In another world, I would have had accomplices, willing or unwilling, but in the empty-nested world of today, I was on my own, at 5:30 am, with a small group of people stumbling our way through the dark into the planetarium where we were gathering to witness a total eclipse of the sun. In China. Well, it was this "morning" here. I don't know what day it was over there.
Just inside the door we came upon a table laden with donuts and coffee. A very nice surprise, which I virtuously passed up on my way into the auditorium where things were already underway. The live feed from some obscure plain in China, hosted by a leftover hippie with a long pony tail hanging halfway down his back, featured a Who's Who of helio-science guys holding forth on sunspots and solar activity, totality and prominences and coronas along with other solar mysteries in a(n) heroic effort to educate the Man in the Auditorium enough to view the upcoming spectacle with some modicum of intelligence. It seems that a total solar eclipse occurs in any given place only once every 325 years (Can that be right?), but this part of the country lags woefully behind, our last total solar eclipse having occurred back in 1500-something.
While waiting for the moon to make its move, the Head Hippie enthusiastically described the scene: as far as the eye could see, hordes of people clustered around telescopes all over the plain, a "chill" descending as the temperature began to drop ~ all the way down to 90 degrees! And then, clouds rolled in to cover up the sun....
AAAAGGGGHHHHHH!!!! The story of my life! I can't even begin to know the times over the last many years I dragged my kidlets out of bed or kept them up half the night to witness some wonder of astronomical events, only to have the clouds take over. Comets, eclipses, meteor showers, and the very top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art technology...clouds trump them all. Even all the way over in China, there's no escape.
Anyway. The Hippie called on a helio-guy to entertain the crowd. I'm not sure exactly what kind of connections he had, but he stepped up and said, "I think the clouds will start to clear up in about 30 seconds," and just like that, with a monumental cheer from the crowd, they did! Just in time, too. The clouds stood aside, the moon took center stage to obliterate the sun, and the sky went dark. For the next 11 minutes, it was nighttime in midday China, complete with a 360-degree sunset.
We sat mesmerized for the duration, and then it was time to take on the day. As we filed out of the auditorium, we were invited once again to a breakfast of coffee and donuts and given a couple of reminders:
- If you have a parking ticket when you get out to your car, bring it to the desk and we will take care of it. A parking ticket?! Oh, yeah, I forgot. This is CTC where "Off'cer ____, CTC P'lice D'prtment" is relentlessly on duty and never passes up an opportunity to exert his authority.
- Next total solar eclipse coming up on April 8, 2024, right here along the 190 corridor!!!!
See you here!!!