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.