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Perfect totality

A total solar eclipse like the one coming up is a rarity. Here’s how to make the most of the experience.
bob_berman_2009
In January, I talked about the August 21 total solar eclipse even though it was a half year in the future. I’m glad I did.

Several readers wrote to say the article had persuaded them to spend the money and travel to see it. I felt honored. So now, though the eclipse is still in the future, let’s talk about a bottom-line basic: What should you look for?

I just re-read James Fenimore Cooper’s beautiful short story, “The Eclipse.” It’s worth getting hold of, though it’s just 15 pages long. (One option: It’s part of a collection of space-based short stories called The Saturn Above It.) Cooper, a popular 19th-century author, is famous for The Last of the Mohicans. In this wonderful account written in his 40s, he recalls the total solar eclipse he saw as a youth in his hometown of Oswego, New York, in June 1806.

It’s fun to see how people lived back then, and to share the author’s impressions. Having now led nearly a dozen eclipse expeditions since 1970, and watched the reactions of tour members, I love what totality does to people. What surprised me in Cooper’s story was how different the focus was two centuries ago. Back then, everyone was obsessed with how the light faded and then returned, how the stars came out, and how the Moon looked black.

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