Staring At the Sun. Literally.

–First published on–

The Great American Eclipse is coming up in August next year (2017).  It’s the first total solar eclipse to touch only the United States in its entire 240-year history as an independent nation.  (First “Brexit,” anyone?  No?  OK…)

The predicted path of the total solar eclipse.

I’d had eclipse glasses in my Amazon wish list for at least a year before I finally purchased them shortly after moving to my current house.  They’ve been sitting in a safe place for the last few months, but I finally decided to try them out recently.

I get creeped out pretty easily with seeing normal things differently in real life.  My first dream job was to be an astronaut so I could go to the moon, but one night when I was about six I saw the moon look giant in the sky and it scared me out of being an astronaut.  (I still have no idea why it appeared to be giant, because all of the usual explanations don’t apply.  It was high in the sky, white, and nearly a week past full.)  So in my back yard, right before I put on the glasses, I braced myself for what I was about to see.

Nothing.  Completely black everywhere.  No reflections, no sunlight, no anything.  The ONLY thing that was shown through the glasses was the surface of the sun itself.

eclipse glasses view
An illustrated representation, but it looks exactly like what I saw.

There it was in the midst of its pitch black surroundings: a flawless, goldenrod, perfect circle.  I even tried taking a picture of it with my phone through the glasses, but the phone’s camera kept insisting that there had to be white somewhere and tried to colour balance.  (Although, it does say right on the glasses that they’re only to be used with eyes, not “cameras, telescopes or binoculars.”)

But I stared at that circle.  That apparent little thing in the sky is the giant powerhouse of the solar system.  Just past aphelion, it was about 152 million kilometres (94.5 million miles) away from me.  From the moment “sunlight” is created in its core, it takes hundreds of thousands of years for it to reach the surface of the sun, then just under 8.5 minutes from there to here.  It’s the source of the horrible heat I was feeling to my core (amplified by the day’s 61% humidity), and of all the life in the solar system.  While it looked like a completely calm and perfect circle in the sky, it’s raging with fission and plasma inside and out, and could easily wipe out life on earth if it really wanted to.  (Though hopefully that doesn’t happen until its scheduled time in about 5 billion years.)

It didn’t make me feel small.  I just took a moment to see the sun for what it is.

The awful picture taken with my phone.

I just want to encourage you to go out and “smell the roses” today.  Stop and find something to appreciate, scientifically or otherwise.  Find something you take for granted or overlook every day, and just take a moment to appreciate it for what it is.  The feel of a leaf, the formation of a cloud, your own heartbeat.  Everything has its beauty.


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