Who cares if the moon eats the sun

Published in The Sault Star June 16, 2021

Oscar Wilde is alleged to have poured cold water on Niagara Falls, calling it “a bride’s second great disappointment.”

But when it comes to overhyped natural wonders, I’d say last week’s annular solar eclipse beat Niagara by a gaping yawn.

For those who missed it — and I admire your good sense — on June 10 the moon, near its farthest point from the Earth, passed between the sun and our planet, creating an eclipse.

Trump doing what he does best: the wrong thing

For those with a full-on view, mainly people north of Superior and south of Santa, the sun’s rays leaking around the transiting moon created a fiery ring that would make a Johnny Cash impersonator burst into song or a hemorrhoid sufferer scramble for the witch hazel.

The Latin for ring is annulus, hence the phenomenon is referred to by scientists and pretentious poops as an annular solar eclipse.

Annular solar eclipses aren’t extremely rare: there will be five in the next six years. But Earth is a big planet and eclipse-viewing zones are quite small. None of those will be visible from our backyards.

This one wasn’t fully visible in Algoma either. NASA told us the best we could expect was about 86% of the sun to be covered, giving us somewhat the same view we could get by looking at the flag of an Islamic country.

When I got up at dawn June 10 to check it out, pretty well the entire sun was obscured, but by clouds.

This accords with the natural law that if Tom Mills wants to observe an eclipse, meteor shower, aurora, planetary conjunction or some other heavenly sight, lo the skies shalt fill with clouds and there shalt be much chortling by the gods of astronomy.

But honestly, did I miss much?

Perhaps burning my retinas. The Catch 22 of eclipse watching it that if you peer at one directly and unprotected you can blind yourself.

Unless you’re Donald Trump. The former U.S. president famously looked skyward at an eclipse in 2017 from a White House balcony. No eye damage was reported, but his skin turned orange.

Mere mortals have to do something like wear welder’s glasses or make a pinhole camera and observe what amounts to a silhouette show. That sort of takes the spontaneity out of eclipse-watching and the grandeur out of the whole spectacle.

So the best way to watch an eclipse is to turn on your TV or computer or phone and see how an expert with the proper equipment viewed the thing. You can do that on demand. Might as well wait until a more civilized hour, rather than watching through eyes that can barely creak open at the crack of dawn.

And if we’ve gone that far, wouldn’t it be more fun to watch an annular eclipse created by Hollywood special effects experts using computer animation, which would be a whole magnitude more spectacular than the real thing?

Just like the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, it would have a lot more visual appeal and drama if it were scripted and filmed in a secret location. 

And Tom Cruise or Bruce Willis or someone else whose age should relegate him to afternoon naps could stop the moon from demolishing the sun, just in the nick of time.

Without taking that sort of creative licence, viewing the eclipse through someone else’s eyes makes it less like a not-to-be-missed spectacle than something you must study to pass Grade 10 science.

In fact, by taking the mystery out of eclipses, science has made them ho-hum heavenly events.

Wouldn’t an annular solar eclipse seem a lot more exciting if you had no idea it was coming? Wouldn’t it seem more important if you thought what was happening was that a giant dog, dragon, wolf or a peckish god was munching away at the sun?

Most people used to believe those sorts of things. Now only Republicans do.

We’d all get up at 5:47 a.m. if we thought the sun was being eaten, wouldn’t we.

(Actually, in that age of ignorance most of us wouldn’t have clocks, so we probably wouldn’t know it was 5:47. 

And because those who pass for scientists would have consulted animal entrails instead of sky charts, we wouldn’t know an eclipse was about to happen, so we’d have no reason to wish someone would invent an alarm clock that we could set for 5:47.

But probably we’d be awake already, tending to farm animals or trudging toward 14-hour shifts in the mines or mills.)

Those ancestors that we consider primitive also believed their actions could save the sun from burning its way like spicy Thai through the digestive tract of a predatory celestial being. So they’d bang drums and make lots of noise to ruin the ambiance of the greatest culinary experience in the universe.

It worked. 

The sun’s still there.

Or it was, last time I looked on YouTube.

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