The first thing you should think about is that the moon likes to look at us here on Earth too. It rotates on its axis and orbits the Earth in about the same amount of time and so, like a good ballerina, completes its twirl with its face to us again and again.
The other thing you should think about is that the moon is gradually getting farther and farther away from us, as if mesmerizing us with ballet while making her escape. Each year (according to the Curious About Astronomy web site) the moon’s orbit stretches 3.8 centimeters away from us. This means (according to an article called “Tidal Dissipations in the Oceans”) that 100 million years ago the moon was closer and always covered the sun in a solar eclipse; all eclipses were total back then. It also means that in about 600 million years from now all eclipses will be annular; that is, the moon will be smaller than the sun and therefore snuggle nicely inside of a ring of fire.
That also means Johnny Cash is going to make buck in about 600 million years on the song rights to “Ring of Fire.”
You should also know that, while I can take credit for introducing the concept of a solar eclipse viewing to my family about a week ago, I was ready to flake on the day of, arguing, that in 600 million years this whole annular eclipse thing would be soooo pedestrian.
“Hey Zarg, you going to the annular eclipse?”
“Um, OMG, like which one?! They’re all, like, totally annular now!” (Note: Valley/Martian dialect will rule in the future)
It took the advocacy of a ten year old girl to pull our family together and get us driving up to the East Bay hills on Sunday evening. The Lawrence Hall of Science, up up up the hill from UC Berkeley’s campus, was giving away 500 viewing glasses and holding a solar eclipse party.
As we climbed up to the crest road which winds atop the hills, we wondered just how many people even really knew there was an eclipse happening or would care. This was answered quickly as we began to pass car after car after car, pulled over in every turnout and on all the wider shoulders, with people sitting on the hoods, on rocks, on picnic tables at lookouts, looking out. It was like Woodstock, but the concert was light years away (and the acid was woven into the light). It was already after 5:00 and for those of us in the Pacific Rim that meant game on. People were looking through all sorts of special viewing glasses and lenses, holding up iPhones and cameras, lounging, chatting, and worshiping the moon and the sun.
It reminded me instantly of the time we headed up in the hills in the middle of the night for the meteor shower. There were cars along the side of the road, which was strange to see around midnight near Chabot Observatory. We parked that dark night and wandered into what we thought was a dark parking lot. Just then a meteor streaked across the sky and the light from it revealed wall-to-wall carpeting of humans, lying on their backs in the parking lot, looking up and saying, “Whooooaaaaa!”
This evening, however, we were all out in the brightness of sun and the moon was wrapped in that brightness. We wound our way over to the Lawrence Hall and improvised, along with hundreds of other cars, a parking spot. Down below, the huge plaza outside the museum was filled with citizen astronomers, poised on the cliff overlooking the entire Bay Area, on a day when the A’s and Giants battled it out in the little stadium by the bay, the Bay to Breakers race happened with its usual media blitz about being more sober this year, and the Golden Gate Bridge celebrated its 75th birthday.
We made our way down and joined the throngs. People were standing around all over, holding up homemade pinhole projectors, lacing together their fingers to create fabulous crescent shaped shadows, and peering through the 500 viewing glasses distributed by the Lawrence Hall of Science. Luckily, folks were happy to share their gadgets with the rest of us.
My favorite moment was probably when a gaggle of teenagers appeared from the parking lot, bursting onto the scene with a very loud and very sincere, “Oh my god, Astronomy is f@#$%$# awesome!” Either that or when we went for pupusas afterward at family favorite, Plátano, where our plates went from new to full moon in a very quick cycle; tiny humans on a blue marble in black space, chowing down.