I am a neuroscientist, educator, geocacher, Unitarian-Universalist, amateur violinist, and parent. I have always been fascinated by how people's brains learn, and especially why this process is easier and more fun for some brains than others. This led me to get a PhD in Neuroscience, work in biotech, and then become a science educator and writer.
Corvallis OR, where I am currently staying, was in the path of the totality for the 2017 solar eclipse. I came here to watch after dropping my daughter off at university.
If you don’t have eclipse glasses one good way to watch a partial eclipse is to look at the shadows around trees. Each gap in the leaves acts as a pinhole camera, showing an image of the crescent sun.
These shadow pictures were taken after totality, as the moon was uncovering the sun again. Since I came all the way here to watch the eclipse, I decided to stay until the bitter end, until you couldn’t see the moon any more at all through the glasses.
There are better pictures online by professionals, but here is mine of totality at 10:17 am on the OSU/Corvallis campus. I could see the corona and stars, and it was very cool–literally! I had to put on a sweater.
My daughter’s future alma mater, Willamette University in Salem OR, is indirectly responsible for my being here in the path of totality for the total solar eclipse on August 21st. I dropped her off yesterday morning for an introductory hiking trip out in the Oregon wilderness. The University is supplying her and her fellow pre-frosh with official ISO 12312-2:2015 standard glasses for watching the event. This camping trip lasts for several days before the official “opening days” when the students really move in and start classes. So I decided to stay up here in OR and watch the event myself. I have seen a partial eclipse before myself, but I’ve never seen a total one. The Willamette dorms aren’t accepting guests, however, so I’m here at another festival program about an hour south, but still right in the path of totality, at Oregon State University in Corvallis.
I have taught Celestial Mechanics to middle schoolers a number of times now and while the science of eclipses still fascinates, I am finding that these days I am drawn to depictions of eclipses in the arts and literature over time. The arc of history shows eclipses as omens of religious portent, as metaphors of despair and dread, and more recently, as symbols of poetic imagination.
Last night I attended an eclipse concert with full orchestra and chorus. They started with Haydn’s The Creation and then performed a number of selections from G.F. Handel, intertwined with some J.S. Bach and Mendelssohn. Much of the Handel was familiar to me, but not the aptly programmed tenor aria from the oratorio Samson: “Total Eclipse.”
Handel composed Samson in 1741, and is possible that he witnessed a total eclipse himself years earlier. In 1715, London was in the path of a solar eclipse totality for more than 3 minutes. The London eclipse of 1715 was the first one to be accurately predicted by Edmund Halley, and it helped to make Halley’s reputation as the greatest astronomer of his age.
Halley’s 1715 eclipse map was the first of several, and he enlisted input from observers across England to help him refine its accuracy and make better maps in the future. Indeed, the 18th century was a rich time for eclipses. During this time there were two annular and five total solar eclipses in the British Isles alone, a greater frequency than normal, and Halley was there as the Astronomer Royal in Greenwich, making maps of them, and of his famous comet. He hoped that with these publicly available maps, “the suddaine darkness wherein the Starrs will be visible about the Sun, may give no surprize to the people.”
G.F. Handel settled in London in 1712. Many of his operas were staged while Halley was Astronomer Royal. And according to Alan Cook, a biographer of Halley, Handel and Halley had friends in common and may have known each other. (see Edmond Halley: Charting the Heavens and the Seas, by Alan H Cook). But Handel didn’t begin the composition of Samson until 1741, right after completing the Messiah and long after the eclipse of 1715. Its libretto is based on John Milton’s Samson Agonistes, a tragic poem that employs the Biblical figure of Samson to dramatize human wrestling with great theological issues, including suffering from blindness, which afflicted both Milton and Handel towards the end of their lives.
Total eclipse! No sun, no moon! All dark amidst the blaze of noon! Oh, glorious light! No cheering ray To glad my eyes with welcome day! Why thus depriv’d Thy prime decree? Sun, moon, and stars are dark to me!
On the omen/dread/imagination scale, this interpretation is still pretty steeped in despair. Even if Handel did know of Halley’s scientific work, perhaps a mere lack of surprise and a good map weren’t enough anymore to chase away the darkness.
In 2017, individuals can decide for themselves what the darkness of the eclipse means to them, or doesn’t. The country is going a little crazy for the next couple days, just check Facebook:
This week I’m going to interrupt my collection of Asian doors to show a different collection of doors, from a place I didn’t know existed until yesterday: Oakland, Oregon.
I’m in the process of driving my almost-18-year-old daughter to her freshman year at Willamette University in Salem, OR. Starting tomorrow, for the week before classes start, she will be doing a hiking trip with some other freshmen. They’ll be out in the wilderness during the eclipse on Monday. Since I will be there anyway, I decided to stick around for the eclipse too.
We took it easy, breaking the drive up into 3 chunks. Todays chunk was by far the longest. I picked Oakland OR off the map as a good place to stop for dinner. We ate at Tolly’s Grill and Soda Fountain, an old-fashioned soda fountain in a historic building just off of I5.
Many of the other buildings in the area were restored as well, but most were unfortunately closed on a Friday evening. They ranged from a museum to an inn, to an antique store, an ice house, and finally to Tolly’s itself.
The restaurant is fun, with carousel horses and stuffed deer heads mounted on the wall. The service and food are both quite good, and an ice cream sundae is a great way to finish off a meal after a long drive. I don’t know when I’ll pass through here again, but it’s definitely worth a visit!
Earlier this summer I was gone for 3 weeks on a trip to Asia. Our itinerary was as follows: South Korea (Seoul), China (Beijing, Xi’an, Hong Kong, Shanghai), and finally Japan (Tokyo). I find travel blogging to be rather challenging without some guiding or organizing principle to follow, so I have been blogging about this trip and showing pictures from it in my weekly photo challenge blogs, Mundane Monday and Thursday Doors. Not everything is mundane and not everything is a door, but these two concepts are still covering a lot of ground.Continue reading Thursday Doors: Palace Museum in the Forbidden City→
The Mutianyu area near Beijing is a great place to visit the Great Wall of China. It’s not crowded, a long stretch of the wall itself is restored to good condition, the surrounding natural scenery is beautiful, and it has a chair lift and toboggan! But today I’ll focus on the mundane aspects of the visit: what you see when you pay your money. Continue reading Mundane Monday: Great Wall Shopping→
I enjoyed reading this short introduction to the Xenotech series. It was quick and fun and it made me laugh. These books would make a good read-aloud book for families because the humor works on both kid and kid-at-heart levels. I am curious how and whether the author will be able to sustain this pace and tone through an entire book series, but he seems to have enough depth of life experience to draw on to make it work. I’d also like to see him take a few more risks and let a darker, more serious side show in his work too (a la Douglas Adams). That would be hard to do in this short intro but would give more depth to longer works. A promising beginning to what looks like a fun series!
It’s time for this month’s We are the World Blogfest (#WATWB)! In a world where news and social media are awash with negativity, we aim to turn the focus on to small but significant stories that renew our faith in humanity.
My article for this month is about Zohra, an all-female orchestra from Afghanistan. Named for a Persian music goddess, the orchestra toured the world earlier in the year, starting at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The musicians are all very young, most not out of their teens. And many of them are the first in their families, or even in their entire provinces, to play an instrument.
I was touched especially by the story of the 18-year-old conductor, who played the viola when she was an instrumentalist. Her uncle was initially against her playing in the orchestra, but he eventually grew to be proud of her.
“I’m happy that at least I changed my family,” she said, adding, her fellow musicians, too, “are going to change their families and when their families are going to change, you can have a society which is changed.”