The Great American Eclipse: Part 3
Part 3 of 8
One of the many remarkable attributes of our moon is it’s just the right size, just the right distance, and it has just the right orbital eccentricity to allow it to produce two very different types of eclipses; annular and total. An annular eclipse, also know as the Ring of Fire, is an eclipse of the sun in which a portion of the sun’s disk remains visible as a ring surrounding the darkened moon. Although the sky never becomes truly dark as it does during a total the Ring of Fire is a stunning sight to behold particularly at sunrise or sunset when proximity to the Earth’s horizon makes the sun moon pairing appear much larger.
However this state of affairs where two types of eclipse is possible will not last forever. The moon is slowly moving away from the Earth at the rate of about one and a half inches per year. That may not sound like a lot but, over time, it has a commutative effect. On a day about a billion years in the future the Earth will experience its final total eclipse. From that moment on all eclipses will be annular.
I had the great pleasure of experiencing the annular eclipse of May 20, 2012. That too was a one day expedition but that time I didn’t travel solo. My very good friend and fellow flight instruct Dave Risher and I drove north from Palo Alto to Redding California where we set up camp at the beautiful Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay. With my trusty Questar Telescope Dave and I had a wonderful experience surrounded by thousands of other astronomy enthusiasts. It was grand. Viewing the sun (through adequate safety filters of course) as a glowing orange ring suspended in the sky was mystical and otherworldly.
I remember that day with gratitude as well as a great deal of melancholy. Only a matter of months latter Dave passed away quite unexpectedly. No, it wasn’t an aviation accident. Dave simply keeled over in the parking lot of the Jack In The Box restaurant at 2280 El Camino Real in Palo Alto. He was rushed to the ER at Stanford University but was DOA. Dave was a self-proclaimed expert on everything and no matter what story you had Dave could always be counted on to have a story to top yours. And yet for all that he was delightful company. I miss him.