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A total eclipse of the (heart) sun

By Staff | Aug 20, 2017

Call me old and crochety, but I just can’t seem to understand all of the hoopla about this solar eclipse thing.

I mean, some people have been planning their summer vacation time so that they can travel to some of the prime spots across the country where the “path of totality” is. That path is a 65-mile wide swath across the U.S. from Salem, Oregon, to Charleston, South Carolina, where the eclipse is total, not partial, like it will be here.

Some folks have even booked a flight across the U.S. to get the best view of all, following along the path of totality.


In case you have been living under a rock lately, I am referring to the total eclipse of the sun that is going to occur this Monday, Aug. 21. You know, that is when the moon passes in front of the sun and covers it up for a few minutes, before moving on and uncovering it.

If you had not heard or read about it, then on Monday afternoon, when the sun starts to disappear and it gets really dark in the middle of the day you might have become quite alarmed.

Ancient people did. They figured it was the end of times and went into a panic. They quickly made sacrifices to their gods in order to bring the sun back and prevent the end of the world.

Well, except for those Incans or Mayans or Egyptians and whoever it was that built Stonehenge because they had all figured out astronomy and had already predicted the eclipse and were not scared at all.

Then there is that old story about the Chinese emperor who had his two astronomers beheaded because they had failed to alert him to the fact that there was going to be a solar eclipse.

My indifference to the solar eclipse may be that I am so old I have lived through such phenomenon before. I have memories of looking in the pinhole box and trying to see the eclipse, or holding up a couple of cards, one with a pin hole in it and the other with the shadow you could safely watch instead of looking up at the sun itself.

I never seemed to be able to see much with that trick, however. I suppose I just wasn’t doing it correctly.

Blue Earth resident Steve Bakken really remembers doing this during a past solar eclipse. He keeps a daily diary and in 1979 he has an entry on Monday, Feb. 26, that tells about taking his fourth grade class outside and using the two card, one with a pin hole, technique to watch the solar eclipse. He writes that it was the last total solar eclipse in the United States in the 20th century.

In his notes in the diary, Bakken writes the sun was 90 percent blocked for two minutes, 15 seconds, at 10:47 a.m. And that it swept along a 190 mile path from Oregon to Canada, passing through North Dakota, as well.

And, amazingly, Bakken’s last note for that day’s entry is that the next solar eclipse will happen again in 2017.

I remember that eclipse back in 1979 as well, but not in the detail he does.

I remember people using things like X-ray film to try and look at the solar eclipse and probably still damaging their eyes. I tried to photograph it in the past and that could be why I still see spots all the time.

Now there are special solar safety glasses to use to watch the eclipse unless you bought the wrong kind that has been recalled. I hear in some places they are in short supply and are being sold for crazy amounts of cash, up to $1,000.

Here in Blue Earth you don’t have to buy any, because the Blue Earth Community Library is giving them away for free. Yes, they received a grant which enabled them to receive 1,000 of the solar watching glasses.

The local library here is one of just a few around the area to receive the grant for the special glasses.

And not only that, the library staff is going to host a solar eclipse watching party in Putnam Park with free food, games and, of course, those free eclipse glasses. It should be a lot of fun.

You probably want to come check it out.

The only problem might be that as of Thursday, when this column was being written, the weather looked iffy for Monday, with clouds and even rain in the forecast. That sure could make eclipse watching a difficult undertaking.

Well, clouds or no clouds, it still is going to get plenty dark in the middle of the day on Monday. And since you read this column this week, you now know why.

I guess I changed my mind. I suppose the solar eclipse is kind of cool. I might have to take a look.

With safety glasses on, of course.