By Niki Morock, Meteorologist
Eclipse mania has officially driven me mad. Well, maybe not truly mad, but I’m tired of the hype.
Is it a total eclipse a rare event? Somewhat, but not as rare as you might think. According to Space.com, “… in any calendar year, there are at least two solar and two lunar eclipses visible somewhere on Earth. The maximum number possible in a single year is seven — a mix of the two kinds. This year, we'll have four.” Today’s eclipse is only truly rare in that the narrow swath of visibility crosses the entire continental United States.
Don’t misunderstand me. I get why people are excited. I was excited about it back in February when I first learned of it. I even considered finding a way to go to Charleston with a friend to witness it there. Since then, though, the buildup on the news and on social media has been over-abundant and overwhelming.
Television broadcast meteorologists have positioned themselves (rightly so) as station scientists, and are depended upon to explain all things related to earth, atmosphere, and space as if they are total experts. A few may have taken astronomy classes as optional choices in school, but astronomy is not required to earn an atmospheric science/meteorology degree. I myself never took an astronomy course, and I will be the first to admit that I don’t know much more about it than I do volcanology – which isn’t all that much.
The information I have posted about the eclipse came from Nasa.gov and Space.com because those sites are teaming with experts. I trust them to have reliable and useful information regarding the eclipse. My guess is that most broadcast meteorologists are using those and other similar websites as resources to answer questions and make predictions about today’s eclipse.
When I have been asked questions that should be answered by an astronomer, I have directed people to those sites. I’m not even going to pretend to know more than I do. Can I learn more? Yes, and I have over the last few months. Do I feel like I’m an expert now? Not at all. Reading a few pages on space-related websites doesn’t replace earning a science degree in a specialized field. I’m no more of an astronomer today than you are a meteorologist because you watch the Weather Channel every morning.
I will be out this afternoon taking in the effects of the eclipse as it pertains to temperature and the reactions of living things because even at 90-95% totality, it will be interesting to experience. Maybe I will write about my observations and we can compare notes tomorrow. I know one thing for sure, I’ll be happier tomorrow knowing that I can avoid being asked astronomy-related questions… at least until the next time.