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The Transcendental Eclipse

Like much of the country, I spent Monday afternoon staring at the sun.

We have a cabin in northeast Vermont. Up there it’s referred to as a camp. Which is a synonym for shack. No running water and an outhouse.

It’s in beautiful country and—despite having a difficult neighbor to the east—we love it.

This year we especially loved it since it was in the bottom end of totality. We got 1 minute 38 seconds. If we’d driven thirty-seven miles north, we could have made over three minutes. But we were skittish.

Turns out we weren’t wrong, though we probably could have driven north and been just fine. We knew the back roads and many of the upcoming tourists did not. Near us there didn’t seem to be many people coming up for the day. Regardless, we didn’t try. We came up Saturday and returned on Tuesday. From what we understood from friends, this was the way to go. Some took twelve hours to get home.

Last time, in 2017, we were staying in Colorado Springs, many hours south of totality. We left at four in the morning, figuring to make it to Casper, Wyoming. We did not. We ended up stuck on the road about thirty miles south. Instead, we drove into a highway rest area and parked, along with a thousand other people. The toilets broke. People grumbled. But we were in totality and it was totally worth it.

Let’s be clear, any eclipse or portion thereof is wonderful. Seeing the sun carved in half by the Moon is terrific in and of itself. But totality is a different animal.

An eclipse takes a while—this one took about three hours from when the Moon first starts carving away until the time it  finally leaves the sun alone. Totality, when the Moon fully obscures the sun, is a tiny fraction of that. To me, it’s three hours of very interesting observation with a minute and half of transcendental ecstasy in the middle. (XKCD has a terrific graphic for this here.)

Total eclipses are a function of the Moon being close enough to the earth that it completely obscures the sun when it passes between them. In the distant past, when the Moon was much closer to the earth, total eclipses were much longer. The Moon is gradually moving away from the Earth. 50 million years ago, or so, the Moon moved out far enough to exactly cover the sun. In about 50 million years, total eclipses will be a thing of the past.

This year we had our neighbor yell at us when we pulled up next to the cabin. Then, the bed broke and we had to sleep on cots—only one of which really worked. Then, our friend Bill got stuck on Sunday when Gina Google misdirected him onto a road that is only open in the summer. My brother-in-law, Dan, got stuck on Monday the same day and we had to hurry to get him out before things started happening. My camera didn’t really focus properly—the picture above is a little blurry. Dan’s pinhole camera didn’t work as well as he would have liked.

But when totality hit and we saw Bailey’s Beads and the red and purple of prominences flying out into space, it didn’t matter.

It was totally worth it.



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