Driftless Dark Skies: Be Awed!

August 4th, 2017 by John Heasley

I’m told that I use the word awesome a lot. I’m usually content enough with the everyday experiences of hiking in the Driftless Area, biking its back roads, and enjoying outdoor music and plays. But I love those moments of awe when they happen. I’ve been reading some of what psychologists say about awe. They describe it as occurring when we perceive a vastness larger than ourselves as we are taken out of the ordinary. They say that we are often transformed by the experience as our minds reshape a new view of our world. And I’m encouraged to read that awesome experiences often make us more grateful and generous. 

We have a chance to be awed on August 21 when there will be a total eclipse of the Sun across the United States. If you can travel to see totality, do it. It’s as close as Missouri or southern Illinois. I have never seen totality, but I read that it’s something worth doing at least once in a lifetime. We don’t normally see the Moon moving across the sky, but we will see it taking a bigger and bigger bite out of the Sun. As the skies and landscape darken, we’ll get to see sunlight leaking through the ridges on the Moon, the red glow of the chromosphere, and the wispy filaments of the corona. 

Bring the young people along. This has not happened before in their lifetime. The last chance we had to see totality in the continental United States was 1979. This is the first of several they will have a chance to see with more total solar eclipses happening in the U.S. in 2024, 2044, 2045, 2052, and even one in Wisconsin in 2099. It’s a very kid-friendly event. It’s easy to understand what’s happening (the Moon is passing between us and the Sun). You don’t need any special equipment beyond eclipse shades to protect your eyes. It all happens within three hours. Make a memory. Connect them with the cosmos. 

If you can’t make it to totality, then be awed by the partial eclipse happening in the Driftless Area. The Moon takes its first bite out of the Sun around 11:48. By 1:12, the Moon will have covered 88% of the Sun. The eclipse ends at 2:35. You can “party off the path” at many local libraries. Lots of activities. They will have eclipse glasses for safe solar viewing as we are wowed by the syzygy of Sun, Moon, and Earth. One way or another, be awed by The Great American Eclipse. 

John Heasley is an astronomy educator and stargazer who enjoys connecting people with the cosmos. He volunteers with NASA/JPL as a Solar System Ambassador. For more information about stargazing in southwest WI, like Driftless Stargazing LLC on Facebook and find out whenever there’s something awesome happening in the skies. Driftless Dark Skies appears monthly in the Voice of the River Valley.