If you have a few minutes to kill, try doing this:
- Log onto Expedia.com, Hotels.com, Travelocity, Kayak, Priceline, or any of these related search engines.
- Search for a 1-night stay in a room on August 20, 2017 in one of the following cities:
- Madras, Oregon
- Idaho Falls, Idaho
- Casper, Wyoming
- Atchison, Kansas
- Carbondale, Illinois
- Gladstone, Missouri
- Paducah, Kentucky
- Clarksville, Tennessee
- Clayton, Georgia
- Franklin, North Carolina
- Greenville, South Carolina
Notice a pattern? Try Airbnb – same thing.
If you did a similar search for these same cities a week before or a week after, you’d get very different results.
The total solar eclipse of 2017, quite literally. And if you didn’t grab a room some 2.5 years ago (when these cities started selling out), then you will likely sit in the path of only partial eclipse on August 21, which is the astronomical equivalent of licking melted ice cream right off the ground. You were THAT close to the real thing, but just missed it.
So, obviously given my insatiable love for ice cream and my astronomical binge of the past year, on the morning of August 21, I plan on being in the small town of Madras (population size 6,500 souls), which is one of the cities located within the narrow 70-mile-wide path of the moon’s umbra and the area of TOTAL solar eclipse.
Yet, it turns out that not every city within the umbra will actually see the total solar eclipse, especially if the clouds tend to interfere. I admit I spent an embarrassing number of hours researching cloud patterns and visibility records to determine the best spot to be in to witness this rare wonder. For personal reasons, I settled on Madras (between the no-sales tax of Oregon and the microbreweries/donuts of Portland, it seemed an easy choice). But like all other cities within the belt of total eclipse, Madras will be home to hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, it is expected. Local law enforcement in each of these cities have been on guard for years planning for total chaos.
And “chaos” is the right word to describe eclipses, even historically. Many cultures portend doom and destruction, animals behave erratically, shadow bands mysteriously appear on the ground, and pendulums even stop working. Scientists haven’t figured out all of the answers to these riddles. Most intriguing to me, are the superstitions that involve eclipses. Those in India advise pregnant women, including my wife, to avoid (not only jacuzzis, sushi, and soft cheeses, but…) eclipses, and those believers insist that pregnant women should stay indoors and avoid handling metal objects during the eclipse. Interestingly, traditional Hispanic beliefs also advise pregnant women to stay indoors during an eclipse, but they also advise the very opposite: that pregnant women should carry something metallic for protection.
But the most fascinating part of it all is the math surrounding a solar eclipse. How is it that the Moon, which is 400 times smaller than the Sun, can perfectly blot out the Sun during a total solar eclipse? The reason is that the Sun, by sheer “cosmic coincidence” (if you choose to call it that), happens to be 400 times further from the Earth than the Moon is. To appreciate that, consider that there are at least 893 other planets that have been discovered, many with their own moons, and yet we don’t know of a single one that has such proportions that lead to total eclipses.
And here’s an even stranger thought – it will not always be this way on Earth, because each year, the Moon is actually getting further from the Earth (about 4 cm per year), so there will one day exist a time where we will never see a total solar eclipse from the Earth ever again.
In the meantime, the cosmic ballet goes on.
To your family’s success,
PS – Jiya is too young this year to join me on the road trip to Madras, but I feel absolutely fortunate knowing that there will be another total solar eclipse in the U.S. in 2024 that she will be the perfect age for. To understand how rare it is to have two total solar eclipses in seven years in the same country, let alone the same continent, check out these diagrams: