Total eclipse an astronomical treat


In case you didn’t notice, there was a solar eclipse the other day — Monday, August 21 to be exact.

Because I am a bit of a nerd, I had anticipated the day and planned a long-awaited vacation around it. I really wanted to see this total eclipse.

There are two different types of solar eclipses: annular and total. An annular eclipse is not total in the sense that you can still see a ring of sun around the moon. The word “annular” is latin for ringlike.

A total eclipse occurs when the moon is closer to the earth and hides all of the sun from our view except for the solar corona.

Total eclipses are pretty uncommon; the last time the path of a total eclipse touched the lower 48 states was an east coast eclipse on March 7, 1970. The last one to pass across the country from west to east was June 8, 1918, while the U.S. was still engaged in World War I.

As the day neared I started watching the weather forecast a little more intently, fully determined to alter our route south based on the weather.

I confess that when I pack for a trip I load the car like I am going on an expedition or to war, this trip was no exception: tools, tire plug kit, air compressor, tow strap, battery booster — water, food, blankets and pillows. Books even. You know, the essentials.

I had read that traffic could be epic, so I packed for that too. In short I loaded up expecting that we could be stuck in one place for a while.

A few weeks before I sprained my foot running a local 5K race, so I made sure pack my walking stick as well. In the spirit of streamlining the load I decided to leave my crutches at home.

The morning of the eclipse we drove off heading south and west without an actual destination other than reaching the path of totality, and made a snap decision to leave the interstate and headed south on a charming route passing through Hodgenville (birthplace and childhood home of Abraham Lincoln), Glasgow, and many other small farming communities.

Traffic was nearly nonexistent, and we eventually pulled over in the small crossroads community of Bethpage, Tenn. to join a roadside eclipse party going on there. It was family friendly, with kids games, concessions and free parking.

It was a beautiful day to spend a few hours with some total strangers including a lady from Cincinnati and a Rottweiler named Inga. At least seven different states were represented judging from the license plates, and the good folk of Bethpage were the epitome of Southern hospitality.

As the eclipse progressed the light began to fade; as totality approached, some nearby dusk-to-dawn lights came on, but it was still easy to see in the 360-degree sunset.

The moon finally passed completely in front of the sun and the sky went dark, people gasped and applauded as the corona, stars and planets came into view.

I wondered how the animals would react; the crickets and tree frogs chirped and sang, and some birds flew past — not obviously concerned about the event. Inga paid no attention whatsoever; concerns about pets and the eclipse were greatly over-exaggerated.

To us humans however it was a marvelous spectacle, awe-inspiring and beautiful. It is so easy to see why these eclipses were considered powerful supernatural events. If you think about it, it had the power to make us stop thinking about statues and protests — at least for a couple of minutes. We can all a little bit of that.

The rest of the week we spent enjoying time with family, great food, and more Southern hospitality.

If you missed the eclipse, don’t worry, you can catch one on April 8, 2024, in northwest Ohio. Lord willing I will be there too, so I’m holding onto my eclipse glasses!

Jim Freeman is the wildlife specialist for the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District. He can be contacted weekdays at 740-992-4282 or at jim.freeman@oh.nacdnet.net

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By Jim Freeman

In The Open