In Los Angeles, where I live, the 2017 Eclipse began at 9:05 a.m. I jumped online to scope the scene early in the morning. My friends, family, everyone was focused on the sun. My attention gravitated towards the path of totality and as I tooled around online I couldn’t help feeling a bit envious of my friends who had traveled to points of totality to see it firsthand. I clicked on NASA’s Facebook live feed and took in the event from a scientific perspective, I watched a few regular news broadcasts as well. It was odd to experience such a resounding consensus – the eclipse was spectacular, there was no denying it. It spurred something deep within all of us, the wonder of this world, this galaxy.
As the eclipse took place it was as if the world had stopped, all the noise blocked out with the sun. The bitter political debates halted, the trolling seemed to be turned off. Everyone was simply marveling at the natural phenomenon, the wonder that is a total solar eclipse. It took the moon to align perfectly with the sun, to turn day into night in spectacular fashion to do it, but at last we had all come together.
At 9:45 a.m. I got in my car and ten minutes later I was pulling into my father’s business park to witness L.A.’s maximum eclipse of sixty-two-percent by 10:21 a.m. As I pulled in I saw groups of people wearing their funny glasses staring up at the sun, everything blacked out besides the little glowing light, slowly disappearing, way up in the air.
I pulled into a parking space and walked towards my father’s building. As I did so, I tried to take it all in – the uncharacteristic darkness, the cooler temperature, the birds not knowing what was going on. My father was already outside, of course, pointing up at the sky, wearing his funny glasses. “That is so awesome,” I heard someone say as I approached. Awesome, is the word I heard the most that day, and awesome it was. I hung out with my father and his coworkers for a good fifteen or twenty minutes, watching the magnificent celestial event, chatting with people I don’t see often, and then went home. When I got home I watched a little more by myself in my front yard until I had had enough. And just as it had started, it was over.
The first usefull scientific photograph of a total solar eclipse taken by Julius Berkowski on July 28, 1951.
While the debates raged, I read a few articles about the history of eclipses. It seems that eclipses have been a source of intrigue for quite some time, as I am sure you could imagine. For instance, I learned that the ancient Chinese believed a solar eclipse was the cause of a dragon eating the sun. They shot arrows up at it and hooted and hollered to fend the dragon off.
It also seems that eclipses have been a source of peace making for quite some time. An eclipse didn’t just halt our hostilities but in 558 BC a total solar eclipse brought about a ceasefire and peace negotiations between to two warring nations in modern-day Turkey. The warring nations saw the eclipse as a sign from god telling them to stop it. I could only imagine what it must have been like for them way back then, with little to no scientific knowledge, in the midst of a war, to suddenly have the sun go black and the weather turn cold. For me, I don’t see an eclipse as a specific sign from God, as I read some do, but I do see it as a sign of God’s existence. The magnificence that is the natural world has always done that for me.
The solar eclipse of May 29, 1919 – referred to as the Einstein Eclipse.
I learned a few other fun facts. I read that Julius Berkowski, in 1851, was the first to photograph an eclipse. And did you know that the Einstein Eclipse of 1919 helped prove his general theory of relativity?
It didn’t take long for things to heat back up. By the end of the day a photo of President Trump staring up at the sky, squinting hard, without protective glasses surfaced. The caption read ‘Trump goes for it, no glasses.’ It wasn’t true, he did wear his protective glasses, except for a moment during totality, which was okay. For me though, the moon blocking out the sun, turning day into night, making everything pause, was almost like a resetting. Sometimes it takes something monumental, drastic, jarring, to shake you up, make you realize that things don’t have to be the way they are, that things could be different.