That Ghostly Light

Yesterday’s partial solar eclipse might not have been spectacular to look at, but it was certainly noticed.

Coverage of the sun for Wellingtonians was just under half, I understand. But arriving home under clear skies at 5:30 p.m. was just a little eerie.

The most obvious effect was the baffling gloom inside the house, as if curtains were pulled on a full sunny day. Not quite as dim, but enough to alert someone familiar with the house to an unusual situation.

By about 5:40 p.m. the cicadas knew that something was not right. They put down their chainsaws and it became rather quiet. The absence of wind increased the eerieness.

Birds are known to tuck their heads under their wings and nod off during total solar eclipses (the lazy lumps never miss an opportunity for a kip), but the reduction in light levels last evening was probably insufficient to send them off to bed. Even so, there were none in the garden between 5:30 and 6 p.m.

Between 5:40 and 5:45 the backyard had taken on that ghostly light peculiar to eclipses. It isn’t the reduced light level caused by clouds because there is generally more scattered light at such times. The light still has the richness of direct sunlight but from a star that has suddenly been moved to a greater distance so that it is weaker. It is a cooler, ghostly light that certainly feels wrong. I would call it lacklustre because it lacks the cheeriness that we expect from full sunlight.

Imagine how the ancients, who were closer to nature than we are today, would have reacted. There was no radio or tele to alert them to the fact that a partial solar eclipse was taking place. And no astronomers with computers to calculate the timing of such events.

For them, if they had been in Wellington, it would have been a time of stillness and ghostly light that portended something. An earthquake, perhaps. A plague of locusts. The arrival of a political candidate canvassing votes. The delivery of the rates bill. Golly. Time to head indoors and hide under the bed.

One Response to “That Ghostly Light”

  1. Chris M says:

    I can add that the many small rust holes in the awning of Tawa railway station made a fine array of pinhole cameras, projecting many suns being chomped away at as I departed the train bound for the supermarket.

    Cheers, Chris.

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