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The Magic And Mythology Of The Solar Eclipse

Eclipse mania sweeps the nation. We’ll dig into the science, the history, the culture, and the folklore of the astronomical phenomenon.

Monday is solar eclipse day across much of the United States. A total eclipse of the sun sweeping from the northwest coast right across to South Carolina. In the direct path, the sun will go dark. We know why, but we didn’t always. Human history and mythology are full of astounded, unnerved, even terrified references to eclipse, from the time of Homer and before. This hour On Point: We look at what’s coming Monday, and the awed history of humans and eclipse. — Tom Ashbrook


Frank Close, emeritus professor of physics at Oxford University. Author of, “Eclipse: Journeys to the Dark Side of the Moon.” ( @closefrank)

John Dvorak, author of, “Mask of the Sun: The Science, History, and Forgotten Lore of Eclipses.”

Brooke Jung, solar eclipse marketing and events consultant (aka “eclipse coordinator”) for Hopkinsville, Kentucky, which is along the path of the eclipse. ( @BrookEclipse)

From Tom’s Reading List

Los Angeles Times: Tracking the ‘eye of God’ — a total solar eclipse comes to North America — “What is the most beautiful natural phenomenon you have ever seen? A brilliant rainbow set against a distant storm, the shimmering aurora in an Arctic night, or a blood-red sky just after sunset, perhaps? Here’s what puts all those in the shade: the diamond-ring effect that heralds a total solar eclipse, an explosion of light on the edge of the moon’s inky circle, as it blots out the sun.”

The Spectator: Darkness visible – the wondrous power of eclipses — “If a simple alignment of astronomical bodies can move a 21st-century scientist to tears it’s perhaps not surprising that eclipses of the sun and moon have haunted the human imagination since our species first looked up at the sky. John Dvorak’s Mask of the Sun charts the history of this obsession through dozens of stories and anecdotes that illustrate how deeply embedded eclipse lore is in cultures across the world.”

Wall Street Journal: Dark, Cameras, Action: Scientists and Amateurs Prepare for Solar Eclipse — “The total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 will fall across 14 states, each of which will experience more than two minutes of daytime darkness. Those in the U.S. outside the 70-mile-wide zone that stretches from Oregon to South Carolina will see at least a partial eclipse. Although an eclipse lasts mere minutes, the event offers scientists a rare opportunity to study the sun and its properties, including the corona, the wispy fringe of outer atmosphere normally obscured by the star’s blinding brightness.”

The Path Of The Solar Eclipse

How To Safely View The Solar Eclipse

Looking directly at the sun is unsafe except during the brief total phase of a solar eclipse (“totality”), when the moon entirely blocks the sun’s bright face, which will happen only within the narrow path of totality.

The only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses” ( but make sure they’re legit). Homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe for looking at the sun.

Here are some other tips to keep in mind:

  • Stand still and cover your eyes with your eclipse glasses or solar viewer before looking up at the bright sun. After looking at the sun, turn away and remove your filter — do not remove it while looking at the sun.
  • Do not look at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun through an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars, or other optical device.
  • Similarly, do not look at the sun through a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device while using your eclipse glasses or hand-held solar viewer.
  • If you are within the path of totality, remove your solar filter only when the moon completely covers the sun’s bright face and it suddenly gets quite dark. Experience totality, then, as soon as the bright sun begins to reappear, replace your solar viewer to look at the remaining partial phases.

Safety tips sourced from NASA.

How Eclipses Changed History


Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


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