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
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.
The little café attached to the truck stop office/store didn’t look appetizing as we drove by, so I elected to “drive down the road a bit” to another eatery. Little did I realize that next stop would be Rawlins, 80 miles “down the road”!
The eatery, once we got there, turned out to be totally worth it. Right off the freeway exit, Cappy’s was once a BJs Brewhouse. I guess it wasn’t urban enough for BJs, but it seemed just fine on this day-before-eclipse Sunday.
Folks at two other tables in our section were talking together about it. When one of the tables was vacated, we were joined by an older couple who looked Hispanic. Arline is gregarious, as you’d expect being born under Leo, and a fluent Spanish-speaker. In our travels she always gets to conversing with Spanish-speaking folks. It’s really a great ice-breaker.
I’d expected they, too, were there for the show. Turns out they live there in Rawlins; in fact, she was born there. They regaled us with some family history, which was also history of that part of Wyoming. What a great introduction to the state.
I asked where they were planning to be during the TSE; right in their yard, they said. Rawlins is just outside The Path; they will see about 96 percent of the sun covered, and will need to keep the solar glasses on the entire time. Close, but it still ain’t Totality.
We turned north for the final leg of the journey crossing into what I later learned was the Great Divide Basin before arriving in Casper.
Geology and topography also really fascinate me. I recall once reading that the Appalachian Mountains were much harder for early pioneers to cross than the higher and larger Rocky Mountains. The reason, I’d read, is that the Rockies were a smoother traverse, with many valleys and passages, whereas the Appalachians, while shorter, are more compact and steeper. (I actually didn’t remember that until later, part way through the trip home.)
But the terrain up here around the Continental Divide was still amazing to me; rolling prairie that looked more like Nebraska than central Wyoming. Turns out the Continental Divide actually divides here in Wyoming, forming a big valley. I kept expecting to see Barbara Stanwyck riding up out of the distance at any time.
To give you an idea of how flat it actually is, Casper’s elevation is 5150 feet, Rawlins is at 6755, and the Divide between them less than 500 feet higher at 7174. Yes, there are hills here, and some distant peaks that I would call mountains, but this wide valley is not what I had expected.
After a bit of a turn through Casper, we made our way the few additional miles to the Platte River Campground in Glenrock.
How quick is two minutes and 25 seconds? There was a movie about a couple o’ cool burglars who would time their robberies by singing old standards that they know the lengths of. But none were as short as the period of totality in this solar eclipse.
How quick is 2 minutes and 25 seconds? Bill Haley’s white-bread cover of “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” is longer. And you know how short that song is. Even “Peggy Sue” by Buddy Holly is 2:30! That’s how quick 2 minutes and 25 seconds is.
That 2:25 is what I had come for. I wanted to get some good telephoto images of totality. I’d seen the partial phases twice before and had gotten a good series of the entire process in 1991. But I didn’t have a 400 mm lens then, and now I do. So I was getting set for second contact, the start of Totality, when I would go into photographic action.
Arline, on the other hand, was totally enthralled with the process of the moon overtaking, devouring, and then relinquishing the sun.
“Suddenly, it seemed as if the sun was moving in a funny way trying to get away from the moon!” she said. “It almost looked like they were playing tag; the sun trying to evade the pursuing moon.”
Added to the reality of the actual eclipse was the effect of the dark solar glasses caused her to see the surrounding clear blue sky as purple; that, of course, is her favorite color:
“I was amazed at the background color, even at the very first. I didn’t want to take my eyes away from it; I wanted my eyes there the entire time and to just keep watching it as it grew.”
Extended watching through the solar glasses changed the sky even further:
“The background looked like small squares of purple with gorgeous black slate between them. I just couldn’t get over it; it was just so gorgeous.”
While she saw red prominences and the corona, the diamond ring effect really took her imagination:
“I saw that diamond; oh my God! I was amazed by the beauty; the absolute glorification of that gorgeous diamond ring. It was beyond belief.”
Her uncharacteristically understated recommendation:
“I would say to anybody, if you want to do something very unusual with your vacation time, check it out; you won’t be sorry.”
Previously: Part l
Next: Part III
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.