Christopher Columbus was in trouble. During his fourth voyage to the New World, Columbus was shipwrecked on Jamaica. Hostile natives had cut off the Europeans’ supply of food. But Columbus had a book that predicted a lunar eclipse. And he took a gamble.
Columbus told the Indians that if they did not resume feeding him and his crew, the moon would be taken away. The natives didn’t buy it.
But that night as the moon rose in the east a lunar eclipse seemed to make it disappear, and the natives hurried and appealed to Columbus to give back the moon. The discoverer of America got his food and survived.
Now we have a chance to take advantage as did ol’ Chris. A dramatic solar eclipse is coming Aug. 21. Its path will cut a swath across the middle of the U.S. and give many a rare sight, though it’ll not be so dramatic here.
Here in the hometown, a partial eclipse will be at its best at 2:40 p.m. when about 95 percent of the sun will be blocked by the moon, according to NASA.
Expect to hear more about the big eclipse as the time draws near.
The eclipse will be most dramatic to the south. For instance, in Charleston, South Carolina, for about two minutes the entire face of the sun will be blocked by the moon. They say lodging there already is booked, and Charleston and the coastal suburb of Isle of Palms have had eclipse websites up for months.
I got a nice school science fair project out of the last big solar eclipse in these parts, on a snowy March 7, 1970. Sometime afterward I set up an exhibit for the fair that included my drawings of stages of the eclipse while using my old telescope in my backyard.
You can take a Quaker oatmeal can, and the sun’s image from the telescope will show on the bottom of the can. I traced the eclipse every 10 minutes or so.
That’s an indirect and safe way to see the moon slowly cut in front of the sun. Never look at the sun during an eclipse, either with your eyes and most certainly don’t look into a telescope without a special sun filter.
I wish I still had my old science-fair exhibit and my eclipse notebook. But Mom did take a Polaroid photo, and I offer it here. (Wasn’t I a good-lookin’ young buck?)
During the last eclipse you could tell the difference it made. It was as if you were wearing some light-tinted sunglasses on a sunny day. Though the day was clear and mild following a snowfall, things around the backyard looked hazy. During the eclipse a neighbor came out of her house and said things looked strange.
I expect this next eclipse to be similar. I hope you get a chance to get out of the office or off the work floor and see it for yourself. And pray for no clouds.
You probably won’t be able to get the hometown natives to feed you like Columbus, but you can always give it a try. Tell the folks at your favorite restaurant that I sent you.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.
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