Tuesday, August 22, 2017

After the exclusive eclipse US stumbling back to "normalcy"

For a nation sore from division and belligerent discourse this week's rare celestial event exclusively on display in our exceptional nation was a much needed balsam, effective for being far above earthly strive and being truly non-partisan.
BBC collage of eclipse as seen from an observatory

The hype about the sun being obscured by the much smaller moon was such, that no medium could escape it, not even the electronic Interstate sign boards with their warnings that motorists should not to stop on the shoulders during the eclipse. And true to a nation which gains its mobility through its highways, hundreds of thousands took to the roads in search of a spot in the 100% coverage band that crossed the entire US and became an iconic overlay in many online applications such as weather maps. The moon, usually only moving oceans, thus created an unprecedented high tide of traffic long before it blotted out the sun. Everyone was an expert on the universe for a day, no matter how tiny a speck of the universe the trio of sun, moon and earth actually are.

Such a trip into the 70 mile band of total eclipse easily require elicited several hundreds of miles of travel taking many hours, if not days of driving. The return: The pleasure of a minute or two of darkness during midday, Venus in full sight instead of the bright August sun and critters stunned silent for a moment. Creepy, awe inspiring and uniquely defying deeply ingrained experience.
One family, three generations, two states, one spectacle (Photo: Philipsen)

The celestial shadow is, indeed impressive, no matter how simple the explanation. The nation's first online eclipse boosted into a hype beyond any reason, managed to eclipse the President's tweets inauguration crowd.

The spectacle hit hard on this month's US productivity, August already being a weakling in that category, owing to vacations, heat and the tradition of taking it easy in August. In the endless flow of eclipse info, it was also noted that it brought a natural reduction in solar energy during the hour or so of vastly reduced energy output by the obscured sun.

It was probably surprising to most who didn't remember a previous eclipse, how much light the sun can put out even if it is 50-90% obscured. While the emitted heat intensity drops significantly somewhere at the half point, earth gets hardly any dimmer until the 90% point is reached, just that light and shadows take on funny shapes.
Cherokee, NC inside the total eclipse area at 70% period
(Photo: Philipsen)

But then, for that short period of total coverage, it really gets quite a bit darker, like a late dusk with the brightest stars becoming visible.  And there overhead is, what for a short moment looks like a very bright floodlight, being snuffed out and replaced by a beautiful glowing ring around the moon. The minute is short but remarkable. The ring of fire around the perfectly round moon is a sight not normally seen anywhere in the sky, and here it is, so soft that for a moment it is safe even for the naked eye.

Then, when the sun peaks out again with its first ray, it is as if the bright light got switched back on, the brightness grows and the sun reappears as a crescent. The people who had breathlessly followed the moon's journey into the sun's
Cherokee, NC inside the total eclipse area at 100% period
(Photo: Philipsen)
view immediately lose interest in the reverse spectacle in which the moon reveals more and more of the sun. Already it is bright out again, venus is gone and on some level it must be relief that lets the viewers so quickly put normal life back into gear, literally. Cars rev up and the long exodus begins from the total eclipse band. As the sun grows back to its normal intensity, so grows the insight that life goes on and that the the seventy mile eclipse zone is, indeed, far from home.

As stunning as the minutes of midday darkness were, what follows, one of the nation's largest rush hours clogging local and national roadways across the country in an unprecedented
CNN image of total eclipse. The ring looks softer and less flared
the naked eye
Post eclipse: A traffic jam all across America (Chicago Tribune)
scale until deep into the night may well be what eclipses the eclipse for many travelers.

The path back into the daily routine and craziness isn't only unwelcome, it is also really, really crowded.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

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