The eclipse enthusiast

My wife and I have been chasing moon shadows.

Like millions of Americans, I felt the urge to keep a date with celestial destiny when the moon totally blotted out the sun. I’ll admit it: I’m an eclipse enthusiast.

The area where we live would see only a partial eclipse. Longing to have the full experience, I pulled up a map that displayed the path of totality. My finger followed the path until it landed on Poplar Bluff, Missouri.

This seemed to be as good a place as any to observe the eclipse. That our toddler grandson and his parents live nearby may have had something to do with this choice.

Poplar Bluff is a quiet town of about 16,000. I would estimate that its population swelled to approximately a million on Eclipse Monday.

We saw signs of the approaching astronomical event as we drew closer to Poplar Bluff. Cars and motorcycles were parked on driveways and in open fields; their occupants were having picnics and looking at the sun with cardboard eclipse glasses.

It was a perfect day for observing an eclipse. The temperature was 80° Fahrenheit, and the sky was severely clear.

My wife and I discovered a small city park next to a fast-food restaurant. Kids romped on the playground while their parents lounged on blankets. A few high-dollar telescopes had sprouted up in sunny areas.

We saw license plates from Canada and from Florida. It was truly a North American occasion.

A solar eclipse is a leisurely event. It isn’t for you if you prefer fast-paced, breakneck action.

I wandered the park and chatted with fellow eclipse enthusiasts. A young couple was sitting on the ground in a sunny area. Every now and then, the guy would pick up a welding helmet and use it to look at the sun. He was a man after my own heart; I was viewing the eclipse with my steampunk welding goggles.

I struck up a conversation with them and learned that their names were Jake and Allie. Jake hails from Mississippi while Allie is from London, England by way of New York City.

“This is my second eclipse,” Jake said. “I saw one seven years ago and knew that this was something that Allie had to experience.”

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Allie said with her charming London accent. “There was a partial eclipse in England when I was a girl but, pfft. It was cloudy that day as it often is in the UK.”

Peering through my welding goggles, I could see that the moon had taken a substantial bite out of the sun. I meandered over to where the high-dollar telescopes were set up. The telescopes’ owners were happy to let me take a peek. The sun was reduced to a shimmering crescent, and I could see the sunspots that freckle its surface.

Daylight dimmed and streetlamps flickered on. The temperature dropped and a cool breeze sprang up.

The last sliver of the sun silently disappeared, and shadows ceased to exist. Whoops and hollers filled the air. A young lady exclaimed, her voice choked with emotion, “Oh my God, it’s so beautiful!” It was unclear if she was laughing or crying.

A total eclipse is the rare occasion when you can look directly at the sun. Its corona was clearly visible, a glowing crown of light and energy streaming millions of miles into space. Earth’s horizon sported a 360-degree orangish sunset glow.

It was the fastest four minutes and eight seconds of my life. A tiny piece of the sun peeked through one of the moon’s valleys and someone shouted, “Diamond ring!” A ginormous engagement ring decorated the sky; a moment later, it was again impossible to look directly at the sun.

I was wearing the Johnson Space Center t-shirt I purchased during our visit to JSC some years ago. A guy in a NASA t-shirt approached and asked if I worked at JSC. Resisting the urge to fib, I replied that I did not.

“I drove here from Huntsville, Alabama to see the eclipse,” said the guy, whose name was Chris. “I work at Marshall Space Flight Center, and we are in frequent communication with the folks at JSC.”

Holy cow! Just when I thought I couldn’t feel any geekier, I found myself talking to a bona fide rocket scientist!

“We’re on the threshold of a new golden era of spaceflight,” Chris said, not trying to hide his enthusiasm. “The Artemis program will soon be sending people back to the moon.”

I asked Chris what he thought of the eclipse.

“Otherworldly,” he replied.

I couldn’t think of a better description than that.

— Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at http://Workman.com and in bookstores nationwide.


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