Editorial: Solar eclipse, a gift from the cosmos

  • This total solar eclipse took place above Saint Pierre du Port near Normandy, France, in 1999.

    This total solar eclipse took place above Saint Pierre du Port near Normandy, France, in 1999. Associated Press

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted8/19/2017 2:00 PM

Monday more than ever, we wish for clear skies.

As Julie Zauzmer forecast in a mesmerizing lead to a story in The Washington Post, "In the middle of the day, the sky will go dark. The temperature will suddenly get several degrees colder. Birds will stop chirping and retreat to their nests. And tens of millions of people, crammed into a 60-mile-wide path that crosses from Oregon to the Carolinas, will stand in America looking up at the sky. It's easy to understand why many people will view this as an act of God."


Solar eclipses are not rare. They happen from time to time. And even total solar eclipses aren't that rare. Usually, however, their shadows fall into the ocean.

What's distinctive about Monday's eclipse is that it marks the first time in 99 years that a total eclipse will pass in a giant swath from one seaboard of the United States mainland to another. (In fact, no one had to worry about specifying mainland the last time it happened because Alaska and Hawaii weren't states.)

We won't get to witness the totality of this eclipse in the suburbs. But many suburbanites will make the relatively short trek to southern Illinois for it, and those of us who stay home will still bear witness to a great patch of it.

Assuming clear skies hold, we will look in breathless wonder.

Assuming clear skies hold, Monday promises to be a gift from the cosmos.

"You suddenly feel as if you can see the clockwork of the solar system," NASA mapmaker Ernie Wright told the Vox.com news site, recounting what he saw years ago in Canada as a teenager. "Where you think you lived doesn't look like the same place anymore. We kind of know in the back of our minds that we live in a giant ball and it resolves around a hot ball of gas and we're floating in space. But you really don't believe it until you see something like a total solar eclipse, where everything is all lined up and you go, 'Whoa.' Other planets pop out. You got instant nighttime ... It looks like pictures from a textbook. It's not entirely a science anymore. It's mostly a thing where you have a better appreciation of where you are in the solar system."

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The eclipse will be, for many of us, one of those life experiences we cherish and remember and recount in years ahead to our children's children. It also will be a reminder of our place in the solar system. Of our small and fragile place in the universe.

So much of our lives are consumed by the inconsequential. How many of us froth over perceived slights, over crammed schedules, over politics and blather. What wars envelop us out of paltry fears and prejudice.

Let Monday's eclipse help bring us greater perspective.

Let Monday's eclipse help us to see how meaningless our bitterness and hatreds are.

Let Monday's eclipse help us to see into the vastness.

Monday more than ever, we wish for clear skies.

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