The event that hasn’t happened since 1979 and won’t repeat until 2024 happens tomorrow: a total solar eclipse (TSE) visible over a wide swath of the United States, with Moore County on the edge.

A lunar eclipse is not nearly as dramatic, since the sky is already dark and the moon produces no “ring of fire” corona.

Considering the hype, I’m surprised Oreo hasn’t issued a commemorative cookie like the company does for every other calendar blip.

Beyond commercialization — which includes jaunts to likely viewing spots and renting small planes to fly above cloud cover — the eclipse provides a stunning reminder of our universe — which, however vast, is but a speck in the eternity of space.

Within that universe, Earth appears to be the sole supporter of life — of oceans and mountains, of parents and children, of elephants and tadpoles, of burgers and fries.

That being so, why cannot we summon the gratitude to turn swords into plowshares instead of allowing planet Earth to melt — assuming we don’t blow it to smithereens first?

The ancients made a huge fuss over eclipses, which occurred without warning and were blamed for misfortune, perhaps diminished sight, since people watched bare-eyed. The oldest recorded eclipse was chiseled in stone circa 3340 B.C. by Irish Neolithics. Other written accounts followed: Mesopotamia, 1374 B.C.; China, 1302 B.C. A TSE in 585 B.C. caused warring Greek states to forge a peace. The darkness attending Jesus’ crucifixion has been linked to eclipses in 29 and 33 C.E. Islam views the phenomenon as a reminder of Judgment Day.

Hmmm. Coincidentally or not, the uptick of schemes to vacate this overheated planet cannot be ignored. What used to be called science fiction is now viewed as a probability. Films about space exploration leading to colonization spill out of Hollywood. “Mars,” a National Geographic TV series, featured real scientists interspersed with a somber fictional exploration. “The Martian” stranded Matt Damon on the Red Planet, and “Gravity” swallowed up George Clooney. Lower-budget forays portend destruction by asteroids, microbes and aliens.

We easily dismiss Hollywood opportunism. But when renowned physicist Stephen Hawking predicts humanity has only 100 years to begin vacating Earth, inhabitants take notice. Hawking further believes this undertaking cannot be the mission of one nation, but rather a collective effort. If that’s true, for sure we’re doomed. If the U.S. can’t reach equitable trade agreements, slim chance we’ll collaborate on Noah’s interplanetary ark.

Maybe the destination won’t be Mars, although NASA suggests landing humans there by 2040. Scientists have discovered 10 planets outside our solar system with temperatures possible for sustaining life. Or, rather, life as we know it.

Ridiculous, right? A hundred years is a nanosecond on any cosmic timeline, not nearly long enough to foment apocalypse or implement escape. Yet my mother (born 1902, died 2000) bragged about riding in a horse-drawn cart, flying in a “jet plane,” watching the moon landing and hearing about the Mars Rover.

Maybe colonization is just a load of superstitious metaphysical hocus-pocus. But if Earth appears to be cycling out, wouldn’t the most sensible initiative be remedying whatever causes inhabitants have wrought? Then, should that fail, at least enjoy pleasures that cannot be duplicated elsewhere?

Perhaps this awesome eclipse will remind Earthlings how, of the hundred trillion rocks revolving around a hundred billion suns, ours seems the only one with grass and movies and ice cream.

Yet we squabble over strips of land, skin color, who owns the biggest bombs and the loudest hyperbole.

Maybe this total eclipse of the sun is, as the ancients believed, timed as a symbol, a warning.

Regardless, viewed (with proper protection) in real time, the sight promises to be — now that Ringling and Barnum have retired — The Greatest Show on Earth, an enormity which for a few minutes should take the sting out of a crumpled fender and looming root canal.

 

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