The Ancients, not understanding astronomy very well, assigned spiritual
and all manner of metaphysical meaning to solar eclipses. The Moderns,
with at least some understanding of what things go around other things,
choose to observe it in awe and celebrate what a cool thing it is when
the world goes a bit kooky.
The August 1999 eclipse, or
Éclipse totale de Soleil du 11 août 1999
as it was known to the French,
could be magnificently observed from
La Bande de Totalité
sweeping through the North of France
and providing a great excuse for a holiday. There were other places
that were good (parts of the UK, Eastern Europe, Turkey).
I spent the week surrounding
this eclipse houseboating to and from eclipse-central with a group of
like-minded scientists. The onset of the eclipse was very strange
indeed. As the zone of darkness approaches the weather changes quite
dramatically. The atmosphere in the direction of the approach
is cooled significantly and this causes strange winds and clouds.
The birds go nutty. The humans just party in awe. The craziness
passes overhead and it gets very dark indeed. The Sun's corona,
normally indiscernible from the intense brightness, dances around the
moon as it moves in to obscure. It is very pretty. Then as
the zone moves away it all happens in reverse and life returns to normal.
It is very spooky.