Last week I wrote about one of the astronomic phenomena that occurred in my new book, Henrietta's Journal
, and now is coming again in 2017. The meteor shower that happened in November 1833 was not all that unusual an occurrence, except for the fact that it was unusually bright. Our own shower, scheduled for tomorrow night, is looking a little "iffy" at the moment. We'll need a clear sky to see it in all its glory--and the weather fellow on today's noon news sounded pretty pessimistic about that happening. I'm still keeping fingers crossed, however, in hopes that you will witness a wonderful display tomorrow night and then be moved to read the book about the earlier one.,
I'm more hopeful about the second event, both because it is rarer and because it will be harder to miss, especially in this part of the country and in Charleston. On Monday, Aug. 21, as nearly everyone knows by now, we are scheduled to witness an eclipse of the sun. Its path will take it over much of Tennessee and then straight into Charleston, South Carolina for a spectacular finish.
The earlier eclipse occurred in Charleston on May 15, 1836. It was somewhat different than the one we will experience, in that it was what the experts call an "annular" eclipse. That happens when the moon is at its furthest distance from the earth when it begins to cast its shadow over the sun. But because of its distant position, the shadow is noticeably smaller than the disk of the sun. So even when the eclipse is entirely over the sun, it will leave a "ring of fire" to border the shadow. The world may not have turned quite as dark as our own will, but it was certainly dark enough to grab the attention of everyone and to frighten more than a few observers.
No matter how wise we may be about the causes of the phenomena (debris from the tail of a comet, a shadow)--there is still something both majestic and frightening about unnatural changes. in the sky. All early cultures developed myths about gods who fought each other abd destroyed the sun in the process. And even today, there are folks warning about bad omens that are a part of the eclipse experience. So it will come as no surprise to readers of Henrietta's Journal to find a slave muttering under her breath, "Um-um-um. Dat be bad."