Young and old prepare for the event of a lifetime

Young and old prepare for the event of a lifetime

By this time in the countdown, nearly everyone with an audience has figured in on the big, once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse that’s set to light up our lives by darkening our day on the afternoon of April 8. Even my 4-year-old grandson gave his take on it at the dinner table last Sunday.

“The moon is going to get in front of the sun, and the moon is gonna make a shadow on the euwf,” James explained with a full theater of the hands. “And it’s during the day, so it’s gonna get dowk!”

I couldn’t have summed it up much better, even with the million words the world has expended on the subject over the past few years. It’s been a thrill to watch the level of interest and enthusiasm peak in folks of all ages.

Who would have ever thought that a tiny, orbiting lump of rock could so easily steal the show from a true star? The whole thing reminds me of a video I once saw of a high school play, staged in all its well-rehearsed glory, that was entirely upended by the little sibling of the show’s star. The toddler slipped from the arms of her mother in the front row and bolted up onto the stage to join in song with her big sis, and just like that, the production went from great to phenomenal — one no one would ever forget.

That’s exactly what’s happening here. The sun, the “big sister” of our daily celestial show, is about to be rushed on stage by a tiny stone satellite a mere fraction of its size, and the crowd is apt to go berserk for a few minutes. The sun is always in the spotlight. It’s the moon that’s the real star of this show!

A fun fact I’m sure nearly no one thinks about until the moon gets in the way of their favorite star is about once a month that same little fellow is up there drifting through our sky in the middle of the day without a single soul on this planet noticing its presence. After all, the new moon phase we experience every 28 days is not an actual “absence” of the moon. It’s merely invisible to us because the sun is illuminating the side that’s facing away from Earth. Solar eclipses only happen during a new moon as our “invisible” satellite slides into the path of the sunlight headed straight for some specific spot on the planet.

The closer the moon happens to be to us in its elliptical orbit, the wider the shadow it will cast. This time around the moon is about as close as it gets to Earth, so it blots out the entire disk of sunlight during the few moments of totality. An easy illustration of this concept can be had with a penny and a teacup saucer. Hold the penny up to the center of the saucer at arm’s length, then bring the coin closer to your eye until it blots out the entire plate. That sweet spot is where the moon will be relative to the sun.

Be sure to take note of the shadows on the ground during the course of the eclipse. I’ll leave that as a surprise for you to discover. And please, please, please DO NOT LOOK AT THE SUN unless fully equipped with proper ISO-certified “eclipse glasses” or other such protection!

If you have comments on this column or questions about the natural world, write The Rail Trail Naturalist, P.O. Box 170, Fredericksburg, OH 44627, or email You also can follow along on Instagram @railtrailnaturalist.

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