During an Eclipse, Darkness Falls and Wonder Rises

Dennis Overbye in The New York Times:

Some people scream. Some people cry. Some do both.

The regular movements of the heavens are the oldest and deepest intimations of order in the universe. So it is hard, no matter how enlightened you consider yourself to be, not to feel a primordial lurch in your gut when the sun suddenly disappears from the sky. On Aug. 21, the Great American Eclipse, as it has been branded by astronomers and trip promoters, will begin off the coast of Oregon and barrel across the country for an hour and a half before exiting off the coast of Charleston, S.C. A total solar eclipse happens about twice a year somewhere on the globe, but this is the first time since 1918 that the continental United States has had an exclusive on the spectacle, one of the true rare treasures of nature. Here’s our chance to see the shy corona, a pale sheath of energy the color of moonlight, wisping its tendrils into interplanetary space, and to stand in what feels like the Eye of Sauron as the winds rise, distant darkness spreads over the hills, and an eerie coolness invades the day. About 100 million people live within a day’s drive of the path of totality, a band about 70 miles wide. The State of Oregon is treating the eclipse as a rehearsal for a future civil defense disaster, like an earthquake or a tsunami. If the forecasts are correct, many of us are likely to be viewing the eclipse from a traffic jam.

More here.