Chronicles of the Wayward Moot

WELCOME TO THE MOOT, oh world-wanderers and word-whisperers. After two years of Peace Corps. After 2,200 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. What. Comes. Next?



Sunday May 20, 2012

Sarah pretends to nap on the couch for a short while after we spent part of the afternoon putting together a colorful Star Wars puzzle on the den table.  I leave the puzzle pieces to their shiny, reflective selves and turn to more pressing matters: How are we going to watch the rare spectacle of an annular solar eclipse as the shadow of Earth's moon creeps across the surface of North America, the silent stone sphere drifting between the planet and the sun's fierce rays?

A welder's mask or goggles could work, but we don't have any at hand.  A six foot long box would serve as well, but none are in the apartment and the dumpster is often a sinister mess inside.  I find instructions online for making a pinhole projector and remember having seen this done in some previous eclipse event years ago.  In a Mr. Wizard moment I'm procuring scissors, a heavy paper REI shopping bag, tape, and aluminum foil.  The time is a quarter past 5 and maximum coverage of the rare eclipse occurs around 6:30 so there's no time to lose.  I cut two parts of the bag out leaving the handles for easy carrying, then snip rounded holes about three inches across in the middle of each section of brown paper.  Using the last of a roll of aluminum foil I tape a thin sheet of the metal over each of the holes.  The foil will allow me to create the pinholes through which the sun will shine and create a projected image of the fiery crescent we'd see in the sky if our eyes could look upon the show unaided.  Sarah wakes and rummages for some white paper upon which we can project the images, and soon we're heading outside for the show, tingling with excitement and anticipation.

Just outside of the gate to our apartment complex we cross paths with a group of adolescents walking home from a visit to a friend's swimming pool. AHA! Our first victims!  "Hey, you guys want to see the solar eclipse?"  The tubbiest boy then asks, "What's a solar eclipse?"
This astronomical event has been mentioned in the news for quite a while but of course many kids today aren't supremely concerned with what goes on in the news, so that he didn't know about the eclipse wasn't a total surprise.  What surprised me was that he didn't know what one WAS.  The teacher in Sarah and me came out instantly and we set about erasing ignorance right then and there.  She retrieved our pinhole projector supplies from the carrying bag while I swiped some pebbles from the ground and gave a mini lesson in space geography, indicating how the moon passed between the Earth and the sun in just such a way as to cast a shadow onto the planet's surface, and how we were lucky enough to be right in the path of that shadow.  Sarah and I then held up the paper and pinholes to the sun and showed those kids images of what must have been their first eclipse, right there on Sierra Boulevard in Sacramento.  They thanked us and we continued on around the corner to Loehmann's Plaza shopping center where we hoped to encounter more sun spotters for the main event.

Encounter them we did, and a bonus it was to our journey, for one woman had a stack of film negatives she was looking through, allowing her to peer directly at the sun and see in sharp detail the circle of the moon covering ever more of the brilliantly bright orb.  Now I have read that film negatives do not count as completely safe filters for eclipse viewing, but she had six stacked on top of one another and nobody in her group seemed any worse for wear, so we had a look and were blown away by the stark strangeness and celestial beauty of what we saw.  Through the negatives the sun was a deep dark orange with a perfectly round section simply missing, right there above us in the sky.  We showed the group the projection through our pinholes but after seeing the eclipse directly it wasn't quite as attention-grabbing.  The woman was kind enough to send us off with one of the negative strips and so we folded it over on itself a number of times to strengthen the filtering capability and continued to the corner, where a new distraction became apparent.

The next person we met was a gentleman whose car had stalled at a red light and would not restart.  Sarah and I gave him a push into the Loehmann's parking lot and then let him have a look at the magic going on in the sky.  Walking back to the corner we noticed yet another strange and beautiful eclipse phenomenon: The sunlight passing between the leaves of trees created hundreds of eclipse projections on the pavement ... as full coverage approached the trees' shadows were dappled with a dancing mass of perfect crescents.  Absolutely mesmerizing!

The shadow crossing the sun was nearing its greatest extent as we crossed the street and settled in at the Temple Coffee, where another group of folks was eager to share in our equipment and take some stunning photos of the sun through the film negatives.  The wall of the building received another dose of the magnificent sun dapples from a landscaping tree and we were delighted to see that we could even produce the eclipse crescent-projection effect by holding our hands in such a way that only tiny pinpricks of light passed between our fingers.  It seemed that the beauty and excitement of the rare event was over just as swiftly as it had begun - we walked back home watching for more of the tree-filtered light dapples, went back inside, and that was that.  A great many people across this and other countries also watched the moon pass in front of the sun, and a number of them had their cameras specially outfitted and trained on the "ring of fire" annulus, so I'll let the images speak for themselves.  What a world, what a life, what a beautiful thing to witness!


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