August 19th, 2017

Eclipse, August 21: to feel the always coming on…

On Monday, August 21, 2017, America will witness one of nature’s grandest spectacles. The “Great American Eclipse,” as it is being called, will be the first total solar eclipse visible from the continental United States since 1979, when a massive shadow caused by the moon blocking the light of the sun passed over the Pacific Northwest. But this year’s eclipse will be the first total solar eclipse visible from coast to coast since 1918. Tens of millions of Americans are projected to make their way into the narrow path of the moon’s shadow — a seventy-mile wide swath of complete darkness stretching from Oregon to South Carolina — to watch the sun disappear completely for nearly three minutes over one section of the country after another…

A total solar eclipse is a breathtaking sight. It lasts a few hours as the moon slowly crawls across the face of the sun, obscuring it bit by bit. But the most spectacular part of the eclipse is called totality: the brief period during which the sun is completely concealed by the moon. Totality lasts only a few minutes, but its effects are dramatic. The temperature plummets when the sun disappears, stars and planets become visible in the middle of the day, and on the surface of the Earth, a giant shadow up to 150 miles wide sweeps across the land at speeds approaching 2,000 miles per hour.

The effect of the onrushing shadow often fills those who see it with “primitive fear,” according to the psychologist and eclipse chaser Dr. Kate Russo, as a “wall of darkness comes creeping toward you.” In 1878, one observer, who watched the approaching shadow from the top of 14,000 foot Pikes Peak, described that wall of darkness as “pallid and ghastly . . . weird and terrible” as it devoured distant mountain ranges one by one. This year’s eclipse will speed across America in a little over 90 minutes.

I believe I saw one in Boston in the 70s. Looked it up; probably this one, not totally total but darn close to total. It was scary and creepy, and also tempting and frustrating because of the need to not look directly at it.

Here are some charts of the path of Monday’s eclipse.

For me, the quote with which I began this post conjures up this poem by Archibald Macleish, which is not about an eclipse, but about nightfall (and much much else):

And here face down beneath the sun
And here upon earth’s noonward height
To feel the always coming on
The always rising of the night:

To feel creep up the curving east
The earthy chill of dusk and slow
Upon those under lands the vast
And ever climbing shadow grow

And strange at Ecbatan the trees
Take leaf by leaf the evening strange
The flooding dark about their knees
The mountains over Persia change…

And Baghdad darken and the bridge
Across the silent river gone
And through Arabia the edge
Of evening widen and steal on…

Please read the whole thing. That poem gives me a shiver that starts somewhere in the middle of it and lasts right to the end.

39 Responses to “Eclipse, August 21: to feel the always coming on…”

  1. physicsguy Says:

    Only 50 – 60% coverage here in New England. I’ve seen several of those and found them not to be particularly exciting. Unless one in on the path of 100 to 90 %, it’s not an event in my view

  2. Cornflour Says:

    On May 10, 1994, I was in southern Missouri and saw an almost total eclipse of the sun. According to NASA, the eclipse was 95%.

    It was a beautiful, clear spring day, but I remember none of the drama described in the passage cited by Neo. For me, it was a somewhat interesting celestial phenomenon, as well as a somewhat annoying social event. Also, I felt no need for meditating on the eclipse as a giant symbol of …

    I guess some people are never too young to become a grumpy old skeptic.

  3. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    “It was scary and creepy, and also tempting and frustrating because of the need to not look directly at it.” neo

    Bad Moon Rising
    Creedence Clearwater Revival

    I see the bad moon arising
    I see trouble on the way
    I see earthquakes and lightnin’
    I see those bad times today

    Don’t go around tonight
    Well it’s bound to take your life
    There’s a bad moon on the rise

    I hear hurricanes a blowing
    I know the end is coming soon
    I fear rivers over flowing
    I hear the voice of rage and ruin

    Well don’t go around tonight
    Well it’s bound to take your life
    There’s a bad moon on the rise, oh right

    Hope you got your things together
    Hope you are quite prepared to die
    Looks like we’re in for nasty weather
    One eye is taken for an eye

    Well don’t go around tonight
    Well it’s bound to take your life
    There’s a bad moon on the rise

    Don’t come around tonight
    Well it’s bound to take your life
    There’s a bad moon on the rise

    Songwriters: JOHN C. FOGERTY

  4. Ralph Kinney Bennett Says:

    I have to agree with Cornflour just a little bit. It seems we, as a nation, have this compulsion to get over-excited about everything. But thank you for conjuring up a poem I did not know. I must say, as I have been observing all the hoopla I keep thinking of my favorite evocation of an eclipse: Milton’s description of Satan in Paradise Lost.

    He above the rest
    In shape and gesture proudly eminent
    Stood like a Tower; his form had yet not lost
    All her original brightness, nor appeared
    Less than ArchAngel ruined, and the excess
    Of Glory obscured: As when the Sun new risen
    Looks through the Horizontal misty Air
    Shorn of his Beams, or from behind the Moon
    In dim Eclipse disasterous twilight sheds
    On half the Nations, and with fear of change
    Perplexes Monarchs.

    I’m sure I’ve forgotten some of the archaic spellings and contractions, forgive me. But that line, “disasterous twilight sheds on half the nations,” is magnificent and captures some of the mysterious majesty of the phenomenon.

  5. parker Says:

    “You flew your Lear Jet to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun…. you’re so vain you probably think this song is about…”

    We will not see total eclipse here but close. So we will step outside to sees the darkening.

  6. Cornflour Says:

    Reading too much into a pop song is almost as foolish as reading too much into an eclipse, and I always thought Carly Simon meant just that.

    Narcissism is a theme that keeps popping up these days. Maybe it’s because my looks are fading. Maybe Warren Beatty is a sun god, and I need to … No, it couldn’t be. Do you think the song is about me?

  7. OldTexan Says:

    “You all be good down there or I will cancel the Eclipse saith the Lord.”

  8. huxley Says:

    Isaac Asimov IMO wrote the greatest eclipse story, “Nightfall,” in which a planet with six suns is only dark once every two thousand years.

    Scientists there have worked out the cycle and wonder if that’s the reason their civilization collapses ever two thousand years.

    ==== SPOILER ====

    The eclipse of the final sun occurs, the planet is plunged into darkness, but it’s not the darkness which drives people crazy but seeing all the stars and realizing the universe was far more vast than they had imagined.

    Then society collapses once again.

  9. Cornhead Says:

    Nebraska is ground zero but a chance of clouds.

    Carhenge is the place to be!

  10. CV Says:

    We must also prepare ourselves to revisit that Bonnie Tyler 80s hit, Total Eclipse of the Heart. It’s inevitable!

  11. huxley Says:

    CV: Turns out Tyler will be performing “Total Eclipse” on a cruise ship in the Caribbean at the eclipse totality!

    What a great idea.

    As a former amateur astronomer, I’m tempted to go see the eclipse. But Nebraska is about 11 hours from Albuquerque.

  12. Ed Bonderenka Says:

    A total eclipse proved the theory of relativity.
    Read the first couple pages of Modern Times.
    It also proves the Hand of God in the creation of this planet and our placement on it.
    Without the moon being the perfect diameter and at the perfect distance from the earth, we could not have gained the understanding we now have of how the universe works.
    What are the odds.

  13. huxley Says:

    What are the odds.

    Ed Bonderenka: Pretty unlikely.

    But if you make the universe vast enough — as physicists currently theorize — the odds become a certainty.

    In fact some physicists theorize the universe is so vast there must be an effectively infinite number of Eds and huxleys out there living variations of our lives.

    Lately I’m reading a real mindboggler of a book, “The Mathematical Universe,” in which the author, MIT professor Max Tegmark, offers a conjecture that the entire universe is pure mathematics.

    According to Tegmark our felt experience of living in a “real” universe is simply an illusionary aspect of existing in vast, insanely complex mathematical object.

  14. parker Says:


    Sheesh. Not reading too much into a pop song. It was about a woman scorned when she thought she had found true love. Clouds in her coffee.

    Get a grip. It was the first pop/rock song that came to mind regarding eclipse mania. Sheesh.eclipse will be 92% here, interesting, something to observe, but not something unusual. It happens from time to time.

  15. Ed Bonderenka Says:

    Huxley, Red pill, Blue pill?

  16. Cornflour Says:

    I was trying to be funny. Failed again. Oh well.

  17. huxley Says:

    Ed: I don’t take viagra. Oh wait…

    Tegmark is offering a red pill — if that’s the way the universe really works.

    Still, it’s a strange enough idea that even physicists resist it. Tegmark put together a portfolio of solid physics papers which earned him an MIT position before he came out as a wild theory man.

  18. huxley Says:

    Back in the 2000s I witnessed a partial eclipse while in a Northern California forest.

    The most interesting effect was seeing little crescents in the shadows cast by tree leaves.

    I just checked on the web to make sure that effect wasn’t a weird memory leftover from a dream.

  19. FOAF Says:

    Sadly, the eclipse is not sufficiently “woke”:

    Apparently not satire.

  20. om Says:


    Worse than satire; a gem from the last sentence (a thought in words) from the second paragraph:

    “It has been dubbed the Great American Eclipse, and along most of its path, there live almost no black people.”

    Oh the tragedy, Oh the injustice. Oh, woe is me! Another example of racism and expressed in “Solar Privilidge” TM.

  21. Yancey Ward Says:

    The eclipse series, Saros 139, that produced the March 1970 eclipse returns to the US on April 8th 2024, but shifted westward about 800-1000 miles.

    I live just outside the totality line, so will drive tomorrow about 20 miles to my sister’s home in Lenoir City, TN to see the eclipse. The forecast for visibility is excellent at the moment, but I am prepared to travel a bit tomorrow if I have to to get better visibility.

    I know I have seen comments from a lot people on line that had made plans to travel to Nebraska of all places for the eclipse, but the forecast over the entire state looked to be cloudy.

  22. MHollywood Says:

    huxley. Thx for the book rec. It inspired this poem today:

    We’re reduced to mathematics.
    That’s all there is
    To pretend we know
    The source of this biz.
    It’s numbers that crunch
    And symbols that swirl
    As down here we’re left
    With the boy and the girl
    and math to explain
    What occurs in our brain
    As it melts with the groin
    To make thoughts in the loin
    That open the heart.

    Out of love we take
    The mergers and bake
    Them into fights
    Over issues and rights:
    Who’s right and what’s left
    And who’s holy—who bereft
    Of compassion
    Or sense.

    Is there dignity in a fence?
    Or a wall that is tall?
    What is citizenship
    What is humanship
    What is God?

    Let the moon pull a darkness
    Over our light
    So it can be told
    What mentation stole.

    It’s the heart, before all,
    Over tall, earlier than small
    That filters the nascent complexity
    Of this holy ground
    And casts it back as a rainbow
    On which baby feet can walk.

    Perhaps the eclipse will silence talk:
    The righteous won’t squawk
    We stupid will balk
    At our own ignorance
    As each accedes to witlessness
    And illumination comes

    In ignorance of what is right
    In awareness of what simply is
    Comes the divine
    To merge with us
    Always in action
    Let go

    This sifter Is our instrument.
    This is what God gave us
    To lead us down the swirling aisle
    To we know not what covenant.

  23. huxley Says:

    Sadly, the eclipse is not sufficiently “woke”:

    Apparently not satire.

    FOAF: Indeed the Atlantic eclipse article by Alice Rostroph is real.

    And Ristroph has a sterling CV including a J.D. and a Ph.D from Harvard, a professorship at Brooklyn Law, and she has taught all over the country including Georgetown, Columbia and Fordham.

    She is even white. I assumed she was an affirmative-action/diversity candidate who rode her skin privilege to the top like Obama. I guess she’s accumulating woke points as career insurance. Or maybe she has become this stupid from marinating in the university system too long.

    I’ve never seen the comment section for an article in a major publication so overwhelmingly, scathingly negative. Not a single commenter defends Ristroph in the slightest.

    Which is the story of America these days. Elite publications like the Atlantic pay writers like Ristroph with elite degrees to write elite pieces of political correctness which will be rejected and damned as mindnumbingly stupid by ordinary Americans.

    This is truly how you get more Trump.

  24. Sella Turcica Says:

    Don’t understand all the excitement about an e-clipse that’s just visible on a computer. Now if it were an actual clipse that would be TOTALLY awesome.

  25. om Says:


    Thanks for the background info. on one of our “betters” writing for the Atlantic, a magazine I used to read 20 years ago, before I woke. The article is evidence that an expensive education doesn’t fix stupid.

  26. Ed Bonderenka Says:

    Sella: That’s good. 🙂

  27. huxley Says:

    MHollywood: Glad to be of inspiration!

    I’ve been imagining what it might be like to be a complex mathematical object inside a far larger, complex mathematical object. Kinda fun.

    But I do wonder where God is in that scheme of things.

    The virtue of Tegmark’s mathematical universe is that it answers the deeply puzzling question of why mathematics describes our world so accurately.

    If the universe is all mathematics all the way down, problem solved!

  28. MHollywood Says:

    oh, well, God IS the mathematics.
    God is energy
    Math is energy.

    PS: you ARE a mathematical object within a larger, more complex (yet simpler) math.

    All fun.

  29. Sean Says:

    Hey everyone,

    There’s a petition to have the government recognize Antifa as a terrorist organization. It was started four days ago and already has 86,000 signatures. They need 14,000 more by mid-September to get the government to consider it. Let’s help ’em out.

  30. Big Maq Says:

    “This is truly how you get more Trump.” – huxley


    Unfortunately, there is an audience for this stuff.

    Louder, more obnoxious, more out there wacko, conspiratorial and nonsensical.

    The media, left and right, needs to drive attention to stand out from the crowd, and attract eyeballs, ears, and clicks.

    In the meantime, ironically, getting what they evidently want, the audience gets a distorted view of the world.

  31. Ymar Sakar Says:

    Look up to the Heavens, for the skies testify of the glory and work of Jehovah. Each day, it communicates to us in words. From night to night, it reveals knowledge, which is not human knowledge.

    he effect of the onrushing shadow often fills those who see it with “primitive fear,” according to the psychologist and eclipse chaser Dr. Kate Russo, as a “wall of darkness comes creeping toward you.”

    The primitives still remember, it seems, even after forgetting.

  32. Sean Says:

    lol Nevermind. The petition’s already got enough signatures. That was quick.

  33. Llwddythlw Says:

    I put together a pinhole viewer, but I doubt if I’ll be able to see anything, surrounded as I will be during the day by tall buildings in midtown Manhattan.

  34. huxley Says:

    Unfortunately, there is an audience for this stuff.

    Louder, more obnoxious, more out there wacko, conspiratorial and nonsensical.

    Big Maq: As far as Ristroph goes, she sounded straight enough to me. It wasn’t quite a cri-de-coeur but I believe that’s what she was shooting for.

    A nice chin-tugging, throat-stopping piece about the abject sadness of America’s racial history coupled with a sly dogwhistle towards the obviously necessary reform of the Electoral College because the votes of obvious deplorables count too much when a monster like Trump can be elected.

    What’s not to like?

    I can imagine Ristroph settling back with a contented sigh as she hit the final carriage return in writing that article. I can imagine Atlantic editors thinking, “She nailed it!”

    The problem is to most Americans it’s obvious madness to suppose the path of a total eclipse is a valid occasion to complain about racism.

    Furthermore the majority of Americans, I daresay even a a fair number of Democrats, are sick to death of everything being about racism.

  35. BrianE Says:

    Speaking of total darkness, my little burg was hit hard by the fallout of Mount St. Helens in 1980.

    Total darkness. And it lasted from 1-2 in the afternoon until the next morning. So dark you couldn’t see the street lights.

    And when you walked out into the ash, it felt like rain, other than it was warm. It was eerie.

  36. charles Says:

    Lower Manhattan viewer here – it was pretty neat!

    Folks came out of their offices for about an hour or so.

    Everyone is a “party mood.” Sharing their pinhole viewers, some even sharing their special glasses.

    As for that stupid article about how “racist” the eclipse is; well, that author wasn’t in lower Manhattan, I can tell you that.

    Everyone, of every race, color, gender, and every other “protected” class was there for one thing – to enjoy one of nature’s finest shows.

    I’m glad we had clear skies (some clouds; but not enough to ruin it) for the fun.

  37. Llwddythlw Says:

    Charles: I joined a few hundred people to watch the eclipsed sun over the Helmsley Building and my pinhole viewer worked well. There was a small inverted image of the sun with a bite taken out of the top (which was actually the bottom) a few minutes before it reached its maximum.

  38. brdavis9 Says:


    I’m not seeing a rather long-ish description I just posted. This is a test (prior to trying to re-post).

  39. brdavis9 Says:

    Dunno. Still didn’t post. Maybe neo can dig it out of the bin.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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