Yesterday was a science communication dream… and a national ceasefire

photo credit unknown. will update.

Let me explain, yesterday was every science communicator’s fantasy.

People showed enough interest in a science phenomena to learn new terms to describe what they observed (the casual pervasiveness of the word “totalilty” was astounding). People played around with different ways to observe the phenomena (participating in engineering and sub-consciously demonstrating understanding the principles behind why you shouldn’t look directly at the sun)

People experienced the temperature and changes in light intensity while comparing that to the percentage of eclipse totality. In this way people engaged in correlation and relationships, which is really really amazing.

And people recorded data. Tons of it.

There were so many pictures and videos. People looking cool with their paper framed glasses, rocking them like they were Ray Bans. The eye-protection even extended to statues. Someone caught the eclipse mid-flight. One lab used x-ray paper. We know there is at least one newborn named Eclipse. I’m not even going to link to all the camera phone pictures because you probably have enough of those on your phone already. People showed the differences in shadows and recorded how the shadow pattern from leaves were changed. Or they used other structured materials like colanders.

There was real engagement yesterday. The kind I thought was only reserved for 5 year olds discovering sugar.

This is something educators try to create in their students daily. Science is cool. Science in awe-inspiring. Science belongs to everyone. Young. Old. English major who hates math. Science geek who prefers speaks in bit logic. High school drop out. PhD degree.

But there was something else I noticed yesterday.

The solar eclipse, well, it eclipsed our national tension. My social timeline was filled with pictures of the eclipse, details of preparations.

The only appearances Trump made were sparse, well deserved, and kinda funny (though still at his expense). I didn’t sense anguish yesterday, I sensed wonder, excitement, a sense of gratefulness to be in this moment which I don’t think anyone has truly felt in over a year. Regardless of how you’ve felt about these matters, no one wants to be in constant struggle with their environment. Or that fear that a family gathering will erupt into arguments.

We needed this break. We needed this eclipse. Now obviously this was going to happen, the movements of the sun, moon, and earth progress independently and without concern of American politics. This is not an American exceptionalism tale that I am trying to conjure. Nor is this a reductionist argument in support of “let’s just love each other and everything will be fine.” Nah.

But there were mass gatherings that focused on something heavenly. Something above us all. Physically and literally. Something that distracted from the national racial, social, and financial tension. Something that made us be hopeful — together. It was a ceasefire.

I’m grateful for the respite. I’m ecstatic that the whole nation connected with their inner scientists. Even if it only lasted 4 hours.