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Why do we care about the eclipse?

Monday’s eclipse has people talking. In a good way.

The Great North American Eclipse has become quite the deal. On Monday, April 8, 2024, the Moon and Sun will lock in orbit and slash across the continent. Riverside will have to settle for about half of an eclipse, but if you happen to be on the path from southwest Texas to Maine, you will have a totally dark day—for at least a few minutes. 

Why is it a big deal? Humanity has attached something magical to an eclipse, and it has been that way since the earliest recorded human history. Eclipses are rare but predictable. We know enough about how the Earth, Sun, and Moon interact to tell you with high-resolution accuracy when, where, and to what degree eclipses will occur. Why did eclipses lose their mystery but not their magic?

What is magic but something that disrupts your working model of reality? I can imagine early societies being surprised by mid-day darkness. Things going as planned hardly spark us to search for answers. Having your mind blown is a proper catalyst for inquiry. While we might understand what’s happening, we don’t see it often.

I’m not immune to the hype, and I’m not diminishing the experience. These rare occurrences benefit from predictability because they feed into our mutual obsession with the future. Even fifty percent of an eclipse is better than just another day at work. It is a point of coalescence, a reason to gather, something to look forward to, and most importantly, something else to talk about besides the weather.