Earth, the moon, the sun and the eclipse
Mark Twain fans may recall how a total eclipse helps protagonist Hank Morgan escape death and impress royalty and the magician Merlin when Morgan time travels to sixth century England after a blow to the head in Twain’s novel “A Connecticut Yankee in King’s Arthur’s Court.”
On Aug. 21, a total solar eclipse, visible to the continental United States, inspired scientists, baffled wildlife and dazzled star gazers with its celestial show.
The phenomenon even sparked a week’s plus posting of song lyrics tweeted by none other than Neil deGrasse Tyson, celebrated astrophysicist and science communicator, who tapped luminaries such as Carly Simon, Cat Stevens, Bonnie Tyler and rock band Pink Floyd to mark the occasion.
And deGrasse Tyson set the record straight for more than a few amateur astronomers when he wrote Aug. 16 “total solar eclipses occur somewhere on earth every two years. So just calm yourself when people tell you they’re rare.”
Three celestial objects are needed to create a total solar eclipse; Earth, the moon and the sun.
The longest solar eclipse of the first decade of the 21st century happened July 22, 2009, lasting more than six minutes off the coast of Southeast Asia. The total solar eclipse of May 29, 1919, helped verify Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.
The first solar eclipse to be photographed took place July 28,1851, and eclipses have been tracked and documented since ancient times, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, otherwise known as NASA. The last total eclipse viewed in the continental United States was March 7, 1970, in South Carolina. The last total eclipse in contiguous, meaning sharing a border, North America was Feb. 26, 1979, and extended through Washington state, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota in the United States and the provinces of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec in Canada.
In a solar eclipse, the moon completely blocks the sun’s disk allowing only the sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, to be seen. The phenomenon has been known to cause animals to confuse day and night.
And an eclipse can impact human behavior as well.
The Register Guard, a newspaper in Eugene, Ore., reported traffic jams starting Aug. 18 as pilgrims made their way to be in the path of totality, or full darkness, extending from Oregon, where the eclipse made landfall, so to speak, to South Carolina. Oregon State Police documented a 15-mile traffic jam on Highway 26 heading through the town of Prineville as travelers made their way to a festival celebrating the eclipse. The traffic jam extended onto local roads in the area as well as eclipse fans traveled to the festival venue.
Local events included eclipse viewing parties at the main branch of the Bethlehem Public Library, Northampton Area Public Library, the Nature Nuture Center and the Crayola Experience, both in Easton and the Da Vinci Science Center in Allentown.
Fifteen other total solar eclipses have crossed the path of the Aug. 21 event since 1503, according to NASA, and were witnessed by members of the Seminole, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Cherokee Nation, Cheyenne Nation and Shoshone Native American tribes as well as American settlers and others.
The next total solar eclipse visible in the continental United States will be April 8, 2024, and is expected to track from Texas to Maine.