The total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 in many ways encapsulates GeoSensibility. If you saw it (total or partial), and if you had any experience of awe as the moon crawled across the sun in the sky, you have a sense of what I’m talking about.
I was in Torrington, Wyoming. I parked at the airport, watching private planes glide in from Denver, and got to share my neighbor’s solar telescope (amazing). When totality approached, a palpable hush arose in the small crowd. Toward the end of totality, a man across the field yelled “There’s Jupiter!” like a kid who had just discovered a secret cave. It was magical.
NASA takes credit for this amazing photo (it looked like this, but there were more blues and grays). It’s been much discussed by scientists and became an elemental part of many kids’ science lessons in the first days of this school year.
But what about the nonscientific, transcendent part? The part that left people speechless?
According to Dictionary.com, the word “awe” means “an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like.” Yes, that was it. Did you notice that?
The sun and the moon sometimes feel like the only stable, predictable things we know. We can always count on them*. And then they do something really interesting, something both long-anticipated and a complete surprise. They demand our attention, and we give it. They remind us that all the busyness, preoccupation, and antagonistic nonsense can continue under their watch, but they’ll just keep doing their thing. Like all-knowing elders watching a bunch of kids go at each other.
I completely underestimated the level of excitement about this eclipse. I’m thrilled about that, and thrilled that most of America seemed interested. We need more things to happen in the sky, reminding us of our silliness, stilling us even for a few minutes.
*(Although of course we sometimes blame the sun on an undesired cloudy day when it’s really the clouds’ “fault.”)