Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Crowds of people, necks craned upward (and hopefully wearing eye protection) will be searching the sky on Monday, August 21, not for something so mundane as bird or plane, but for a performance of nature not seen here in nearly four decades. And it is not a performance by Superman.
August 21 will be the first total eclipse of the sun visible in the United States since February 1979. (Gas was 86 cents a gallon, income averaged $17,500, and Jimmy Carter was President of the United States.) The sun, the moon, and the world have traveled far in that time.
Cutting an approximately 70-mile-wide swathe from Lincoln Beach, Ore., to Charleston, S.C., this coming Monday, residents of 14 states will experience the complete obscuration of the sun, when the moon plants itself between it and the Earth.
We can only imagine what the ancients must have thought when the sun — the giver of light, warmth, and growth — disappeared, submerging the world as they knew it into murky midday shadows. A total eclipse of the sun in an age when scientific knowledge was nonexistent or scarce would have sent a tremor through any person witnessing the gradual darkness overcome the light. It is no less of an impressive event centuries later, when the who, what, when, where, and why are clearly defined. Even those who are not science nerds are excitedly anticipating the coming solar eclipse.
For those in Monday’s direct path, it will be nearly three minutes of a completely shadowy existence, a thrill of possibility that — despite knowing otherwise — the sun might not return. It will be a sampling of the “what ifs” that are harbored in the most primitive realms of our beings.
In Connecticut, we will be exposed to only a partial eclipse. The diminished sun show will begin at about 1:24 pm in our area, reaching its peak of approximately 70 percent coverage an hour later, and serving as a reminder of how nature holds us in its mercy. We will be reminded that without the sun, or with only a weakened version of it, life as we know it would be drastically changed or impossible. A feat of nature completely beyond our control, it is a humbling phenomenon, encouraging a look inward as we look upward.
Be prepared as the sun and moon and Earth present nature’s pas de trois. Even in its diminished showing, the sun remains powerful. Total or partial, it is dangerous to view the eclipse without proper eye protection. (Safety tips can be found at eclipse2017.nasa.gov.)
There will be birds in the sky and planes will course through the air many times in days to come. But it will be a while again (2024) before we catch a glimpse of a solar eclipse in this area. Get ready for the show.