The Great Eclipse Flop of 2017

On Monday I was in the midst of people with protective glasses all excited by the so-called solar eclipse and what they actually saw was a brief celestial dimness. Any Midwestern thunderstorm is vastly more spectacular. —Garrison Keillor

I agree with Keillor. The eclipse was a flop, but only because it was so wildly over-hyped. I suppose it would have been spectacular if you were in the zone of totality where, for a few brief moments, the bright day turned into dark night, the birds chirped and the stars came out, but for most of us, the darkness was no more than what we experience on any normal day from a passing cloud. I could not even find any curlicue leaf shadows on the ground that the TV reporters assured us would be there.

I’m surprised you are even reading this, now that the hoopla is past.  We’re all tired of hearing about it.

The chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute was on TV raving on and on about the eclipse, but he was broadcasting from Missouri somewhere, not from Philadelphia.  Maybe it was great there.  He kept talking about the things that occurred only at totality.  I felt like someone was describing a great sports event that I missed.  I know, I know.  I should of been there.

I had seen a partial eclipse before, but this one was closer to totality, and I had expected more. There wasn’t more. If you missed it, you didn’t miss much. You may have been out and about at the time of maximum darkness, but just didn’t notice it. Even if you missed it, you can take it off your bucket list.

The last one I remember was about 15 years ago. That one occurred on a cloudy day in our area, but I had brought up a simulation on my computer that I found very satisfactory. I could watch a mathematically-generated circle of light gradually become obscured by another mathematically-generated circle of darkness with full confidence that they faithfully represented what was occurring above the clouds. True, there were no sunspots on the simulation, but it was good enough for me. I would have liked to see the corona, but I would not have seen the corona at my location, anyway.

So, I wanted to be prepared with a similar Internet site this time, too. That was my first disappointment.

The Internet has lost much of its usefulness by becoming too large. I did finally find a site, but only after wading through a sea of eclipse sales of mattresses, cars, back-to-school clothing, and almost anything else I didn’t need. Then there were countless warnings not to look at the eclipse without approved eye protection (don’t rely on some piece of cheap imported crap). One warning was enough. I got the message, but I still was flooded with hundreds more.

Even at the last minute, I was able to reconstruct the projection apparatus I had used years ago to view sunspots. There was no danger I would blind myself by an act of sheer stupidity. (Don’t stare at the sun! Duh! I guess I really did learn all I needed to know in kindergarten.)

I wasn’t sure I could reconstruct the apparatus from memory, so I looked for a website with some helpful tips. I found none. They may have been there, but were hidden by the flood of hits, and I could not think of a way to re-phrase the question to narrow the search.

My apparatus was a surveyor’s telescope held in a laboratory ring stand with one piece of cardboard receiving the image and another piece blocking the rest of the light. (A surveyor’s telescope is nothing special.  It has no erecting system, so the view is upside-down and reversed.  They say surveyors get used to this view. For my purposes, it was just a telescope that I already had, and no use for.) The setup turned out to be easier than I expected (in the photo, I did not even remove the extra clamps and rings), and it only had to be approximately aligned to project the image (as you can also see in the photo). I could just point the whole thing by hand in the general direction of the sun. All I needed to do was to get the sun’s projection on the cardboard and focus it to a sharp image.  Even cheap binoculars would work, and surely someone could devise a crude mounting that would replace my ring stand. I could find nothing. No wonder people were going blind from staring at the actual eclipse.

At least I can say I saw the little there was to see. Been there, done that. No need to wait for the next one, I kid you not.

About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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