Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Total Eclipse on the Chart

I’m not sure if you freaked out on Monday or not like I did, but as it turns out the sun was not shutting off like I initially suspected. It was actually the eclipse everyone was talking about. I don’t know about you, but around here it was total eclipse mania on Monday. Suddenly everyone was an eclipse expert, throwing around technical eclipse terms like Path of Totality, ISO Compliant Solar Filters, Chromosphere, and Corona. Here on the west coast, the eclipse happened just after 10 A.M., so in addition to Corona, we used other technical eclipse viewing terms like Mimosa and Bloody Mary.

Unfortunately, we do not live in the path of totality. For any other type of totality, I would count that as a blessing, but for this eclipse, I was disappointed. It was the first time in my life I wished I lived in the path of anything. Our eclipse here in California was non-total, so it didn’t get really dark. It just got kinda gloomy and slightly cooler, as if we were all in Canada for a few minutes.   

For most people outside the path of totality, Monday was just a normal work day with a slightly unique (and possibly momentarily terrifying) event in the middle. If you were in the path of totality, however, the eclipse became almost a national holiday. NASA should think about renaming it the Path of Totally Gonna Skip Work and Have an Eclipse Party.

Many folks were confused on the difference between a solar and lunar eclipse, and which one was occurring. I can answer that question. A solar eclipse, which we experienced Monday, is when the moon passes in front of the sun. A lunar eclipse is when the plumber bends down to look under the sink and you shield your eyes with your hand to avoid being subjected to his exposed butt crack.

Lunar eclipses, unfortunately for everyone involved, are not rare, even though belts are sold at every clothing store in the world, all truck stops, and even some gas stations.

As far as solar eclipses go, they are far more infrequent. There have been conflicting reports, based on mimosa intake, of when the last total solar eclipse was over the United States, and when the next one will be. I have no idea, but I know who does – a man named Fred Espenak, who is a total astronomical badass.

I don’t know Fred personally, and if I ever met him, I probably wouldn’t be able to communicate with him effectively, since he is obviously a higher-order human than myself. One five-minute conversation would likely melt my puny brain, so it’s probably best if I stay here in California, and NASA continues to keep Fred securely and safely away from regular humans.

Who is Fred, you ask? He’s the guy that gave us charts and graphs of all the past, present, and future eclipses on NASA’s special eclipse website.

Having never met him, how do I know that Fred is the space-math super genius that I’m making him out to be? One simple sentence at the bottom of the main web page:

“All eclipse calculations are by Fred Espenak, and he assumes full responsibility for their accuracy.”

He assumes full responsibility for their accuracy!? That’s a rather bold and refreshing statement in an era when no one assumes responsibility for anything at all, up to and including their own actions. I mean, NASA probably told Fred that they assume no responsibility for his vehicle, or any items left in his vehicle being lost or stolen when he parks at work. Does that bother Fred? Hell no. Fred just laughs and assumes full responsibility for the accuracy of his calculations.

After Fred moved any valuables to the trunk of his Camry (he’s no fool), he went to work and gave us solar eclipse maps and times from 1851 to 2100, detailed enough to know whether or not the next moon’s shadow is going to touch the last parking space at the Circle K at Ficklin and Niles in Tuscola, Illinois, just outside of Chicken Bristle. And by the way, the Circle K does not assume any responsibility for your vehicle in their lot, either. Especially on eclipse days.

You should see Fred’s columns of times and coordinates for each eclipse. Seriously. Please look at them and tell me what they mean. I don’t have the foggiest idea.

What I do know is that Fred Espenak, NASA/GSFC Emeritus (whatever that means), is the one person left in the United States that assumes full responsibility for anything, so I’m going to trust his eclipse calculations.

I mean, I kinda have to. How would I know if they were wrong? I guess I could travel to the middle of the South Pacific Ocean for the next total solar eclipse on July 2, 2019 at 19:24:07 to check his accuracy, but I really don’t see that happening. I’m not sure you can get good Bloody Marys out there.

By the way, I assume no responsibility whatsoever for the accuracy of this column.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen

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