- Author: Mark Littmann
- ISBN: 019956552X
- ISBN13: 9780199565528
- Language: English
- Pages: 360
Francis Baily spent his 20s exploring unsettled parts of North America and didn't get around to astronomy until he was 37, when he traveled to an annular eclipse of the Sun in southern Scotland. On May 15, 1836, he watched as light from the occluded sun poured through the lunar valleys and reached him broken up into "a row of lucid points, like a string of bright beads." With those words, Baily founded the industry of eclipse chasing.
The best feature of Totality is its wealth of biographical information about eclipse chasers past and present. Throughout this century, every total eclipse over land has been attended by scientists willing to travel great distances, endure hostile climates and risk complete failure because of clouds for a few minutes' view of the corona. This turbulent outer part of the sun, best studied when the sun is obscured, draws observers across the globe to this day.
Totality, like most eclipse guides produced in time for the 1999 eclipse, doesn't seem to know which readers it's addressing. Near the beginning, the reader is abjured not to let all the science bits "stand in the way of your enjoyment of the wild, wacky, and wonderful things people have thought and done about solar eclipses." What a strange sentiment in such a fascinating and adult marriage of science, history, biography, and sound technical advice. Simon Ings,
Rationalized beyond awe, we like to think there is nothing particularly wondrous about solar eclipses. Don't tell that to this troika of scientists, who organize the geometry, superstitions, eclipse expeditions, safe-viewing advice, and an almanac of the next two decades' worth of eclipses into a compendium that astronomy enthusiasts will clamor for. Littman et al. revel in the subject and provide a wealth of pertinent, interesting facts. One fact lends urgency to seeing every possible display of the spectacle: the final solar eclipse will take place in 620 million years, as the inexorably receding moon will no longer appear large enough to cover the solar disk. A practical fact urges library acquisition of this title: the eclipse on 11 August 2000 begins at dawn 300 miles off Boston, perhaps tempting vacationers to charter every whale-watching boat possible. But libraries needn't worry about ephemerality: the authors, in addition to the fascinating data, diagrams, and photos they provide, express effectively the awesomeness of the subtly darkening prelude to the dramatically instant onset of totality. A sure star in the astronomy collection. Gilbert Taylor
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