There are two types of Trekkies: those who love Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and those who don’t. Similarly, in the physics community, there are two types of solar-eclipse viewers: those who go for totality, and losers. During the Great Eclipse of 2017, I was the only member of my physics department not to boldly go to far-flung destinations to experience totality. And I felt it deeply.
I had intended to. A year before, my wife and I had discussed combining an anniversary getaway with totality locations. I assure you this appealed to my wife as much as it did me. I got as far as checking Travelocity rates for a motel in an isolated corner of Kentucky, which certainly had no idea of the swarm of nerds that would descend upon it in a brief astronomical apocalypse one year thence. I was one click away, when reality eclipsed my dream of achieving totality: travelling with small children. The moment passed, as wonderful and fleeting as totality itself, and was gone.
So we witnessed the Great Eclipse of 2017 from our Michigan home. I dusted off my old telescope and sun filter, which my father had given me on my 10th birthday. I witnessed wonder as I watched my son gaze through the viewer. We happened to have eclipse glasses—this is like a Trekkie showing up to a movie premier in full Federation regalia saying they “just happened” to have a phasor—which we readily shared with curious neighbors who wandered over.
And then I realized that although we weren’t the adventurous crew of the Enterprise, perhaps we were the crew of Deep Space Nine: cozily tending the Wormhole while the Universe comes to us. I hugged my wife as the heavenly bodies aligned. Well, 82.3% aligned.
Paul Hosmer is an Assistant Professor of Physics at Hillsdale College.