To see the 2017 eclipse of the sun, I went to Wyoming. This is where our group was: off Bridger Creek Road near Badwater Creek Road outside of Lysite WY – more or less the American outback. Our fearless leader, a geologist, identified these red rock bands as Triassic deposits with pale limestone layers that include fossils. There may be Eohippus fossils in there – stony remains of the dawn horse.
As the Moon began to cover the Sun, the air definitely got cool and the light weaker. Shadows looked oddly fuzzy on one side and sharp on the other side. The sunlight streaming through a woven straw pith helmet threw little crescents on a piece of paper.
Totality looked like sunset on every horizon. Security lights in various directions, and a refinery that lit up like a Christmas tree, made the point there this really wasn’t nowhere. There were human-made structures out there. Meanwhile the Sun was a black hole in the darkened sky, surrounded by the bright, pale, corona. The corona had structure.
The eclipse was the single most incredible astronomical sight I’ve ever seen.
It’s incredibly temporary: a few minutes of daylight darkness in a shadow that raced across the US in 90 minutes. And total eclipses will only last for a few geological eons while the Moon exactly covers the Sun. Long ago the Moon was nearer and covered more than the Sun’s disk. The glassy eyes of ancient trilobites may have seen eclipses without much corona. Long in the future, the Moon will spiral away and cover less of the Sun. There will be no more perfectly awesome eclipses with the bright pale crown of the sun so visible.
Eclipses seen by human eyes portended disaster to old civilizations. Now they’re wonders without terror and signs of orbital mechanics, not the end of the world.
I returned home to Houston and then came Harvey. By the time it hit Houston it was Tropical Storm Harvey, and wreaked great havoc. I was lucky that all I personally lost was my car (sob!). Some people in my condo complex had two or three feet of water in their homes. I spent the storm snug in my third-floor condo with power, water, Internet, and plenty of good food to eat.
Storm Harvey was an infinitely small disturbance in the astronomical universe. It unfolded in less than a flicker in geological time even though it made a lasting impact crater in this city and in human lifespans. It strangely ties us to some of those Triassic fossils, I think. A lot of the world’s fossil beds seem to have happened when a flood drowned a large number of creatures. Floodwaters washed them into expanses of mud where their bones fossilized and their softer body parts left impressions in sedimentary stone.
In the days after Harvey, the resurrection fern on the oaks on the Rice University campus flourished greatly. Ferns, by the way, date back to the Devonian period, even earlier than the Triassic.
I took these pictures while the Library was open limited hours and for Rice ID holders. The University and the city of Houston were still reeling. May all the other communities hit by Harvey have their own resurrection.