Solar eclipse 2017: Why is less than 3 minutes of darkness worth a special trip?

Hamilton, N.Y. — Anthony Aveni has seen the sun go dark in the moon’s shadow eight times. And it hasn’t diminished his awe.

Aveni, a retired professor of astronomy and astrology at Colgate University, saw his first total solar eclipse in 1970 in Nova Scotia with a group of his students. A young woman came to him after the sky went dark, with tears in her eyes. “You may have told us about the science, about the predictions,” he recalled the woman telling him. “But it was a miracle.”

Of course, there is nothing inexplicable about eclipses. How it happens and when it happens is all science, predicable thousands of years out.

But still, to watch the sun go black in the middle of the day, to see stars and planets come out if even for just an instant, seems inexplicable, magical even.

The darkness during the upcoming total solar eclipse Aug. 21 will last for about 2 minutes and 40 seconds along the path of totality.

“Even though I’m a scientist, it’s sublime to witness,” Aveni said. “It’s absolutely sublime.”

Aveni is an eclipse chaser. He’s seen the moon blot out the sun while on eclipse-themed cruise ships in oceans. And he’s seen it from the spectacularly wide horizon of the desert. He’s written about book about the eclipses he’s seen, “In the Shadow of the Moon.”

Aveni is heading to South Carolina to see the upcoming eclipse on Aug. 21, where he’s hoping the skies are clear.

Earlier this year, Aveni gave a talk on the eclipse at Appalachian State in Boone, North Carolina, earlier this year. There, the eclipse will be 96 percent, not quite total, but Aveni said they are expecting millions to come watch the skies.

All of the eclipses Aveni has seen were spectacular, he said. But the most memorable eclipse was on the Egyptian-Libyan border in 2006. He drove across the desert to get to the border and then waited with a fleet of people in bedouin tents for the show to start in the skies. Just before the eclipse started, then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak flew in on a helicopter. He made a speech about the eclipse’s importance and link to Egyptian history, watched the totality, then took off.

Eclipses and politics, for centuries, have gone together. Emperors have used the skies going dark as power to proclaim their sovereignty.

What will happen on Aug. 21? Just wait and watch, Aveni joked.

“Science has taken the myth out of the eclipse, but not the emotion,” he said.

Marnie Eisenstadt writes about people, life and culture in Central New York. Have an idea or question? Contact her anytime: email | twitter | Facebook | 315-470-2246

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10 August 2017 3:45 pm
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