I’ve never been much of a science person. Aside from the two weeks I spent at Space Camp in 1996 -- motivated more by my love for space ice cream than any real astronomical aspirations -- I haven’t really paid much attention to the cosmos. If anything, that whole mess scares the bejesus out of me, what with impending climate change and questioning the meaning of life when we’re all just insignificant ants, and the potential for hostile aliens, etc. Nah, I’m good.
Yet for some reason even I haven’t explained to myself, I’m taking two days off work, throwing down hundreds of dollars, and driving a rental car 30-some hours from NYC to Kentucky with my partner, her sister, and my mother-in-law, all to see the moon cast a brief shadow. This wasn't exactly my idea. But we needed something after a stressful summer. My girlfriend's mom packed up her life and moved to New York from Chicago, a hell of a transition for anyone; I got laid off; we got bedbugs; we're all constantly traveling and rarely together. So my girlfriend got it in her head that this was something we needed to do, as a family. Kind of a bonding thing with the extra incentive of seeing some once-in-a-lifetime, music-of-the-spheres action.
It turns out millions of other American families -- yours quite possibly included -- are making the same call for all sorts of reasons. That, in a sense, is the most fascinating question for a country that tends to exhibit as much passion for science as I do. Why in the name of Neil deGrasse Tyson is America flipping out en masse for this eclipse?
“It’s a moment of ethereal beauty, terror, awe, and inspiration,” explains Rebecca Boyle, a St. Louis-based science journalist and contributing writer to the Atlantic, where she’s spent the last few months extensively covering the upcoming event. “Imagine what it's like to lose the sun in the middle of the day. People who have experienced multiple eclipses describe them in terms bordering on religiosity -- people are literally on their knees, weeping. You'd appreciate seeing a lovely rainbow, right? Or a view of the Grand Canyon, or a powerful thunderstorm? A solar eclipse towers above them all.”