A Big Black Dot in the Sky

The Big Black Dot in the Sky

An eclipse happens on the earth every 18 months, but it has been around a century since the last total eclipse passed across America. For the past week, social media has been filled with pictures and comments.

My turn.

Where I live there was 99.97% totality. Pretty good. But my father, a scant 50 miles away, would see 100% totality. Well, that solves that. Unfortunately, my wife had to work and help with the local library’s eclipse program – they had almost 200 kids that day!

So my daughter and I headed to grandpa’s house. Her cousins headed further south with their mom and dad but my other sister drove down from Indiana to see the eclipse. So we would have a nice visit with her and grandpa.

My father said he remembers a partial eclipse in the late 1960s or very early 1970s because we were in the old house (we moved in 1972 and my father still lives there) and remembers telling my sister and I not to look directly at the sun. I do not remember that.

I DO remember the partial eclipse in 1978 or 1979: there was snow on the ground (unusual for where I live) and I made my own cardboard box/viewer. I watched the eclipse through the viewer, drew the stages of the “bite” taken out of the sun and as the shadow swung around the sun’s lower half, and wrote up a report about it for my high school science class.

The next eclipse (all of these partial) happened when I was a lawyer working in Belleville – 1993 – 1995. I was driving from court on the interstate and saw the cows in the fields herd together as if it were nighttime.

But this was my FIRST total eclipse.

The family was outside at 10:30. It was very hot and humid and we spent most of the time under the old tree at my dad’s house. My daughter wanted to go inside frequently to cool off and get some drinks. I joined her.

We waited and waited for 11:12am.

You could barely see a “dent” in the sun in the upper right – if it were a clock it would be near the one.  My sister and father relaxed in lounge chairs and watched. I played basketball and softball with my daughter and waited.

By 11:15 the “bite” in the sun was noticeable. My daughter was excited – much more excited than she had been sweating it out – literally – a few minutes before. I loved the look on her face.

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Now it was easier: we’d play a little bit but then she would grab her glasses and watch the “bite” of the sun get bigger and bigger. She grew more and more excited and wanted to keep watching it. I said it was like looking at a clock – it was slow but you could see it move if you were patient.

It was down to a crescent, then it was as thin as a fingernail.

Of course, I had to peak at it without my glasses once in a while, but the sun was still too bright to see the shadow upon it.

I know, I know, I wasn’t supposed to do that. But I am only human. A dumb, blind human; but a human nonetheless.

At first, I was surprised (and disappointed) that I could not see the moon. I couldn’t even spot it at 8:00 that morning when we left. Even the hour before and after I couldn’t spot it – the sun was too bright.

And we were very lucky to have a perfectly clear sky that day!

While waiting outside under that old tree (under which I played with my bucket of soldiers and, later, taught myself to play guitar) we enjoyed listening to the crickets – even at 10:30 before it started getting dark … well, less light. My daughter listened to her first owl hoot! This was a disappointing part of the eclipse – my wife told me at work they heard crickets start chirping and birds calling … but we heard crickets before anything happened!

Finally, the sun was a tiny sliver – the size of a child’s fingernail clipped away and laying on the bathroom floor. Then an even smaller orange dot.

Then totality.

It was amazing, truly. Pictures do not do it justice. It was as if someone painted a dark black dot in the middle of the sky. A bright halo surrounded it – but not so bright you had to avert the eyes.

It looked like those science fiction shows about black holes.

I was expecting night time – but the sky was still the blue of pre-dawn and after dusk – just before the sun pops up or disappears on the horizon for the day. We could see Venus, but no other stars.

It was darker on the ground, but again no darker than it is first thing in the morning.  I took a photo of my daughter during totality – it shows how “dark” it was outside (note the sun was still casting shadows) …

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No wonder the pagans of aulden days panicked! Where the sun once was hung a dark, round … thing. A thing that ate the sun!

I was stunned. Even my dad thought it was amazing – and that morning he said he did not care too much about it. My daughter was “wowing” through the entire thing.

I was still looking at totality when it ended.  I literally said, “I wonder what happens when AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!” I looked down quickly as the sun popped out from behind the moon on the upper right side, but it really hurt my eyes. The sun appeared on the opposite side of where it disappeared – as if someone flipped the film and ran it backwards.

No snakes. My cousin told me that sometimes an eclipse causes waves of light to flutter on the ground – as if it were the writhing of snakes. Reading social media posts over the next few days gave no sign of anyone seeing snakes.

My sister told me about crescent shadows. THOSE we saw. I even managed to get some good pictures.

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But no pics of the totality – my poor camera was not good enough.  This is as good as I could get:

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It was a once in a lifetime event – until 2024 when the line of totality crosses North America again! Next time the line of totality will go right over our house, so we can stay home without fighting the traffic. Travelling wasn’t as scary as I expected going there and back – I took the blacktops driven in my wilder youth – although the interstates and major state and US highways had long lines of cars. I had to wait some time for a large enough gap for me to roar through to the other side!

Friends who camped out in state parks met people from Japan, Australia, and the east coast who all came to view the totality – wandering the world like Deadheads following their dark star. I don’t blame them.

I can’t wait to see it again!

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Photos and text copyright 2017 Michael G Curry

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About the author:

Michael is the author of Abby’s Road … the Long and Winding Road to Adoption; and How Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped!

WINNER: Honorable Mention, 2015 New York Book Festival!

WINNER: Honorable Mention, 2014 Great Midwest Book Festival!

WINNER: 2015 Reader’s Favorite Book Award Finalist, Non-Fiction Humor!

Abby’s Road leads a couple through their days of infertility treatments and adoption. It is told with gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) humor from the perspective of a nerdy father and his loving and understanding wife.  Join Mike and Esther as they go through IUIs and IFVs, as they search for an adoption agency, are selected by a birth mother, prepare their house, prepare their family, prepare themselves and then wait for their daughter to be born a thousand miles from home.

Barnes & Noble:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/abbys-road-the-long-and-winding-road-to-adoption-and-how-facebook-aquaman-and-theodore-roosevelt-helped-michael-curry/1119971924?ean=2940045637930

I-Tunes:   https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/abbys-road-long-winding-road/id900104260?mt=11

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/457270

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Abbys-Road-Long-Winding-Adoption/dp/0692221530/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1406426653&sr=1-6&keywords=abby%27s+road

 

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Pluto Rocks!! The Classic Rock Connection – from the Moody Blues to Queen!

Pluto Rocks!!

If you can’t get the Moody Blues, Queen will do!

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In Mid-July the New Horizons space probe sent back spectacular photos of our solar system’s most mysterious planet (yes, I said planet, dammit!) Pluto. I blog about my initial reactions here.

The biggest reaction I got from my blog was from Moody Blues fans. Like hundreds (perhaps thousands or more) fans I trolled the interweb looking for any connection between the space probe and the Moody’s song from their 1972 album Seventh Sojourn (“New Horizons” was the second song on the Side A).

Nothing on a NASA-related site or a Moody Blues-related site showed any connection, other than fans like me wondering why not.

Too bad, it was a missed opportunity for both.

It would not have been the first time the Moody Blues were associated with space travel – it was a major theme in their 1969 album To Our Children’s Children’s Children.

I am a huge Moody Blues fan – ever since I started listening seriously to music as a child I loved hearing their songs on the radio. This was about the time “Nights in White Satin” hit the charts (around 1972) and was played frequently. Their greatest hits package This is… was an early purchase.

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2015 is a great year for Moodies fans. March marked the 50th anniversary of their first hit “Go Now”, John Lodge released a solo album and Justin Hayward is doing a solo tour of the US (his St. Louis show on September 11th is sold out and I am begging on my knees-on-my-knees-Jacob-Marley for tickets).

Because of the Pluto probe, it should have also been a big year for the song “New Horizons”. But not one documentary or special I have seen – not one – feature the song.  Too bad, it would have been a perfect fit.

Imagine watching a special documentary on Pluto: with the stark image of the cold planet with these lyrics softly playing:

Where is this place that we have found? Nobody knows where we are bound,

I long to hear, I need to see; ‘cause I’ve shed tears too many for me,

But I’m never gonna lost your precious gift, it will always be that way,

‘Cause I know I’m gonna find my own peace of mind, someday…

 

It could have been the beginning of a wonderful two years for the band. Their publicity people could keep up the momentum until 2017 – which will be the 50th anniversary of the release of their iconic Days of Future Passed album. Rumors are already abound on the anniversary event. A one-time concert event with the “original” members is the most prominent – and the most likely.

Note that by “original” members I mean the iconic and most successful line-up. The 1965 Moodies who released “Go Now” fifty years ago had only three members go on to the more successful so-called prog-rock version of the group that is still around today. In fact, only one member – Graeme Edge – has stayed with the group all this time. The real original line-up was Graeme, Ray Thomas, Michael Pinder, Clint Warwick and Denny Laine (who was later the only lasting non-McCartney member of Wings). That group broke up but shortly reformed under the same name without Warwick or Laine. Their replacements were John Lodge (who played with Thomas and Pinder in prior combos) and Justin Hayward. This was the group that released Nights … In Search of the Lost Chord, Long Distance Voyager, The Other Side of Life, and more – totaling fifteen. Pinder left the group in 1978, Thomas retired and has since had a cancer scare (now in remission). Their last album was December, a Christmas collection – featuring only the remaining three. Their website spotlights only Haywood, Lodge and Edge.

All the members – current and former – have their own websites. Mike Pinder is still releasing albums! Most excellent!

The people at NASA and the Moody’s camp certainly missed a great opportunity here. Surely someone somewhere would have made the connection!

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But those looking for a classic rock connection to the mission to Pluto need look no further than Queen!

Queen’s guitarist Brian May was in graduate school when the band took off. After the death of Freddie Mercury, the group disbanded and May finished his doctorate in astrophysics.  During New Horizon’s flyby of Pluto, he was recognized by NASA as a science collaborator for the mission. He used the images sent back to earth to create the first stereoscopic image of Pluto.

You can read all about it on his web-page.

When I first head about Brian May’s association with New Horizon, I was not surprised. One of his first solo efforts was Star Fleet, which featured Eddie Van Halen and members of REO Speedwagon and background vocals by Roger Taylor, Queen’s drummer. I loved the video when it first came out on MTV (note to the kiddies: this was way back when MTV played music). You can see it here.

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Unfortunately, the photo showed no signs of the Mi-go. Well, the photos they are officially releasing, that is …

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But that can be the subject of another blog…

Copyright 2015 Michael Curry

 

 

Pluto’s New Horizons’ Unexpected Result ….

Better Television!

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                Like most nerdy types I have been glued to the internet looking at all the wonderful images of Pluto from New Horizon’s fly-by. As with the Mars probes and other past astronomical news, this makes for a time when everyone seems interested in science and astronomy again and the networks are filled with news and programs about it.

                Factoid: New Horizons was the fastest thing ever launched from earth – 36,000 miles per hour. It could go from LA to New York in five minutes. It was past the moon’s orbit in nine hours. After gaining speed by skirting Jupiter’s gravity it is now going approximately 50,000 miles per hour.

                The images and data will help us find out more about the origins of our solar system and the layout of the outer and unknown part of our cosmic neighborhood.

                Factoid: Pluto has four more moons!

                I have always been fascinated by our ninth planet (yes I said planet, dammit!) every since I was a kid first getting into astronomy. How could I not be? Every text – every one them – said only that we don’t know much about that mysterious body floating out past Neptune

                Factoid: From 1979 to 1999 Neptune was further from the sun than Pluto because of Pluto’s elliptical orbit, … 

                Of course as an HP Lovecraft fan I have another obvious reason for loving Pluto! In his story “The Whisperer in Darkness” we learn of the planet Yuggoth (“… a strange dark orb at the very rim of our solar system …”). As he wrote the story, but before it was published, Pluto was discovered in 1930.  He hinted that may have been the Yuggoth he was writing about. Was he, in fact, writing or channeling the thoughts of the alien mi-go?

                Factoid: He was writing of course, don’t be silly. But it is fun to imagine, isn’t it?

                One benefit from all this was unexpected: better television. Not good television, but certainly better. The so-called science channels are filled with semi-documentaries and news reports of New Horizons’ mission. I have been Tivoing and watching as many of them as I can!

                The trouble is, over the past decade or so, most channels purporting to be scientific or educational has wallowed in infotainment and scripted narcissism just like their other commercial brethren.

                I don’t know if TV producers are capable of making GOOD documentary programs anymore.

                A good example is a program about New Horizons and Pluto I saw on the Science Channel (it used to be called Discovery Science) called “Direct from Pluto: the First Encounter”.

                Throughout the show it had a reporter at mission central interviewing scientists and anyone who wanted to be on camera as if he was in the locker room after the Super Bowl (which I believe is some sort of sports event).

                And the interviews with the scientists were not that much better. Supposedly educated scientists talking in sound bites or, to paraphrase Lilith from the TV show Frazier, doling out worthless little bits of astrophysics from their scientific Pez dispensers. “If Pluto were a person, he would have an inferiority complex.” And you claim to work at Harvard…

                Add the unnecessary theatricality and it almost turned this show into a spoof. The graphic of New Horizon approaching Pluto was accompanied by a dramatic soundtrack, as if it were the opening scene from the first Lord of the Rings movie. We’re excited enough, we don’t need goading.

                Compare that to, say, the quiet majesty of the original Cosmos. I know, comparing a TV science documentary to the original Cosmos is like comparing an American Idol contestant to Mozart, but shame on them for not at least trying to aspire… 

                Cosmos had music, true – award-winning music by Vangelis. I used to play the soundtrack in my radio days when I hosted “A New Age” on a local NPR station.

                And that music affected us emotionally as well.  But with a difference – the music accompanied us, it didn’t lead us. It reflected the beauty and majesty of the visuals and the spoken word. There was no need to generate drama and tension.

                We’ll watch the show, don’t worry about it.

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                I want to know about New Horizon’s mission; I want to know about Pluto. But I don’t want it in nibbly sound bites. I don’t want to read your cute quip (always said with a smirk) on the bull’s-eye page of Entertainment Weekly.

                Treat us like adults; we’ll start acting like adults.

                I watched PBS’ Nova special “Chasing Pluto”. I always have high hopes when something is on good old boring PBS… It didn’t disappoint. Lots of set up and history of the New Horizons and observing Pluto over the past ten years. It had background music, true, but it was not intrusive. It discussed the discovery of Pluto’s atmosphere. The interviews with scientists were only a little longer than “Direct from Pluto” but it was hardly the Short Attention Span Theater of the latter. Better; it’s no “Neptune’s Cold Fury”, but it wasn’t bad…

                But within a week this Pluto stuff will all be forgotten and we’ll be back to programs such as “Looking for Leprechauns” and “My Large Areola”. Although I must admit for having a weakness for Stitchen-esque shows about aliens who came to earth thousands of years ago.  But even then after two or three shows like that you get the point and want to move on…

                And they wonder why people are leaving cable in droves, including me. I’m seriously looking at online streaming networks such as Curiosity Stream. Anyone have it? Is it any good? It is run by the former owner of the Discovery Channel, from which belched “Direct from Pluto: the First Encounter”. I hope the word “former” is significant.

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                One thing that has NOT resulted from all this is the resurgence in interest of the beautiful Moody Blues song “New Horizons”. But … baby steps … television first, eh?

               And just so you don’t think I’m getting too serious here…

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Original Material Copyright 2015 Michael Curry

Photographs Copyright their respective holders and used here under the Fair Use Act