Second Anniversary Issue


The mountains are out there, will you answer the call?
There are things to explore from the big to the small.

The mountains are ringing, will you answer the call?
I promise there’s magic for one and for all!

We climb to the peaks of the crags, of course,
To feel the fury of nature’s full force.

Fantastic creatures you’ll find within,
Be it walking on paws or swimming with fin

Or flying up high on a current of air,
There’re so many animal stories to share!

You might even learn a bit about space,
The natural world is a wondrous place!

It’s our second year, there’s still much to see,
I’m so very grateful you’re on this journey with me!

A Wild Poet crafted this verse in honor of the newsletter’s second birthday! In addition to being a fantastic human being, AWP rhymes the rhyme well. Thank you for composing this ode!

If you’re looking for a custom children’s poem or even a book,
He’s the man with a plan, so give him a look!

It’s hard to believe the second year for The Mountains Are Calling came and went. The days seemed long, but the weeks and months flew.

At the end of each month, we revisit the people, places, and critters we explore. With the help of Google Earth, we take a mini-tour of our planet, bringing contextual location to the things we learned. In these issues, we ask readers to note their favorite articles from the preceding month. It’s a great way to discover which ideas work well.

Here are the standout issues from our second trip around the planet together, as voted upon by readers:

January 2021 – The Anniversary Issue

The biggest hit from the premier month of the second year was the first guest-authored piece in the project’s history! It was tough for me to allow this one out in the world, as I really don’t feel comfortable in my own skin, but it was a joy to see Deborah flex her writing muscles and revisit some of the incredible mountains we’ve visited!

Honorable mention: Alex Trebek

In memoriam of Jeopardy’s high scholar, who loved the planet’s beauty.

February 2021 – Uranus Stinks

No, really, it does!

Honorable mention: Groundhogs

Phil? Phil Connors?

March 2021 – Croagh Patrick

For St. Patrick’s Day, we explored Ireland’s most famous mountain. The summit of Croagh Patrick is a Top 5 excursion for me!

Honorable mention: There Is No Blue

Could ancient people see the color blue? This seemingly crazy question has surprising answers.

April 2021 – Mt. Greylock – Massachusetts’ High Point

In which a woman eight months pregnant summits the mountain which inspired Moby Dick!

Honorable mention: The Coastline Paradox

How does Norway have more coastline than much larger countries?

May 2021 – Reschensee

An Italian city that peeks out from the waters of a lake.

Honorable mention: The Loudest Sound

What’s the loudest thing to ever reverberate on our planet? The answer would bowl you over!

June 2021 – The Orphan Tsunami and the Ghost Forest

In our 200th article, we learned about one of the most fascinating scientific riddles we’ve encountered. 

Honorable mention: Gustave

An enormous, man-eating, mononymous crocodile.

July 2021 – Mt. Frissell – Connecticut’s High Point

In which a woman eight months pregnant summits the tallest peak in Connecticut. In the snow!

Honorable mention: The Bluetooth Bombshell

One of Hollywood’s most famous women was a scientist, who had an incredible influence on the modern world.

August 2021 – Sprites, Elves, Trolls, Pixies, Ghosts, Gnomes, and Blue Jets

Fantastical creatures or upper-atmospheric phenomena?

Honorable mention: The Social Giraffe Network

Humans aren’t the only species that develops complex social networks. Giraffes were once thought to be antisocial creatures. We were wrong!

September 2021 – Maine

The second entry on the list by a guest author. Deb profiles the great state of Maine!

Honorable mention: Aurora

The fireworks of the heavens.

October 2021 – Prometheus and Methuselah

The incredible and sad tales of the world’s oldest trees.

Honorable mention: Mount Doom and the Crags of Mordor

Mordor features some spectacular mountain scenery!

November 2021 – Pictured Rocks

Milestone article 250 profiles one of the United States’ secret gems.

Honorable mention: The Sirens of Titan

J.R.R. Tolkien has his hands on more than just the mountains of Mordor!

December 2021 – The Army Ant Death Spiral

An incredible phenomenon that almost sounds too crazy to be true. The visuals are mesmerizing.

Honorable mention: Call of the Void

Another incredible phenomenon that some are afraid to admit they experience, though it might actually signify the opposite of what they think!

The Total Solar Eclipse Experience: An Observer’s Viewpoint

by Alan Ratcliff

…but three day’s hence in Aquila, there will be a day without a night and a night without a day.

— Leo McKern as Imperius in Ladyhawke

This article is a follow-up to the TMAC issue called Total Eclipse of the Orb, from the perspective of one very fortunate observer.  The previous article provides a great overview of the phenomenology and variety of eclipses; in this one, we’ll explore the relative rarity of such events and attempt to convey the author’s experience leading up to, during, and after observing the totality of the 2017 “Great American Eclipse” from the ground.

We return to the discussion of Eclipses and, specifically, to one of the most incredible and stunning space events: the Total Solar Eclipse, when the Moon completely blocks the path between the Earth and the Sun.  You’ve likely seen an abundance of diagrams that show the geometry and optical paths of Solar Eclipses (and Lunar Eclipses, which operate under the same principle), so rather than repeat them here with those details, instead, I’ll attempt to share my awe and amazement at observing a Total Solar Eclipse and highlight a rare opportunity for you (if you are in North America) to observe a Total Solar Eclipse in person! (Spoiler alert:  Block your calendar for 8 April 2024).

Solar eclipse diagram - graphic by Ana Pelisson

A little science first:  through astronomic serendipity of gravitational forces and distances between the Earth, Moon, and Sun, as well as the relative angular widths of the bodies as seen from the Earth’s surface, the moon’s diameter is at times just wide enough to completely obscure the Sun. This combination allows the Moon to fully shadow the Earth’s surface, but only along a narrow swath.  There are also times when the Moon is not large enough to completely cover the sun. The rarity is not only in the frequency of occurrence but also due to the very limited region that any given eclipse can be observed and to what degree (Partial, Total, Annular). The number of Solar Eclipses throughout a year varies between two and four, occasionally five. But those occurrences are distributed throughout different regions of the world; most are not Total. Why are Totals less common?

The interaction between the three bodies needed for an eclipse is complicated. An eclipse requires a syzygy – the alignment of the Sun, Earth, and Moon. A Solar Eclipse can only occur during a New Moon. This limits our planet to 13 possibilities each year.

It gets more complicated, though. The orbital plane of the Earth-Moon system is not in complete alignment with the Earth-Sun orbit. A syzygy is restricted to the times that the three bodies are aligned on (or very near to) the line that intersects the two planes.  This necessity further lowers the frequency that the three bodies can even be in alignment. All the ingredients are right only two to four times per year. 

So, we’re getting rarer. Things continue to get worse.

When the Moon is closer to apogee (when it’s farthest from Earth), it is too distant to completely block the entire sun, meaning direct sunlight will illuminate the Earth’s surface no matter what — even under 100% Moon cover. These occasions are known as Annular Eclipses, which are still extremely visually appealing. A significant drawback, though, is that while it is safe to regard a Total Eclipse with the naked eye, during an Annular Eclipse the Sun is always emitting direct light, so eyes must constantly be protected with filters or indirect viewing.  As a result, in an Annular Eclipse, one cannot directly observe some of the features that emerge while in totality, including the Sun’s corona and stars.  In research for this article, I discovered that on 14 October 2023, an Annular Eclipse will track over the western United States (pro tip:  Albuquerque is very nice in Autumn).

“Ring of Fire” Annular Solar Eclipse 26 Dec 2019 - image from Universe Today

Add it all up and a Total Eclipse is rare. They appear only about once every 18 months on average. And that’s somewhere on the planet. The chances that one happens where you have a reasonable chance to see it are far more uncommon.

Though the tolerance of the alignments to result in a Total Eclipse is ever-so-tight, slight misalignments can provide a nice consolation prize. During a Partial Eclipse, the transit of the Moon takes a big bite out of the Sun, but never quite completely. Still pretty cool looking, though. 

Partial Solar Eclipse of 10 June 2021 - image by Aubrey Gemignani/NASA

I am old enough to remember the Total Eclipse of 1970, when I was nine years old, living in upstate New York.  Though the path of totality did not run through my town, we still experienced 90% coverage. It was a big deal, even in our area. 90%!!!!  That’s practically being in the Total Eclipse path, right?  

No. Not even close.

Nor is 99%.

I spent the next 45 years thinking I had checked “Solar Eclipse” off my bucket list. Then, around 2015, when I was chatting with the president of our local astronomy club, he started talking rather excitedly about the then-upcoming 2017 Total Solar Eclipse and told me “whenever I ask someone if they’ve seen a Total Eclipse in person, and they say they don’t know, then they haven’t.  You don’t ever forget it.”

In August 2017, several friends and I traveled from Ohio to a spot near Carbondale, Illinois. We set up chairs and telescopes in a small park, awaiting the appointed moment, about 2:30 pm.  The sky was clear and perfect. As the brightness of the Sun started noticeably fading, general excitement among the 100 or so in the park rose, but I was not prepared for the awe and emotions that washed over me the second the Sun was completely blacked out. For the next two minutes, everything stood still. The Corona was bright.  Twilight appeared in every direction. Stars were visible. Birds stopped chirping.  Nature became very quiet.  Almost no one said a word. It was all surreal and beautiful. After the Sun emerged, my immediate (and lasting) thought was the realization of how fortunate I was to be able to experience such a rare and wondrous event firsthand.

I didn’t even mind the mass exodus traffic jam afterward.

Photos and videos of totality are ubiquitous, all displaying the two-dimensional black orb with the Sun’s corona flaring around the black disk, but they don’t even come close to the awe-inspiring experience of witnessing this rare joy of nature with my eyes. I could continue trying to express the total delight of the experience, but I could never give it justice. And my friend from the Astronomical Society was spot-on.

Total Solar Eclipse - 17 August 2017 - photo by Kristi Maxwell

Though I have not yet observed an Annular Eclipse, I’ll share with you an opinion written by Dr. Kate Russo, an eclipse chaser who has observed twelve Total Eclipses: 

“Here’s the comparison – seeing a partial is like getting your tickets to the concert [by your favorite band].  An Annular Eclipse would be like seeing the support act and then going home. The Total is experiencing the whole thing.”

So when and where can we observe a Total or Annular Solar Eclipse in the future?  Recall my statement that much of the rarity lies in the location.  And the projection for the U.S. is not favorable after 2024.  

Notable Total Solar Eclipse crossing the United States from 1900 to 2050: 

Notable Annular solar eclipse crossing the United States from 1900 to 2050: 

You read that correctly.  For 21 straight years after 2024, there will be neither Total nor Annular Solar Eclipses visible in the United States.

How fortunate we are, as two more golden opportunities remain within the next several years. In the Midwest, we sit within the path for the 8 April 2024 Total Eclipse. I am doubly fortunate that my house is in the path of totality!  And, as I already mentioned, you can observe an Annular eclipse in the western US just next year!

Still on the fence?  Go talk to anyone who has ever witnessed a Total Eclipse firsthand and get their opinion.  

Listen to your FOMO this time.

No, seriously.

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