On Monday Aug 21, crowds of students gathered in the quad area to goggle at the singularly rare spectacle in the sky: a solar eclipse. Just minutes before, hordes of people had exited their classrooms for brunch, yet it was clear that this day was to differ from the norm. Clutching paper glasses akin to the 3D ones handed out at movie theaters, cardboard squares with black-tinted plastic windows, and DIY cardboard box contraptions, these students were on a mission to witness whatever inkling of the eclipse they could get.
This celestial phenomenon occurs when the moon obstructs the Sun as it orbits around the Earth. Consequently, specific places located in the umbra, or shadow of the eclipse, went dark on Monday. Unfortunately for the students at BHS, Burlingame was located in the penumbra, that is, on the edge of the shadow that the moon casts upon the Earth. Translation for non-rocket scientists: students missed out on the full blackout effect, but were still able to observe the moon covering approximately three-quarters of the Sun.
Several minutes before the eclipse began, Principal Paul Belzer’s booming voice reverberated throughout campus as he announced safety precautions on the PA system. He warned that staring directly at the eclipse would cause instantaneous optical damage, and then emphasized the need for special viewing devices (hence the presence of so many eclipse-viewing gizmos).
Fortunately junior Grant Cosovich, who traveled to Wyoming to view the eclipse in totality, did not have to use any special glasses or mechanisms to look at the anomaly. When the moon fully covered the sun, he could peer at it with his own two eyes. According to Cosovich, it was an “indescribable” experience.
“Coming back,” he said, “some friends asked me if the two minutes of totality were worth the two-hour flights there and back.”
Cosovich then added that they were, in fact, a powerful image that everyone should go to see once in their lives.
“There was a black hole in the sky with a ring of light around it, and, if you looked in the distance, there was a sunset,” he said.
Regardless of the lack of totality in California, students were still very much in awe of the spectacle. This eclipse was particularly special due to its relative rarity. Dubbed “the Great American Eclipse” by the media for its path across the entire United States and its rarity, a total eclipse only materializing within view of many Americans only every few decades. The last total solar eclipse took place on February 26, 1979, and the next one is slated for April 8, 2024. Numerous people in every direction had iPhones poised behind handheld “Solar Viewer” devices, attempting to capture a snapshot. Many were laughing, chattering, and incessantly pointing at the anomaly in the sky.
Not long after the crowds of people dissipated to head to third period (for brunch had ended), many returned with their classes. Several teachers allowed students to observe the eclipse, with some even integrating the event into lesson plans and supplying the students with viewing devices specially ordered by the science department.
“In my APES (AP Environmental Studies) class, students had to look for temperature change, wind patterns, changes in animal behavior, though we didn’t see any animals,” science teacher Heather Johnson said.
Physics teacher Chris Balmy described how he presented a soliloquy to the class about how the Ancient Greeks used eclipses, both solar and lunar, to accurately calculate Earth-moon distance 2400 years ago.
Even further, many teachers were excited for the eclipse. In the morning, history teacher Joshua Gnass and English teacher Melissa Murphy played Bonnie Tyler’s ‘80s hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart” for their classes.
“I think about how I saw it, and how people of other times and cultures saw it,” Balmy said.
Indeed, some thought of the historical importance of it, while others looked to the future. It will be at least seven years until the next eclipse occurs. Judging by the whirlpool of social and political changes in the last eight months, the world will be a different place by the time the sky over the U.S. darkens once more under the glare of a solar eclipse.
But at least BHS students can brag that they saw the dark side of the moon.