Eclipse offered a rare glimpse of something higher
Monday was a day of primal experience, as millions of Americans stared at the sky, the awe of the heavens blacking out the noise of our discontent.
From coast to coast, people witnessed a solar eclipse of a magnitude not seen since World War I.
People traveled thousands of miles, stayed in hotel rooms booked more than a year in advance, paid for lawn and field space on ranches and farms to get the best seats along the path of totality that stretched from Oregon to South Carolina.
In other regions, including southeastern Pennsylvania, viewers witnessed a crescent sun in a reversal of roles with the moon.
And everywhere, people gathered on rooftops, in parking lots and on college campuses to be a part of the experience.
The last time a total solar eclipse occurred in the skies over the U.S. was in 1979, but only a part of the Northwest had totality.
There has not been a coast-to-coast event since 1918.
Another one won’t occur until 2045.
NASA solar physicist Alex Young said the last time earthlings had a connection like this to the heavens was during man’s first flight to the moon, on Apollo 8 in 1968.
The first, famous Earthrise photo came from that mission and, like this eclipse, showed us “we are part of something bigger,” the Associated Press reported.
Although the Earth, moon and sun line up perfectly every one to three years, briefly turning day into night for a sliver of the planet, the phenomenon is rarely visible to the masses.
And this was the first such occurrence since the dawn of the social media era, causing an astronomical sharing of Monday’s pictures, videos, and comments.
For the 90 minutes it took the shadow of the moon to travel across the country, blottingout the midday sun for about two wondrous minutes at any one place, it was the most-observed and mostphotographed eclipse in history.
NASA reported 4.4 million people were watching its TV coverage midway through the eclipse, the biggest livestream event in the space agency’s history, AP reported.
“It can be religious. It makes you feel insignificant, like you’re just a speck in the whole scheme of things,” said a veteran eclipse-watcher, Mike O’Leary of San Diego.
“It’s one of those phenomena you learn about in second grade and only get to see pictures of in textbooks,” said Jessica Norris,a graduate student, watching with 1,500 people at West Chester University.
“The second grader in us is interested to see it.”
Marc Gagne, an astronomy professor at WCU, explained why a rare eclipse of the sun is fascinating.
He said the angular size of the moon is exactly the same size as the angular size to the sun.
“When the sun, earth and moon formed, the distance between the moon and the earth was just right so that today we can observe a total solar eclipse,” he said.
“That’s the fun coincidence.”
Eric Lorgus, who drove 600 miles from West Chester to South Carolina to witness the so-called totality, compared it to man landing on the moon.
“It reminded me of the sultry night in July 1969 when Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon,” he said.
“My pickup truck was parked on the banks of the Octoraro Creek. The truck radio crackled with voices coming from the bright spot in the sky above.
“Could those voices really be coming from so far away?
“Could that dot that darkened the sun be that same moon?”, he wrote in a letter to Digital First Media.
Hypnotic, spectacular, sacred, mesmerizing were among the words describing the experience.
Few experiences in our conflicted world today match those lofty observations.
The eclipse of 2017 was a phenomenon of the natural order of things, a rare opportunity to lose ourselves in a wonder of the universe.
For one day, people focused on a higher plane of unity instead of in the divisive trenches we too often occupy.
And, in the words of Lorgus, it was well worth it.