Tag Archives: eclipse

An Experience of a Lifetime: My 1999 Eclipse Adventure

Back in 1999 I saw a total solar eclipse in Europe, and it was a life-altering experience.  I wrote about it back then, but was never entirely happy with the article.  This week I’ve revised it.  It could still benefit from some editing and revision (comments welcome), but I think it’s now a good read.  It’s full of intellectual observations, but there are powerful emotions too.

If you’re interested, you can read it as a pdf, or just scroll down.



A Luminescent Darkness: My 1999 Eclipse Adventure

© Matt Strassler 1999

After two years of dreaming, two months of planning, and two hours of packing, I drove to John F. Kennedy airport, took the shuttle to the Air France terminal, and checked in.  I was brimming with excitement. In three days time, with a bit of luck, I would witness one the great spectacles that a human being can experience: a complete, utter and total eclipse of the Sun. Continue reading

A Solar Eclipse Tomorrow (Sunday)

Appropriate for General Readership

Tomorrow there will be a solar eclipse (i.e., the moon will pass between the earth and the sun, blocking the sun’s light.) Those of us on the east coast of the United States who wake up to a clear sky at dawn will see the rising sun partially eclipsed, as much as half blocked in many places. [Don’t forget that in the US the clocks are changing tonight, so dawn is one hour earlier, as the clock tells it, than it was today; in New York City sunrise is at 6:30 am tomorrow.] Meanwhile, a substantial partial eclipse will be visible across most of Africa, and a less substantial one in parts of southern Europe.  And a little sliver of central Africa will be fortunate enough to see one of nature’s most extraordinary spectacles: a total eclipse of the sun, where for a couple of minutes the sky suddenly goes almost dark, the stars come into view, and the pink prominences and silvery corona of the sun glow and shimmer in the darkness of the moon’s shadow.

Really, this ought to have been scheduled for Halloween.  Because if you didn’t know to expect a total solar eclipse, and you didn’t know what was going on, there’d be nothing more terrifying.

Remember: Except in the truly dark heart of a total eclipse, looking at the sun for even a few moments can destroy your eyes; either use specially designed “eclipse glasses” (ordinary sunglasses are completely unsafe) or use a pinhole in a piece of cardboard to project the sun’s image onto a piece of paper or a wall. [As I described here, carefully placed binoculars pointed at a piece of paper or wall will work too — but do not look through them!!! just let the sun’s image go through.] For those watching at sunrise, if there is cloud or haze in the east that dims the sunlight, you can look for a few moments — but make it very quick!

The Longest Sunset

What would the Grand Canyon look like if it had sunset light without the sunset shadows?  Sunday’s annular solar eclipse provided a hint of an answer:

The Grand Canyon from the North Rim (Cape Royal), during the annular solar eclipse of May 20th, 2012, at maximum eclipse (“ring of fire”). Photo Matt Strassler, all rights reserved.

Quite a first visit to the North Rim of the canyon.  Maximum eclipse occurred an hour before sunset, and the sun set with a small piece of the moon’s silhouette still covering its disk.  As a result, the amount of sunlight remained low for the entire hour, bathing the canyon in the low light that allows its layers of color and geological time to be more easily seen.

Meanwhile, in the other direction the sun was still far too bright to look at with the naked eye, or photograph without a filter. Lacking both a proper filter and a tripod, this is all I could manage with my camera, I’m afraid:

The annular eclipse of May 20th, 2012, showing the moon traveling across the sun, along with various unfortunate camera and filter effects. What can I say? I’m an amateur photographer. Photo Matt Strassler, all rights reserved anyway.

I think that when you look at photos of an eclipse (certainly I find this for myself) it is easy to miss the visceral nature of the experience. When you are watching it happen, you can see (through a proper filter, or with a projection), second by second, the slow but steady glide of the moon across the sun. You can detect the ring of sunlight changing shape, from a perfect circle to one that is thicker on one side than the other, and finally turning back into a crescent. The process is a dynamic one, as well as a visual feast. And this is part of what makes it so beautiful — not just what one sees with the eyes, but what one feels as a witness to the steady motion of the heavens.

[p.s. don’t miss the other two crescents to see right now: crescent Venus and crescent Moon near each other in the western sky tonight!]

Three Crescents and a Ring

Hi all! I said that posts would be sparse for a couple of weeks, but I didn’t realize quite how sparse! But I’m gradually getting back on-line here.

Right now, what’s occupying my attention for the next 48 hours is all in the sky: three crescents, and a ring. I’ll be brief, but if you want more explanation about the geometry involved, you might want to read my very relevant article about geometry and the beauty of the heavens. Continue reading