What Are the Odds?
In any solar/planetary system, what are the odds of both a star and a planetary satellite
(i.e.: our sun and moon)
being the same apparent size as the other when viewed from that satellite’s planet
so that Total Solar Eclipses are possible?
Further, what are the odds that this planet would actually be inhabited
by beings aware enough to appreciate such a phenomenon?
Finally, what are the odds of these two circumstances being duplicated
in any other solar/planetary system
in the Galaxy … or even The Universe?
By Michael-Leonard Creditor
About the beginning of July, my honey and I were talking and the bucket list concept came up. Of course we’ve seen the movie and discussed it before, and she had said in the past that while there are places she’d still like to go, she didn’t really have a “bucket list,” per se.
But that day, out of the blue, she says that the upcoming Total Solar Eclipse (TSE) is her bucket list.
Now, I’m a photographer; I’ve seen two TSEs and photographed one of those, and I’ve been aware of this one coming for 5 years — ever since I missed the TSE on my birthday in 2012. (It was in Australia and we simply couldn’t spare the time away.)
I know I mentioned it at least once or twice in the last year because her birthday is August 8, and it’s like a celestial birthday gift (even if it is 2 weeks late) but she never said a thing about wanting to see it. Until now. Arline is just about to turn – are you ready …? – 86 years old. So, when she said ‘eclipse’ and ‘bucket list’ together, I really sat up and took notice. This wasn’t just a passing thought.
I knew that real eclipse chasers, from abroad as well as this country, had likely snapped up all the good hotel accommodations in towns and cities in the Path of Totality (don’t ya just love the important sound of that? I do). I also knew that any and all airline seats into and out of these places at the right times would similarly be gone, baby, gone. So I subtracted two from two and started investigating a road trip to Casper, Wyo., for “TSE17: The American Eclipse.”
Why Casper? you might ask. Weather, that’s why.
As you might imagine, a wonderful celestial event like this that lasts only minutes could really be ruined by an errant cloud at just the wrong time. My longtime saying for this is: “Astronomy giveth but meteorology taketh away.” An example is the 1991 TSE. I went to La Paz, in Baja to be in The Path and it was perfectly clear. But just across the Gulf of California, in Mazatlan, they were clouded out and missed the show. I’ll never forget that.
So I quickly determined that the most viable options were Madras or John Day, in Oregon’s clear high desert, or somewhere east of the Rockies. No coastal clouds, no mountain clouds; Casper filled the bill. Online I located a campground near Casper advertising a reasonably-priced eclipse package and saying that they still had space.
Arline and I both really like road trips. In fact, the first one we did, San Diego to San Fran, was literally less than two weeks after we had first met. But, we haven’t done one in several years (life intrudes, don’t ya know) so the idea was inviting. A plan began to form.
I found RVShare.com online and proceeded to rent the only small RV I could find that the owner replied to my inquiry. It turned out to be a Class B camper van built into a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter body. Small, and far from luxurious, but OK for just two people (and one small doggy) for a week. The vehicle also has a diesel engine and 4WD (which we didn’t expect to use).
The plan was to drive our personal vehicle to Las Vegas and stay a couple of days with our extended family there, then pick-up the camper and hit the road. We had no reason not to take our time, so we planned three days drive up, one night there, and three days drive back to Vegas.
It used to be the drive from our house to our friends in Las Vegas was clear and simple: set the cruise control for 70 m.p.h. and, unless we needed a pit stop, exactly 5 hours later we’d arrive at their house. No longer. Traffic has become an everyday occurrence all along the I-15 corridor.
Same was true of leaving Las Vegas (yes, we did; Nick Cage, eat yer–). Not yet 3 p.m. and already simply too much traffic. I wanted to make at least 200 miles this first half-day
We spent the first night in a church parking lot on a quiet road in Beaver, Utah. Very peaceful night. In the morning, breakfast at “America’s Diner.” Have you seen what Denny’s has done to itself recently? I hadn’t. You know the old saying: you don’t go to Denny’s, you end up there. Well, I don’t. But the location was right, so we tanked up both ourselves and the van for a full day’s drive.
Even on I-15, the drive through Utah is filled with magnificent scenery. Red rock formations that are extensions of the same geology that make the nearby national parks so spectacular extend that far west. From around the town of Zion, near to the northwest corner of the national park, all the way to I-80 in the north, excepting only the urban areas between Provo and Salt Lake City, views of marvelous geology are literally around every bend.
For the trip north, we got off of the interstate, opting for an even more scenic route. US 40 took us over the Wasatch Mountains and through the Strawberry River valley, across 100 miles of Indian Reservation land and past towns named Fruitland, Ballard, Duchesne, and Ft. Duchesne. Then US 191 north, over the 8,400-foot Uinta Mountains summit and through the gorgeous Flaming Gorge recreational area.
We also said of thanks for the wide spot in the road called Dutch John. For, if not for the gas station there, we would not have made it to the next town, Rock Springs. Darn that diesel.
Something that I love watching when I’m traveling is the change of climate zones along my route. Especially when there’s a lot of elevation alteration. Many times, the shift in vegetation is quite marked. So it was on this stretch of road. We went from forest to high desert to a large-scale mining operation and back to forest again before finally descending to the city of Rock Springs, Wyo., during the afternoon drive.
It was in Rock Springs that we stopped for food supplies at what appeared to be the only super market in town, where the weekly advertising circular was eclipse-themed. If I were Bonnie Tyler, I’d sue.
We spent the second night at a place called Point of Rocks. It’s really just a truck stop right off the interstate, but it has a neat name. It turned out that Arline wasn’t as comfortable as I’d been the night before. She wanted to be among other vehicles and people. Any noises during the night, from the nearby freeway or from trucks moving around the area, were no intrusion to a peaceful night for us both.
Next: Part II
About the author:
• Born in Tucson, Ariz., reared in Brooklyn, N.Y., lived in Portland, Ore., currently resides in Clairemont.
• Three main professions: photographer, folklorist, radio program host.
• Philosopher, and life-long Liberal.