“Astronomers are greatly disappointed when, having traveled halfway around the world to see an eclipse, clouds prevent a sight of it; and yet a sense of relief accompanies the disappointment.” –Simon Newcomb
On August 21st, a total solar eclipse will travel coast-to-coast across the United States, bringing darkness during the day to portions of 14 separate states. The last time such an event occurred was 99 years ago, back in 1918. Back then, Einstein’s General Relativity still had not been proven, and this eclipse not only provided that opportunity, but held an opportunity for America to rise to scientific prominence in the world.
The path of the total solar eclipse of 1918. Image credit: Eclipse Predictions by Fred Espenak, NASA’s GSFC.
The U.S. Naval Observatory sent a team of physicists to Baker City, Oregon, to attempt to make the critical observations. If Einstein was right, starlight would deflect during the day the closer a star’s position was to the Sun. If nature was kind to those fastidious observers, the data could indicate which theory, Newton’s or Einstein’s, was correct. But at the critical moment, the Americans were defeated by nature itself, in the form of clouds.
Print of eclipse painting ...