“There is no science in this world like physics. Nothing comes close to the precision with which physics enables you to understand the world around you. It’s the laws of physics that allow us to say exactly what time the sun is going to rise. What time the eclipse is going to begin. What time the eclipse is going to end.”
– Neil deGrasse Tyson
For a few precious hours Monday as the solar eclipse moved from sea to shining sea across America, the political divisions and acrimony dividing American evaporated, replaced by the wonder and awe of our world, its sun and the moon.
While Paris didn’t get much of a show thanks to a severe thunderstorm, most of us ran to our computers, cellphones or televisions to watch NASA or PBS coverage of the event.
This is science we all believe in, that we can all see. The time, date and location had been pinpointed for decades, and the eclipse came just as it was supposed to, starting off the coast of Oregon at its appointed time, moving east across the country over the next four hours, ending off the coast of South Carolina.
With all the challenges facing the country — internally and abroad — the eclipse frenzy is a reminder we still are capable of putting aside all that is man-made to marvel at something beyond our grasp.
But the bonding experience happened. For a few hours, Americans were all children gawking at a sight we rarely see — and we did it without fighting over the glasses or pushing to get to the front of the line. No one was questioning what they had seen, no one was doubting that, indeed, the moon blocked the sun for a short period of time.
It is not that long ago the nation did look up to the stars and the moon and hunger for exploration. While there is still talk of returning to the moon and traveling to other planets, there is no national mandate to do so. It was Cold War politics that put the United States into a race with the Soviet Union to get to the moon first. But it also was more than that. It was a still a time for explorers.
We are not living in an age of explorers anymore. Increasingly, Americans are looking backward toward a nation that never was in reality what it has become in lore. Our national leaders have become too consumed with the art of politics to see the wonder of the universe above them.
Let’s remember the experience of the Great American Eclipse as we go back to debating climate change, health care, Russia and North Korea and Afghanistan.
It’s time to move forward.