Slusher: Our side of the street on eclipse coverage

 
 
Updated 8/17/2017 2:43 PM

Most newspaper reporters and editors are not scientists. This little excerpt from NASA's website on the coming solar eclipse (https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEmono/reference/explain.html#elements) titled "Explanation of Solar Eclipse Predictions" can help you understand why that's a good thing:

"The geocentric ephemeris for the Sun and Moon, various parameters, constants, and the Besselian elements (polynomial form) are given in the Table Elements of the Eclipse. The eclipse elements and predictions were derived from the DE200 and LE200 ephemerides (solar and lunar, respectively) ..."

 

It goes on in that vein for quite a while, noting along the way, that "Times are expressed in either Terrestrial Dynamical Time (TDT) or in Universal Time (UT), where the best value of ΔT1 available at the time of preparation is used."

Experts, in short, often need interpreters, and we in newspapers are happy to take on that role. We translate the coming celestial main event into a host of stories, pictures, graphics and illustrations that you can use -- and understand.

To be fair, NASA's website (motto: Explore, Discover, Understand) credits one Fred Espenak for its eclipse predictions, and Espenak, a retired NASA astrophysicist, has his own website, http://www.mreclipse.com, which is considerably more intelligible, even downright informative. But even so, it can't compare to the standards of accessibility, relevance, appeal and usefulness that organizations like the Daily Herald strive for.

As author Cormac McCarthy once replied when Oprah Winfrey asked him whether it was "anything against the press or the media" that caused his aversion to interviews: "No, You work your side of the street and I'll work mine." When it comes to eclipses, Espenak's side -- and that of scientists like him -- is understanding and describing eclipses. Ours is developing that understanding into a form you can appreciate and use.

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To that end, we've produced a wide range of stories that NASA and other scientists likely would never have the time or inclination to think about -- why looking directly at an eclipse unprotected is unsafe, how to find protective glasses, how to watch out for glasses scams, what to expect here in the suburbs as well as in the eclipse epicenter of downstate Makanda -- and when to expect it -- what the tiny town of Makanda is like and how you can navigate the gigantic crowds expected to gather there. And we'll have more to offer all the way up to Monday's event and beyond.

It's a lot of attention to give what amounts to a couple of minutes of widespread shade, but we know those minutes are important. Historically, they've been blamed for the failures of kingdoms and credited with ending wars. In our own enlightened time (no pun intended), they've helped discover helium and prove Einstein's theory of relativity. With an eye on the future, NASA is funding 11 scientific studies and inviting everyone in North America to download an app that will let them contribute to the research.

Of course, when the scientists report their findings, you'll very likely need some help with the translation. But don't worry. For that, you can just come over to our side of the street.

Jim Slusher, jslusher@dailyherald.com, is a deputy managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jim.slusher1 and on Twitter at @JimSlusher.

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