I am a bad scientist

On Monday, April 8, 2024, there will be a total eclipse of the Sun, visible over a large swatch of the US and people are pretty excited about it.

The total solar eclipse will begin over the South Pacific Ocean. Weather permitting, the first location in continental North America that will experience totality is Mexico’s Pacific coast at around 11:07 a.m. PDT.

The path of the eclipse continues from Mexico, entering the United States in Texas, and traveling through Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. The eclipse will enter Canada in Southern Ontario, and continue through Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Cape Breton. The eclipse will exit continental North America on the Atlantic coast of Newfoundland, Canada, at 5:16 p.m. NDT.

The link provides exact times when the eclipse will occur at various places along its path. It will pass right over Cleveland where I used to live. Because I am a scientist, many people expect me to be excited too but to be quite honest, I am not. I will not be going anywhere to seek out good viewing locations for this relatively rare event.

My same disinterest applies to other events such as the Perseid meteor showers that take place every August.

The annual Perseid meteor shower has lit up skies across the world to the delight of those hoping to catch a glimpse of a shooting star.

The phenomenon brings up to 100 meteors an hour, as the Earth slams into the debris left behind from comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle.

As the debris hits the Earth’s atmosphere it burns up, resulting in the bright flashes known as shooting stars, which can be seen with the naked eye.

The natural display happens at a similar time in July and August each year, and this year peaked between Saturday night and the early hours of Sunday.

Nor do I get excited when there is a conjunction of planets visible to the naked eye or other astronomical phenomena.

I think my disinterest arises from the fact that these events are highly predictable and so do not excite me. Now if they failed to occur as expected …

It is a little embarrassing because people think that I will be excited because they are excited. So I pretend to be so, so as to not dampen their enthusiasm. But I am not going to knock myself out to see them.


  1. larpar says

    I’m a bad non-scientist. I’m in the 80% zone, good enough for me. The last one visible from here was obscured by clouds. It also looks like it’s going to hit mid afternoon, prime nap time. : )

  2. birgerjohansson says

    The last total solar eclipse visible from Sweden was in the 1950s, so our perspective is different from yours.

    The Planetary Society used to arrange cruises to scientifically interesting places, preferally coinciding with total solar eclipses -- I hope they still do.
    Myself I dislike travel too much, but if you want to see some out-of-USA eclipse some time, check it out

  3. Jazzlet says

    Having experienced a partial solar eclipse in the countryside I think they maybe of more interest to birders and other naturalists. As the light dimmed all of the birds around us started to take off for wherever they normally roosted, returning as the light increased. It meant the birdwatchers among our group got good views of a lot of different species in a very short space of time.

  4. birgerjohansson says

    PZ (in the voice of Eric Idle):
    “There is no challenge watching those puny solar eclipses nowadays. Now, when *we* were young, we had to climb El Capitan -without pitons or ropes- to get a glimpse of the solar eclipse. And half our group got carried off by condors on the way back.
    Those not bitten by rattlesnakes. Don’t tell me about ‘seeking out good viewing locations’. You know *nothing* about seeking out good bloody viewing bloody locations!”

  5. Heidi Nemeth says

    Eclipse crazy? That’s me! And my whole family.

    My dad wanted to be a theoretical physicist, back in the days when some of Einstein’s predictions were provable during solar eclipses -- and hadn’t yet been proven. After WWII he was in Switzerland where he programed the first research/commercial/educational computer on the European continent and helped design its successor. Somewhere in there he learned (computed?) the dates and paths of all the total solar eclipses which would traverse the USA during his lifetime. He expected to live to see the total solar eclipse of 2024 in Cleveland, his hometown. He would have been 98 years old.

    He didn’t make it. But he instilled eclipse fever in all of his many, many progeny. We went (from Cleveland) to see an eclipse (over a lake) in South Carolina (where our cousins from Georgia could meet us) in 1970 or 1971. We met at the Toledo Zoo for the annular eclipse around 1984. There was another family reunion to watch the total solar eclipse in Tennessee in 2017. The Georgian cousins were there. The fever had been instilled in them, too. It feels honoring to Dad’s memory to get together to watch this next one in Cleveland.

    The experience (even without the family) is worth because it is just surreal to have a 360 degree sunset, the birds and wildlife quiet down, the breezes still and the temperature drop in the middle of the day. And the night sky in the middle of the day. And to see the corona. (My dad calculated the temperature of the corona.)

    I also like the way the dappled shadows of the leaves go from circles to crescents to dark -- and back. This was particularly spectacular when one of my brothers wore a dark shirt and a wide brimmed loose weave sunhat which made for perfect pinhole camera images on his shirt. Of course, there won’t be leaves on the trees in Cleveland on April 8th, so the shirt/sunhat combination will have to do. And/or actual pinhole cameras, welders’ glass, eclipse glasses.

    Almost total is just not the same thing.

    I appreciate that total solar eclipses are so precisely calculated that I could plan to observe several total solar eclipses in America in my lifetime.

  6. birgerjohansson says

    Lunar eclipses are by their nature more common and a useful opportunuty to let school children get acquintanced with astronomical phenomena.
    Their predictability make them particularly useful, as only an overcast sky may sabotage an excursion.

    Partial solar eclipses are also useful, as you can make a paper screen with a hole to create a camera obscura, projecting an inverted image of the partially obscured solar disc for the pupils.

  7. Rob Grigjanis says

    Totally with Mano on this. People get excited about the transit of Venus*. Ho-hum, a black dot crossing a bright disc. She’s far more beautiful as the morning or evening star.

    I’m also largely not interested in astronomy photos. Ooh, Mars looks like a desert. Ooh, a nebula.

    *Yes, I’m aware of its historical importance.

  8. mnb0 says

    “I am not”
    As a teacher math and physics I confidently say that I am neither. At the end of the 1990s I happened to see a partial eclipse. I (indirectly) watched it for ten seconds,thought “nice” and went on doing what I was doing. No way that I was going to travel to Northern France (about 300 km) to watch the real thing.
    Never regretted what I missed.

  9. steve oberski says

    From the novel Transition by Iain M Banks:

    But what I want to propose to you is that, as well as all those other wonders, they want to see that one precious thing that we have and probably no one else does. They’d want to see our eclipse. They’d want to look through the Earth’s atmosphere with their own eyes and see the moon fit over the sun, watch the light fade down to almost nothing, listen to the animals nearby fall silent and feel with their own skins the sudden chill in the air that comes with totality…

    …So that’s where you look for aliens. In the course of an eclipse totality track.

  10. says

    Sure, it’s highly predictable thanks to modern science, but in days gone by, it was a powerful symbol. Same for comets. 1066 CE anyone? Strong historical ties. Anyway…

    I plan on heading a few hours west to watch the full eclipse. I have seen partials (which were underwhelming). I also saw an annular eclipse back around summer 1993. Clear skies. It was quite weird because, although it appeared that the sun was shining normally, the fact that most of it was blocked meant a noticeable reduction in total light reaching the ground. The shadows were still there, but it was like someone “turned down the volume”. It was as if the world put on sunglasses. That reminds me. Why do cartoons of summer beaches always show the sun wearing sunglasses? That’s backwards.

    As far as other phenomena are concerned, some I find interesting, some not so much. I don’t get excited about conjunctions (although I do like the cartoon “Conjunction Junction”). The Perseids are usually a let down as it always seems to be cloudy. Used to spend hours as a kid with my friends, on our backs on the grass, counting “shooting stars” on clear summer nights. Always made me think of where that rock came from and how long it had been out there before it burned up and we could see it.

  11. rblackadar says

    @8 —
    Luckily, you won’t need to not be interested in transits of Venus until 2117, should you live that long. As for me, I missed the two 21st Century transits, but I did catch the Mercury transit in 2019 because the timing was good and I had the necessary telescope and filter, so why not? It was kinda fun but, I agree, not what I’d call spectacular. Still, I like to check out astronomical events as long as they really are events. (“Blue moon”? Meh.)

    I don’t think anyone is a bad scientist (or even a bad astronomer) for choosing to skip a total solar eclipse — there isn’t much science to be done at such events nowadays that can’t be done at other times with modern solar observatories on the ground or in space. But I must say, now that I’ve been to two in my life, a total eclipse is something special, definitely (for me) worth a road trip of multiple hours to see. In both cases, I was in a place with a lot of other people nearby, and the social interaction made it even better.

  12. david says

    A total solar eclipse is a great sight. Actually seeing the corona in person is a very different experience than seeing photos of it. I file that experience along with seeing the aurora, hiking the Grand Canyon, and seeing the rings of Saturn through a telescope the first time.

  13. Deanna Gilbert says

    I think total solar eclipses are different..different than even partial solar eclipses, or lunar eclipses, or transits.

    I think everyone should try to see one if possible, if only because the experience really cannot be properly described, even watching videos. Seeing how the light around you changes nature, becoming polarized, with the light levels dropping yet the shadows staying very shot is a weird enough experience… and then seeing A FREAKING HOLE IN THE SKY is literally life impacting.

    If only because you can completely understand why people who didn’t know what was going on utterly freaked out.

    I saw the 2017 eclipse and would have tried to see this one but unfortunately money just isn’t going to allow it.

    As for being a bad scientist…this doesn’t make you bad at all. In fact, one of the things that made me wonder if I reaaaaaaaaally wanted to pursue astronomy as a career was when I found out that one of my astrophysics instructors was in Hawaii for the total eclipse there…and didn’t get to actually see it. Because he was indoors taking measurements.

    I missed seeing the 1979 eclipse, and it took me almost 40 years to see the sun disappear for 2 minutes…and if there’s something that demonstrates emphatically that duration does not equal impact is a total solar eclipse.

  14. Deanna Gilbert says

    @rblackradar -- I agree. Spending that time in the K-Mart parking lot in Salem, Oregon was even more fun just because there were a bunch of strangers all experiencing the same thing, whooping and hollering as it started, and moaning with me when it ended…

  15. Silentbob says

    Oh, please! As if a total solar eclipse (TSE) is like tiny points of light being in the same position in the sky.

    I experienced one TSE when I was a boy but too small to really remember it except teachers freaking out and saying to keep your pets indoors so they don’t get blinded. (Yes seriously, and I knew my teachers were idiots at the time.)

    I would totally travel to see a TSE -- reportedly you get to see the corona, and solar flares. There’s a weird ambiance as the light of the Sun gets blotted out. This is an experience with a capital E from what I’ve heard and from the dim memories of when I was a small boy. Not comparable to simply witnessing something interesting through a telescope.

  16. sonofrojblake says

    @steve oberski, 10:

    From the novel Transition by Iain M Banks:

    Bafflingly, despite its subject matter, that one is by Iain Banks. No “M”. Never understood why. Cracking book.

  17. John Morales says

    As for being a bad scientist…this doesn’t make you bad at all.

    Except in science.

    There’s a joke about having a degree in “science”.

    Obs, a trope in fiction — the Scientist — from Gilligan’s Island to Doc Smith’s Subspace Explorers.

    “Precisely.” Gray-Hair beamed. “That eliminates all the others except three--Morton’s, Rothstein’s, and my own.”

    “You’re a specialist in subspace, sir?”

    “Oh, no, I’m not a specialist at all. I’m a dabbler; a…”

    “In the College?” Deston asked, and the other nodded.

    “With doctorates in everything from astronomy to zoology? I’m mighty glad you were using this lifecraft for an observatory when we got it, Doctor…?”

    “Adams. Andrew Adams. But I have only eight at the moment. Earned degrees, that is.”


    I think everyone should try to see one if possible, if only because the experience really cannot be properly described, even watching videos.

    What I experienced was kinda like an accelerated but quite brief nightfall followed by dawn, in terms of illumination. It was interesting, because it was rare.

    I suppose that makes it special, but really, it was no biggie. Gets dark, gets light. Get that every day.

    (I saw one because it happened to be where I lived; and I have just described it right now)

  18. sonofrojblake says

    the experience really cannot be properly described,

    I have just described it right now

    And in doing so, have neatly proven the quoted text correct. Well done.

  19. John Morales says

    sonofrojblake, gotta love these feeble, vacuous and futile attempted jibes.

    And in doing so, have neatly proven the quoted text correct.

    Thing is, whether or not you imagine my description is improper or unreal, it was indeed a description. So I did indeed describe it. My own claim — that I’ve described it — is true.

    Your own claim (that is is an improper description) is, um, less evident.
    Asserted, yes. Justified, not-so-much.

    (Care to essay a try to justify it? It will amuse me to some degree, which would be neat as well as meet)

  20. birgerjohansson says

    Just a heads-up from the Pharyngula side of Freethoughtblogs.
    The kooks have started to refer to medicine etc as literal “witchcraft”.

    I do not know what they have in mind for astronomy people. Maybe giving them the Giordano Bruno treatment?
    After spending 4 years inside a “Simpsons” episode, we have gone on to “South Park “.

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