I write about space for a living—and I’m probably skipping the total eclipse
Even partial eclipses can be exciting.
I have a confession to make: I may not go see the total eclipse. And one way or another, I’ve decided to stop agonizing over that decision. It’s really not a big deal.
Hear me out.
I know it’s one of the most amazing phenomena that humans can see. I know that if I choose to drive the two hours (with no traffic—but let’s be real, there will be traffic) from my vacation spot to the path of totality, I will witness incredible things. For a little over a minute, the skies will darken enough to make stars and planets visible, the temperature will drop, the birds and the insects will raise a joyful chorus of nighttime song, the sun’s ephemeral corona will shine out in a stunning display of dazzling beads, and all around me there will be an outpouring of emotion usually reserved for tent revivals.
It sounds amazing, and my FOMO (that’s Fear Of Missing Out) is so incredibly high that I might just load up the car and head out into the fray. There’s a part of me that thinks that as someone who writes about science and space for a living, I should be willing to spend the first day of my vacation stuck in traffic on rural roads—dragging my family out to a place that likely doesn’t have enough bathrooms or food just to witness one moment of glory—even though we’ll have spent the previous day in the car. And it’s worth mentioning that some places are planning for states of emergency akin to zombie apocalypses thanks to the unprecedented hordes of anticipated travelers.
Even if the apocalypse sometimes feels like it’s right around the corner, I’m not sure I want to practice my survival skills on this particular family trip.
I know that my reluctance is tantamount to sacrilege, especially to eclipse chasers who spend thousands of dollars and years of planning to see the sun disappear. And, to be clear, if you’re headed out to the totality, I would never try to discourage you. That’s fantastic, and I wish you nothing but clear skies, safe glasses, and abundant porta-potties.
But as nice as it would be to squeeze the entire population of the United States into the moon’s shadow, we can’t all see totality in person. I’ve read the interviews with breathless experts who say that no one should miss this, even if you have to make sacrifices to get there. But reading some of those insistent, passionate accounts left me thinking about all the people who will miss out on that brief magical moment of darkness.
Sure, some people just don’t care. But some people will be at work, or caring for family members, and simply can’t sacrifice the full day—or days—to head out to the path. Some have disabilities that make it difficult, if not impossible, to make the trip. Others can’t drive or don’t have the gas or transit money they need to head towards the shadow. Others are able, but are choosing to direct their energies elsewhere—there’s a lot going on out there. Still others, like me, would like to go, but the logistics just don’t add up for any number of reasons. These people aren’t lazy. They aren’t slackers. They don’t somehow hate space or science. They’re making a choice about how to spend their time, and that’s just swell.
And here’s the amazing thing that a lot of folks aren’t getting: if you live in the United States, you can’t miss the eclipse.
The eclipse is going to come to you.
Many of us will get to watch as the moon grazes the sun (or takes a giant bite out, of it depending on where you’re standing) in a partial eclipse. It’s a wild, exciting thing to witness, whether through its reflection in a bucket of water, with carefully vetted eclipse glasses, or through a simple pinhole camera made out of hastily gathered office supplies. People who have visual impairments might use apps to hear or feel the eclipse.
Even if I don’t head out to totality, I plan to spend almost all day outside during the eclipse, watching through my solar filters and solar eclipse glasses (not at the same time) as our sun and moon line up in the sky—and I can’t wait. It’s going to be awesome in every sense, and just because millions of people in a giant line across the country are having what is often characterized as an even more profound experience, that doesn’t mean that what you can see in Chicago or Miami or Springfield isn’t also really cool. You might not be able to visit the totality, but you can peek out the nearest door or window and hope that the clouds elected to make themselves scarce. Or, if you can’t make it out the door, you can listen in or watch live streams of the event. You can also just wait and catch up on all the amazing things that happened later, when the stories are told—and the pictures go up on Instagram. It’s something the entire country gets to experience together, no matter how many of us squeeze our way onto the path of totality.
The eclipse is going to be incredible, and no one should feel bad for experiencing it in a way that works best for them. Whether that means hanging out at a music festival or national park, sticking your head out of the office, taking measurements for NASA, helping your kids look at the sun’s reflection in a pond, or, yes, making a carefully planned pilgrimage to totality, is totally up to you.
Any way you look at it, this is going to be out of this world.