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A Second of Totality

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Dear Master Anthony,

I wish you a very blessed tenth birthday. Upon your latest interest in astrological phenomena, I decided to write you a little letter on how I witnessed my first TSE (Total Solar Eclipse).

As you may know by now, the year I came to the United States was also the year of a total eclipse. Forty years seems like a long time ago, but March 7, 1970 is so deeply etched in my mind, it seems but a moment ago.

For me as then a 16-year old, it was about an 8-hour bus drive from New York City to Portsmouth, an overnight in a local inn, and then “setting up” at Virginia Beach. At dawn, a fog covered the sky so thick you cut it with a knife, but I was without worry (well, mostly without worry), as it burned off soon after sunrise as anticipated, leaving nothing but crystal-blue skies.

I had been anticipating this event since 1962, Master Anthony, and in the intervening years, I had read everything I could get my hands on about it. I was well prepared, or so I thought—practicing over and over again months and weeks ahead of time how I would spend my 2 minutes and 33 seconds of totality splitting my time between telescope, binoculars, cameras and “naked eye” viewing. Every second was planned and accounted for. With equipment set up hours in advance.

When the time came, and I saw the darkness rising up over the horizon, I pulled the solar filters off the cameras and telescope in a single and well practiced motion that took only seconds, then looked again skywards with binoculars ready around my neck.

I was all set and ready to go, Master Anthony, but I was then numbed and overwhelmed as if a bolt of lightning had struck. I have to admit, I froze like the proverbial deer in the headlights. Nothing, I had read, or thought I had learned about “the event” prepared me for what was happening next. I just stood there limp, binoculars dangling around my neck, telescope unattended, cameras untouched, and just stared at the hole in the sky.

I could not have said a word if I wanted to, but at that instant I didn’t want to. Time ceased to flow, but somehow, before I knew it… it was over. I don’t think I moved one millimeter or dropped my gaze at totality for even a second.

And that (as you have often asked me as a little boy) is why I have no photos of my first TSE, 40 years ago. With no regrets, I might add. The mind did what it knew it had to do—surrender and absorb.

Master Anthony, the next total solar eclipse on American mainland will occur on August 21, 2017. For the first time in nearly four decades, it will be the turn of the United States to play host to this greatest of all celestial shows, and with all my heart, I hope you that you—then a 16-year old young man yourself—will still be just as vibrant and excited about this as the young lord I have come to love like a son.

Below, you will find a few facts and tips, although I am sure that you, young Master, will be quite capable and willing to do further research yourself.

May this moment be everything you want it to be. And may you be spending it with people you love.

Sincerely yours,

Edwin Jarvis

 

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Appendix:

TSE Aug. 21, 2017: Start of partial eclipse: 16:52:44, Start of total eclipse: 18:20:29, End of total eclipse: 18:23:09, End of partial eclipse: 19:47:54, Duration of totality: 00:02:40

Point of Greatest Eclipse: Northwest of Hopkinsville, Kentucky (Lat.: 36.9664° N, Long.: 87.6709° W)

Weather: It’s very important to watch the weather forecasts a day or two before the eclipse and choose a location with the best chance of a cloud-free sky during the eclipse.

Gear: Don’t fry your eyes, Master Anthony. Aluminized Mylar or No. 14 welder’s glass make good shades. However, the view through a properly equipped telescope will, as you Americans always put it, “blow your mind”.

Shadow protocol: When people applaud and the temperature drops 10 degrees, stop taking pictures, for Heaven’s sake, and soak in the experience of being able to see something that is 90 million miles away.