On Aug. 21, North America will experience a solar eclipse, a particularly awe-inspiring event for those along or near the path of totality and one that will scare the bejeezus out of those who haven’t been paying attention and are surprised by the world’s unexpected plunge into darkness.
As the self-described interim senior science correspondent for this award-winning publication, I’ve prepared the following Q&A to enhance the eclipse experience for those who want to play along.
Q. Why will the sun disappear? Have we somehow angered Zeus? Will animal sacrifices stop this catastrophe?
A. No, we have not angered Zeus. Technically, the sun will not disappear. An eclipse occurs when the moon is between the sun and the earth, blocking out the sun’s light for a period of time.
Q. What’s the BFD, then? I have like 30 hours of “Wheel of Fortune” on my DVR and already penciled in on my calendar – it’s one with a different cute kitty pictured for each month and a funny saying like “I want a belly rub right MEOW!” – on Aug. 21 “spend all day watching ‘Wheel of Fortune.’” Why should I change something penciled in on my kitty calendar because the moon and Earth and sun are crisscrossing or whatnot?
A. Because it is a rare event. It is the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in 99 years. Some have dubbed the event “The Great American Eclipse.” Right now, in these divided times, it is a way we as a nation can share an event that is refreshingly free of partisan bickering.
Q. I read on the internet that Democrats are going to double taxes on the wealthy during the time the moon is in front of the sun, but my brother-in-law said the Republicans are slashing Medicaid in half while we are distracted by darkness. Which one is right?
Q. Well, now I am kind of looking forward to it. To prepare, should I go outside a couple of times a day and stare directly in the sun for five or 10 minutes to build up my eye tolerance?
A. Absolutely not. This can result in severe vision damage or blindness. You should not look directly at the sun today, tomorrow or on Aug. 21. As NASA explains in its online eclipse section, retailers are selling special viewing glasses and many organized events will provide glasses and devices for viewing and tracking.
Q. My uncle gave me some sunglasses a couple of years back and he said they were special because they were the kind Sheriff Buford T. Justice wore in “Smokey and the Bandit.” Will these protect my eyes during the eclipse?
A. No. The glasses must be specially designed for viewing or you risk eye damage. “The rods and cones in the human retina are very sensitive to light,” NASA writes in their FAQ. “Even a thin sliver of the sun’s disk covers thousands of these light-sensitive cells.”
Q. Since it will be unusually dark on the afternoon of Aug. 21, would this be a good time to break into someone’s outbuilding and perhaps steal a tiller? I’m just asking for a friend.
A. No, stealing is wrong whether it is during an eclipse or any other time.
Q. What if the person is wearing a pair of special Buford T. Justice sunglasses, which pretty much guarantees no one will recognize him in the dark? Would that be OK?
Q. Well, I believe I will just stay home watch “Wheel of Fortune.” What do you think about that?
A. Good idea. Just stick with your kitty calendar. It’s better for all of us.
Scott Hollifield is editor/GM of The McDowell News in Marion, N.C. and a humor columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.