Solar Eclipse Paddle- and why we need it so badly right now
If you've watched the news at all in the past week, you already know that this coming Monday, the continental United States will see its first total eclipse in 38 years. And it's going to be a good one too. Last swing around it only hit five states in the Northwest; this time it's going to go clear across the country, (if you'll pardon me) from "Coast to Coast!"
Not everyone will get to witness the total eclipse. For this, you would need to be in a narrow band called, somewhat ominously, "The Path of Totality". Anyone in this arcing path from Oregon to South Carolina will watch as the moon temporarily covers the entire disk of the sun, plunging the area into (relative) darkness for a few minutes.
We can't all get to (or fit into) this narrow band, but that doesn't mean we'll get nothing. Beverly will witness .62 obscuration, which means 62% of the sun will be covered by the moon.* It's not likely to get noticeably darker. Animals won't do crazy things and people won't cry out in awe at the moment of totality. But according to senior scientist Dr. Jackie Faherty (American Museum of Natural History , "a partial eclipse is nothing to turn your nose at...it starts to look like the Death Star is moving in front of the sun. The sun is our life source. Watching it go away is something we should all want to look at."
In light (or dark) of this event, we're holding a special Monday afternoon Solar Eclipse Paddle! We'll hop on the water in Beverly around 1:30pm, right as the moon takes its first bite out of the sun (astronomers call this "First Contact). Because it's never safe to look directly at the sun, we'll pass out ISO certified eclipse viewing glasses. As we paddle up the coast of Beverly to our viewing location, we'll turn around from time to time, don our glasses, and watch the moon make its way across the face of the sun. Shortly before it reaches its maximum coverage for our area (2:46pm), we'll anchor down, turn ourselves toward the sun, and watch.
Do we need to be on the water to see the eclipse? Definitely not. But I'm kind of like that guy who finds a reason to party for any reason, except instead of parties, I find excuses for paddling. This seems like a great one. If you're worried that you'll have to leave your phone behind and won't get any pictures, fear not. Experts assure us that any pictures taken from our phones will be profoundly disappointing. Much better, as we often suggest, is to experience it in real life, rather than through the lens of the phone. Take it all in, then go home and write a poem about the memory :).
And if you have been watching the news lately, then you also know that our country is deeply divided. Extremists have found ways to drive wedges between groups of people that have far more in common than not. And that's why this eclipse comes at an important time. For a few hours on Monday afternoon, tens of millions of Americans will turn their eyes to the skies (behind protective lenses of course) and share in this rare spectacle. For a few hours, we'll be united in a shared sense of awe and mystery at the Universe we live in, a Universe in which we can describe nearly perfectly the orbits of celestial bodies, but we can't yet, and may never, explain why watching these orbits align elicits such an emotional response. Watching the eclipse from the water, from the ocean that quite literally unites all continents on Earth, in sight of the horizon where the sky and sea unite, seems, for me, the most appropriate to view the eclipse.
**Fun Fact** The moon moves further from the Earth in its orbit each year, meaning that as we move toward the future, the moon will appear smaller and smaller in the sky. This means that in the far future, a total eclipse, in which the moon covers the sun entirely, will not be possible. In this way, we share a deep commonality, not just in space, but in time as well.
*In an earlier edit, I mistakenly referred to magnitude instead of obscuration. Magnitude refers to the fraction of moon's diameter that is covered while obscuration refers to the fraction of the area. Many apologies :)