Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

The Eclipse


I have always been intrigued by the solar system. Growing up in the country the night sky seems so vast and captivating. The Big Dipper was one of the first constellations I was able to identify. If you follow the two stars that make up the front of the dipper you can find the North Star and the Little Dipper. Over sixty years on that tidbit of information. Years ago, I recall watching the northern lights in the winter sky. They seemed more common back years ago.

When I was a young kid, I read about Haley’s Comet. My grandmother told about seeing it in the western sky about sunset back in 1910. Sometime in the late 1960’s a comet visited earth and I got up a couple nights around 2am to look at it in the south-eastern sky. My fascination with traveling heavenly objects was anticipating the return of Haley’s Comet. I was so excited that I would be able to see in 1986 but unfortunately it was barely visible at all to the naked eye.

Solar eclipses were interesting as well. My dad let us look at one through the welding helmet when we were growing up. I was amazed that the event could be tracked and predicted with such accuracy as to alert us to just when it would happen again. So, enters 2024 with the April 8th total solar eclipse and the fact that I would be living right on the edge of the band of totality. A 116 mile-wide zone where the moon would fully cover the sun at mid-day. What luck, it just clips the north-western edge of Tennessee and our Kentucky Lake home is on the north-western edge of Tennessee.

The hysteria was building for the event. Some thought it was a cosmic sign ushering in a cataclysmic event. Down here they were giving away solar sunglasses everywhere. City hall had them, the Ranger station at Ft. Donelson Park had them, the gas stations sold them and they were at the checkout in the grocery stores. I picked a pair up and was warned not to drive with them on. I didn’t know I looked that stupid. Some people asked about getting them for their pets. I have had dogs all my life and never knew them to look at the sun. One lady said she was going to keep her curtains drawn all day Monday so as not to burn her eyeballs. I am not sure how these people live their life every other day of the year without staring into the sun. I think that one of the first things my mom told me was, “don’t look at the sun.”

So, I was pumped. I knew it wasn’t a total eclipse down here but they said it was 97.9% coverage. That seems pretty close to 100 for me. At 1:15 I went outside and put on my shades. First thing I learned is you shouldn’t walk down the porch steps with eclipse glasses on. At least I felt like the cardboard sunglasses I had nothing invested in would likely protect my eyesight. Sure enough about a third of the sun was covered by a black moon. I checked a few more times leading up to the 2:01pm maximum coverage point. But I noticed it was still about a bright as any other afternoon would be. I thought it would be getting darker, maybe no shadows. So, at 2:01 I dutifully donned my eye wear and looked upward. Quite spectacular, just a sliver of sun peaking around that big black moon blot. But it was still bright as day outside. There were shadows from trees and the house and my pickup.

Just 2% of the sun can still brighten up the world. Quite impressive how powerful a little sunlight is.