Remember the total solar eclipse that happened in August 2017? It's proof that great ideas can come from weird places.

When I first heard about the eclipse, I got excited. Reports said that we wouldn't experience full totality in the part of North Carolina where I lived at that time, but it'd be close. Unfortunately, I couldn't get my hands on any eclipse glasses, but I did make a pinhole camera out of a cereal box. I was looking forward to seeing the sky get dark and feeling the temperature drop in the middle of the day.

Two small things went wrong.

  1. The eclipse covered only 93.4 percent of the sun in my area, so none of the really cool effects happened there. Who knew 5.6 percent would literally be the difference between night and day? All the forecasts I read were apparently describing the effects only in the area of full totality.

  2. The clouds laughed and said, "We'll show you a 'solar eclipse'!"

Yep. A once-in-a-lifetime event, and the clouds got in the way!

The sun peeked through for maybe two minutes out of the entire three-ish hours the eclipse was visible in my area. The overall level of light never looked different from an ordinary cloudy day. I spent about fifteen minutes outside with my pinhole camera trying to get a good look. I probably looked quite ridiculous limping around (I was in a walking boot at the time) with my eye in the box as I turned it, my head, and my body to all sorts of angles trying to get the sun to project through the camera. I got one or two good looks.

Curse you, Perry the Platypus . . . I mean . . . Claude the Cloud?

This #naturefail reminded me of a classic adventure trope. An explorer or time traveler gets into serious trouble with less-than-scientifically-literate locals, learns about a soon-to-occur eclipse, and uses it to scare the locals into doing what the explorer/time traveler wants. Of course, over the years people have pointed out various problems with this device. An eclipse doesn't happen all at once, it takes a lot longer in real life than it usually does in stories, etc. But I don't think I've ever heard of a fictional character running into either of the eclipse problems that I had. 

So let's make today a Writing Prompt Wednesday:

An explorer/time traveler tries the classic scare-the-locals-with-an-eclipse trick, only to discover that (a) the eclipse isn't total, (b) clouds make it almost or completely impossible to see the eclipse, or (c) both. What do they do now?

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Write on,


(Thanks to Jonathan Smith for sharing their work on Unsplash.)