Our little county of Towns, in the state of Georgia, population 11,100, activated its emergency notification system yesterday evening, alerting all residents by telephone of the unprecedented nature of the coming weekend. Not the eclipse itself, but about all the danged visitors we might get wanting to watch it.

Could be thousands! they said, and they advised us to act like we would in a snowstorm and buy food and gasoline and batteries and batten down. I expect we’ll pull through like the tough mountain folk we are around here.

It has been fun reading all these thoughty pieces on eclipses this week. Here are a few, in case you missed them:

The Illuminating Power of Eclipses
Yes, the Solar Eclipse Is Worth the Hype (Trust Those Who Have Seen One)
During an Eclipse, Darkness Falls and Wonder Rises

Call to Eclipse Action

Let’s get one thing straight at the beginning. A lunar eclipse simply will not do. You may have seen a partial solar eclipse, but neither will that do. The sun is such a monster that until a few minutes before totality the light from the sun blasts right around the disk of the moon and the Earth is little changed.

Annie Dillard wrote that the difference between a partial eclipse and a total one is the difference between kissing a man and marrying him.

Just so. So people search out totality, no matter how remote the spot. We’ve gone three for three, with clear eclipse skies over Lake Balaton, Hungary in 1999, Cappadoccia, Turkey in 2006 and Svalbard, in the Arctic, in 2015. Next week we go for four for four in a home game.*

Next week three hundred-plus million North Americans will have a shot at witnessing totality.

Please, I’ve got you by the shoulders now with a square look in the eye: Do this, go out of your way to get up and go and see it. If you’re lucky enough to have clear skies, those two minutes will change everything.

Bob Berman writes in Wired,

Have you ever witnessed a total solar eclipse? Usually when I give a lecture, only a couple of people in an audience of several hundred people raise their hands when I ask that question. A few others respond tentatively, saying, “I think I saw one.” That’s like a woman saying, “I think I once gave birth.”

His point is that

“to most people, it might seem (reasonable) that seeing a partial eclipse ought to be almost as good as seeing a total eclipse, and it’s certainly a lot more convenient. Why travel? The sun being 99.9 percent eclipsed doesn’t sound too different from its being 100 percent eclipsed, right?

Actually, seeing an almost total eclipse is no better than almost falling in love or almost visiting the Grand Canyon. Only full totality produces the astonishing and absolutely singular phenomenon that resembles nothing else in our lives, on our planet, or in the known universe.”

Jay Pasachoff, an astronomer at Williams College in Massachusetts who is a veteran of almost three dozen total solar eclipses has some numbers:

“…when even 1 percent of the sun is visible — a so-called 99 percent partial eclipse — the sky is still 10,000 times brighter than it is during totality because 100 percent coverage causes the sky to get darker by a factor of a million. So even if 1 percent of the sun is visible, you miss all of the exciting phenomena associated with totality. So we’re trying to persuade all 300 million Americans, plus all the Canadians and all the Mexicans and all people from Central America and from northern South America, to travel into the path of totality — OK, maybe not literally all of them — but for those who can make it, it will be a wonderful thing for them to see. A total eclipse is indescribably wonderful.”


* And for taking pictures, what a luxury. With no need to leave stuff at home, no travel constraints, I’ll have 800 and 400 mm lenses on two Nikon DSLR bodies primed to bracket seven and nine exposures.

Zeno’s Paradoxes


I enjoyed learning about Zeno’s Paradoxes this weekend. I’ll share one with you, as described by Carlo Rovelli:

The tortoise challenges Achilles to a race, starting out with a ten-meter advantage. Will Achilles manage to catch up with the tortoise? Zeno agrues that rigorous logic dictates that he will never be able to do so. Before catching up, in effect, Achilles needs to cover the ten meters, and in order to do this he will take a certain amount of time. During this time, the tortoise will have advanced a few centimeters. To cover these centimeters, Achilles will have to take a little more time, but meanwhile the tortoise will have advanced further, and so on, ad infinitum. Achilles therefore requires an infinite number of such times to reach the tortoise, and an infinite number of times, argues Zeno, is an infinite amount of time. Consequentially, according to strict logic, Achilles will take an infinite time to reach the tortoise; or rather, he will ever do so. Since, however, we do see the swift Achilles reaching and overtaking as many tortoises as he likes, it follows that what we see is irrational, and therefore illusory.

The Fire at Chernobyl Is a Real Danger Right Now


Articles with titles like Ukraine Fire Near Chernobyl Disaster Site Brought Under Control create an incorrect impression. They probably mean to reassure by suggesting that the sarcophagus that contains the ruined reactor four is not under threat.

But as I’ve been tweeting this afternoon, it’s not that simple. The forests around the Chernobyl nuclear facility have been irradiated since the event itself in April of 1986, and the forests are still toxic. A study has shown that radioactive cesium 137, for example, with a half life of 30 years, “isn’t disappearing from the environment as quickly as predicted.”

Ukrainian authorities established the exclusion zone in the first place to keep people away from dangerous materials like cesium 137, strontium 90 and others. Visitors to the exclusion zone are made to sign an agreement not to wander into the woods and disturb the ground. We were instructed not even to rest a camera bag on the ground while changing batteries.

Fire needn’t reach the reactor proper to cause the dispersal of cancer causing material. It can be lifted from the forest floor into the air in clouds of smoke from the fire. People in Kyiv, Minsk and rural areas of Ukraine and Belarus must be careful not to breathe smoke from this fire.