What happens when the light goes out?


By Pat Sanchez

Early next month, on April 8, a select group of Texans and other lucky earthlings standing outside on a 115-mile-wide strip of real estate stretching from Mexico up through the United States and into Canada will witness Mother Nature’s most magnificent magic trick — a total solar eclipse.

Stay safe

As friends and family gear up and get together to share one of the most mesmerizing spectacles the universe has to offer, the experts are urging people to take the time to keep everyone safe by following a few simple guidelines. 

The best advice for planning a great eclipse experience comes straight from the scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA experts emphasize the use of solar glasses as the number one safety measure for every participant. 

To find a selection of safe viewing equipment, check out the American Astronomical Society’s website at aas.org for approved list of options for solar lenses.
Illustration courtesy of NASA

These experts point out that looking directly at the sun for any length of time can cause irreversible harm — so safety lenses are mandatory for enjoying this experience. What’s more, looking at the sun through a camera lens, a telescope or binoculars without a filter specifically made for solar viewing will immediately injure the eyes.

To find a selection of safe viewing equipment, check out the American Astronomical Society’s online approved list of options for solar lenses. Dallas schools will provide safety lenses for their students to use during the eclipse. 

     Eclipses change behavior   A total eclipse produces unusual behavior in animals. Bees stop flying and go absolutely silent when the moon blocks the sun and blackens the sky.

Owls, on the other hand, become more active during an eclipse. They are nocturnal, so when it goes dark, they become alert, hooting and gathering, and when it goes bright again, they accept that it’s daytime once more and go back to sleep.

So many people are making plans to be where they can watch this phenomenon, it might seem odd that eclipses could stir fear in people. The ancient Greeks thought they were evil, serving as bad omens from the gods. But in one instance, the eclipse had such a powerful, chilling effect, it elicited a surprise ceasefire during a war, interrupting a major battle and changing history. 

As Herodotus, the historian, documents, soldiers at the Battle of Halys, at around 585 B.C. were at war with each other over a dispute about who could lay claim to an area of land that is now part of Turkey. Both sides of the dispute were so overwhelmed by the eclipse, they felt certain that what they had witnessed came directly from the gods and was meant to serve as a command for them to stop fighting. Both sides laid down their arms and worked out a truce. 

A chilling event

The eclipse will also be ushered in by a sudden lowering of the temperature. Weather forecasters are predicting that there may be as much as a 10-degree cool-off as the sun is blocked out.

Changing places

Many local areas expect a huge number of visitors for this event. The city of Ennis expects as many as 250,000 visitors, enough to warrant special levels of preparation. In fact, some counties in Texas expect their populations to double overnight, or maybe even triple, mandating readiness at massive levels. 

Bell, San Saba and Kerr counties are also located in prime viewing areas. Officials there are expecting such huge numbers of visitors that they are treating it as an emergency. They are further urging residents to, if possible, avoid driving at all, refill prescriptions prior to the eclipse, fill up their cars and make sure they have enough food for a few days. 

Another crucial safety aspect of the eclipse will occur AFTER the sun reappears. This same thing happens on Friday nights in Texas when the high school football game is over: A MEGA TRAFFIC JAM. The Texas Department of Transportation is considering the likelihood that eclipse events could snarl traffic up considerably. 

The unpredictability of this once-in-a-lifetime local event has only one certainty: have a backup plan for EVERYTHING.   

Take the day off

The fact that the eclipse could seriously impact traffic and other local activities makes one recent Letter to the Editor suggestion a good idea: the day of the eclipse should be designated a school holiday. 

In fact, some Dallas school districts will be closing on April 8, the day of the eclipse. That being said, and Texas being Texas, most students are NOT likely to get the day off. But students in class that day can expect, with the cooperation of the typically good Texas weather in April, a real-life demonstration of geometry in action. 

The geometry of it all depends on several important factors that just happen to combine in a specific manner that in the end produces a solar eclipse. Those factors include a moon that orbits its planet at just the right distance to block off every ray of sunshine from the sun when the moon’s orbit positions it at the critical angle between the earth and the sun. 

People standing on Earth, in the moon’s shadow, can enjoy the experience of watching the sun disappear behind the moon while marveling at the swirl of solar flares bursting from the sun’s corona from behind their solar glasses.