Monday, February 25, 2013

Space Crafts, Part Two: Solar Eclipse of the Heart

Previously In Space: Introduction and Part One

 Towards the end of the year when I was in second grade, all the teachers suddenly realized that there was going to be a pretty impressive solar eclipse over the Chicago area on an actual school day. During May! Which meant it might not be snowing and overcast on that day!

I think they realized this about two days before it happened.

This is NOT an impressive eclipse.
It was SO EXCITING, though. They decided to pair off grades so that the younger three grades were all assisted by the older three grades in the school. Meaning that the second grade and fifth grade combo was the one that had its act together. And what were we doing in these paired off groups? Mostly, we were being repeatedly told "NEVER STARE AT THE SUN DIRECTLY!" by various authority figures.

But in-between lectures, we were making pinhole projectors with old boxes and sun visors out of paper plates. If they could've figured out a way to mix macaroni into the equation, I'm sure they would've.

One 2nd grader and one 5th grader to each pinhole projector. With way too little time to get them ready while still doing actual school work in those days. Some of it felt like the beginning of a reality competition show (although, I don't think I had seen any at that point in time. The 90s were a long time ago, apparently). Most of my memories of it just seem to be of way too many children in way too small of a classroom, realizing that 5th graders were sweatier and smellier than the average person (hurray for schools without air conditioning!), and the sound of corrugated cardboard being cut with safety scissors for an eternity while several different teachers tried desperately to shout over the noise to briefly educate us on what an eclipse was, what to expect, and how lucky we were to have this experience. Because the next eclipse this impressive wouldn't be until 2012! In a whole different century! We'd be so old by then!

That night, all my dreams were of how I thought the total eclipse would go down.  In one dream, I imagined that as the moon slowly moved in front of the sun, the sky would rapidly go through the color changes of sunset as the sun was blocked from us. I imagine birds ceasing to sing, people in their cars pulling over to watch, and the faint sound of stone against stone because I thought the moon would make a noise like that(despite never having made a noise when moving in the sky ever before).

(A year later, I'd see the "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" finale of The Simpsons and go, "THAT's what an eclipse should be like!" as Mr. Burns blocked out the sun over Springfield.)

And then... the day came. And was actually a nice day with great weather. The whole school went out into the soccer field and set up their pinhole projectors and placed their paper plate visors on their heads. Even more teachers were shouting "DO NOT STARE AT THE SUN!" over and over again, convinced that we'd defy them despite how, you know, it hurts to stare at the sun anyway.

While never ceasing to remind us not to look at the sun, the teachers almost forgot to tell us how to use the pinhole projectors. Possibly because most of them didn't really know, having never done them before (why would they?). We were all looking at each other's projectors, seeing how the pinholes (made by scissors or pencils, depending on which class you were in) were filtering the light. Some kids really had strayed from the directions and were stuck to roaming the field to look at other projectors. My fifth grader and I had done ours perfectly. For once in my life, I did not make the disaster project! I don't think the fifth grader had much to do with that.

Then, it started. We looked down at the bottom of our pinhole projectors and watched in wonder as the teeny little circle of light on the bottom of the projector slowly began to look like it had a bite taken out of it. Very sloooooooooooooowly. And then, before you noticed, the smaller dark circle was covering up more than half of the sun. And we stood in amazement as... it became not-quite-as-dark as a partly cloudy day. Not quite the afternoon sunset I had dreamt of.

The coolest part was, of course, when the little dark circle was completely in front of the big brighter circle. Total eclipse, bitches! Not really, though. Our teachers told us it was a total eclipse but you could still see a ring of the sun around the moon. When looking at the pinhole projectors, that is. If you even tried to look in the sky, there wasn't much to see. The moon wasn't even visible, if I remember correctly. It was pretty amazing for those few minutes, though. More because the pinhole projector seemed like a magical device than anything else, as we weren't able to look at the sun. I'm sure the film footage of it was amazing, though.
Picture borrowed from a site that was likely made in 1994

As the moon started to move away again, kids started to get antsy and the teachers were trying to get everyone to come back in to get back to class. My fifth grader abandoned me and our pinhole projector baby quickly to re-join her class. I carried it back up to my classroom, where I found my teacher collecting them for recycling, much to my horror. Why did she want to take my magical viewing machine made of cardboard?

She explained that there wasn't much use for a pinhole projector now that the eclipse had come and gone. I gave mine up, along with my fantasy of how dramatic the eclipse would be. And then gave up to let the day become just another day. A day when I made a craft project that wasn't a disaster, at least.

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