By editorial board • 

All hail the eclipse of 2017; may it be sunny for all

A modern translation of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes informs us: “What has been will be again,what has been done will be done again;there is nothing new under the sun.” And so it is with both solar eclipses and eclipse chasing, assuming you don’t count the fleeting shadow the moon casts as it crosses the sun’s path.

Although unclear when eclipses first came to human attention, Babylonian, Greek, Chinese, Mayan and Incan astronomers began recording them more than 40 centuries ago. Accounts of the solar eclipse of October 2134 B.C. have been confirmed, and archeologists have discovered petroglyphs possibly missed the solar eclipse of November 3340 B.C., potentially pushing back the date another dozen centuries.

Eclipse-chasing dates to at least the 1400s, when a determined observer traveled from Aleppo to Cairo to time the solar eclipse of 1433, measuring its period of totality at an impressive 4 minutes, 38 seconds. Variously dubbed umbraphiles, coronaphiles, eclipsoholics or ecliptomaniacs, they were hampered earlier by imprecise time and path plotting and crude transportation methods.

During the Revolutionary War, a determined Harvard professor won permission from the invading Brits to cross their lines in pursuit of the solar eclipse of 1780. But thanks to the rudimentary nature of the map he was using, he missed the band of totality.

Congress appropriated $8,000 to fund a U.S. Naval Observatory expedition into the Rocky Mountains for the eclipse of 1878. Railway companies contributed by discounting fares.

Perhaps the most persistent of the early American eclipse-chasers were astronomer David Peck and his wife, Mabel Loomis Peck. They traveled the world chasing eclipses, undaunted by cloud covers that dashed their hopes numerous times.

Among the more famous observers were renowned British physicist Sir Isaac Newton, who blinded himself for three days by incautious viewing at the age of 22; American statesman Thomas Jefferson, who lamented the cloud cover largely obscuring views from Williamsburg; and American inventor Thomas Edison, who crossed the country to test his new tasimeter, only to determine it an abject failure. The silver lining for Edison was the fellow eclipse-chaser who persuaded him to turn his attention to the light bulb.

The first properly focused professional photograph was taken by Prussian daguerreotypist Johann Berkowski in 1851. A few years later, British astronomer Warren De la Rue exposed and processed 40 large glass negatives in Spain, using a Ken photoheliograph and a makeshift on-site darkroom.

In the summer of 1972, a cruise ship ferried 834 people and one cat to a prime viewing point in the Atlantic. The following summer, astronomers boarded a prototype of the supersonic Concorde passenger jet to chase a Siberian eclipse from an altitude of 55,000 feet — more than 10 miles.

Like Y2K, which turned out to be much ado about very little, we believe predictions of doom and gloom from the eclipse due to cross the country Monday have been greatly overstated. We’re expecting little more around these parts than ringing cash registers and some fun in the sun — or more precisely, in the lack thereof.
 

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