path.

The problem is smoke. You can see a long tongue of smoke extending from the Cascades, coming from a wildfire near a small town called Sisters. It’s wildfire season, so this is all completely normal — except that on Monday, anything that interferes with eclipse perfection will be completely unacceptable.

The smoke situation will probably be just fine. That’s the official word from experts monitoring the situation. The wind is supposed to shift this weekend and ensure blue skies. But make no mistake, the standards for this eclipse here in the Oregon desert are astronomically high.

Madras, Oregon is only the tip of the iceberg. Dozens of small towns along the route of the total eclipse will be swamped with many times their population. Huge traffic jams are expected, Authorities have warned people driving on the interstate not to stop their car and get out to take a selfie. Really.

During totality, I'll be far enough away - about 200 miles - that I can avoid the crush but close enough to experience about 70% totality. That translates into a darkening of the sun that we'd see at dusk. 

Here's a handy map that gives you an idea of where and when totality will occur.

 

 

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