By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
The upcoming solar eclipse presents an irony that I suppose could be summed up in a single thought:
“Look, look, look! … But don’t look too closely!”
The heavens haven’t held this much interest since Skylab flamed out in the summer of ’79.
This is not a space-junk soap opera, though. The eclipse anticipated on Monday afternoon, Aug. 21, 2017, is a real astral event the likes of which none of us in this part of the country has ever seen and the totality of which will last only a few minutes.
And Southern Illinois is a center of attention.
Thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people are being drawn to the central United States for the best view, and that means potentially big business for those who cater to such things. Hotels and restaurants are anticipating a boom on a day that’s usually a dog.
Add to this the interest in general shown by the public, scientists, educators, researchers and historians, and you’ve got a show for the ages.
Sadly, a number of school systems have called off for the day as a safety precaution. At a time when they could really have a teachable moment, they opt instead to let students stay home — where they can still peek out the window.
Still, I’m not going to underestimate the dangers of looking at the sun, and you can find all the precautionary stuff you need to know by getting on the web. Adults who can’t get off work to supervise their kids’ viewing habits might want to have some extra safety glasses at home, just in case.
A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon completely blocks the sun by passing between the earth and the sun. The experts say it will become so dark you’ll be able to see stars. This will be the first of its kind in the continental United States in 38 years, but the first for this part of Illinois since 1442.
The eclipse will begin around 11:52 a.m., reach a peak at 1:20 p.m. and last that way until 1:22 p.m. The shadow will lessen gradually and the show is officially over at 2:49 p.m.
A really interesting website, SouthernIllinoisEclipse.com, lists all the opportunities for people to enjoy the phenomena. Places to go. Places to stay. Places to eat. Places to watch the fantastic event. In towns like Carbondale, Herrin and Carterville, this is no bad moon on the rise. And the last I looked there were still vacancies available.
A friend of mine who owns land near the Shawnee Wine Trail is planning a camper gathering with friends. I imagine most of them will stay in one place for a couple of days, take all their party goods with them and never venture into town. That’s not exactly the type of visitors that promoters are hoping to see, but it’s the kind I think a lot of them are going to get.
Regardless your plans, you might want to think ahead. This is a unique chance to witness a spectacle worthy of telling future generations. Look, look with caution, and prepare to be struck with awe.
How ironic it is that the spotlight will shine so brightly on a day when the sun goes dark.