Why is a solar eclipse special?

I recall the eclipse in 1973.  As a kid, I made some kind of cardboard box, so I could view the sun through a little squinting hole.  The entire event was a big disappointment, even given the fact that, at the time, I had hardly seen anything before.  I hadn’t even been to Philadelphia.

I’ve seen it get dark before.  So is it special because we wonder how the others will react?  If traffic will freeze up and wild animals will burrow into the sleep holes for the night?  Or do we care simply because it is rare and publicly observable?  (NB: It is the 3 billionth total solar eclipse.)  Because it upends something about our sense of the world and its underlying orderliness?  Because we somehow find the crossing of the heavenly bodies intrinsically aesthetic?

Because we can see it?  No one much seems to care when various planets line up in what are supposed to be astrologically meaningful ways.  Or maybe because the event is dangerous and capable of damaging our eyes.

Or is it like a football game, namely that you go someplace to watch it and drink a lot of beer?  Would it be a lesser public event if everyone could see it perfectly from their back yard?  Few people get to see it from a plane.

I expect to be underwhelmed.


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