The mysteries of the universe

By Karen Zautyk

Okay, I don’t know if this is fake news or not, but while surfing the web the other day, I came across several stories about hospitals treating people who had put sunscreen on their eyeballs in order to “safely” watch last week’s solar eclipse.

Problem: They all cite the same unsourced “report,” which I was unable to access. However, my suspicion is that someone somewhere actually did this.

People, myself included, can be really dumb. A friend — yes, truly a friend —once described me as “book smart, but common-sense stupid.” I was not insulted. He was correct.

In fact, when it comes to science, I have no book smarts at all.  It has never interested me. As a child, I never asked, “Why is the sky blue?” I prefer to think of what I find inexplicable as just magic. And the little bit of science that I do know, I disbelieve.

For example: I have heard scientists describe gravity as a “weak” force. But if gravity were weak, wouldn’t we all have gone flying off the planet long ago?

Somehow, in school I managed to avoid most science courses, which I would have failed anyway. Take E=mc2. Who says so? Einstein? I tried watching the recent TV mini-series about him but gave up because I couldn’t understand a word of his thick German accent. Maybe he really said D=nc2. What would that mean for the universe?

Anyway, what this is all leading up to are my personal experiences during the eclipse. My colleague Kevin Canessa had kindly gotten me a pair of official NASA-issued glasses so I could safely view the phenomenon. My problem was deciding where to view it.

In this part of New Jersey, the eclipse was due to start at 1:22 p.m. and reach its peak (about 75% of the sun blocked; no totality here) by 2:45. Now, I know the sun rises in the west and sets in the east (right?), but where the heck would it be between 1:22 and 2:45? And where could I get a view not blocked by buildings or trees?

At about 1:30, after watching TV coverage from across the country, I decided I couldn’t solve my problem and would go shopping instead. (And maybe there would be an unobstructed view from the Target parking lot.) I walked out my front door, glanced at the sky, and there, in a direct line of sight, was the sun!

I ran back inside, grabbed the NASA shades, and spent the next couple of hours sitting on my front steps, mesmerized.

I believe I actually gasped a few times, so beautiful was the spectacle. And I watched the whole thing, which led to a strange experience when the moon had nearly finished its crossing. Like the Man in the Moon, the freshly-revealed sun seemed to have a face. Or, rather, faces. At first I saw the Gerber baby. Then Elvis. Then Winston Churchill. (I am not making this up. And I am not on drugs.)

One other weird, and scary, thing: As the eclipse reached its maximum, the sun went black. It disappeared completely! But we were not supposed to have totality here! What was happening? Some sort of soar disaster? Or was this eclipse really a nefarious plot by aliens to take our sun before we could realize it was missing?

Then I realized: It was just cloud cover.

Or so I thought.

That night, I got a call from my friend the Jersey Devil, who numbers many alien beings among his buddies. He told me that, yes, a fleet of UFOs had snuck in with the intention of taking the sun. “But then,” he said, “they realized they were over New Jersey and would have to pay sales tax, so they left it alone.”

Karen Zautyk | Observer Correspondent