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Astronaut says solar eclipse offers rare glimpse into ‘cosmic dance’ seen from space

A retired NASA astronaut from Yonkers is preparing New Yorkers for the April 8 solar eclipse — saying it will give a rare earthbound glimpse into a “cosmic dance” usually only seen from space.

Ron Garan, who has logged 71 million miles in space and orbited the planet more than 2,800 times during two missions to the International Space Station, is doing his part to get Earth dwellers excited about the rare astronomical event by giving presentations at the Hudson River Museum in his hometown this weekend.

“It’s basically about perspective and trying to zoom out to see the bigger picture of things,” Garan said about the growing hype surrounding the upcoming event that will be seen in totality from the north and western parts of the state.

Delicate streamers in the sun’s corona surround the totally eclipsed sun during the Aug. 21, 2017, total solar eclipse. Observers along a narrow track from Mexico to Maine should have a similar view on April 8, 2024. Johnny Horne for The Fayetteville Observer/USA TODAY Network / USA TODAY NETWORK
Delicate streamers in the sun’s corona surround the totally eclipsed sun during the Aug. 21, 2017, total solar eclipse. Observers along a narrow track from Mexico to Maine should have a similar view on April 8, 2024. Johnny Horne for The Fayetteville Observer/USA TODAY Network / USA TODAY NETWORK

“There’s this term that was coined back in the 80s called the Overview Effect [by Harvard professor Frank White,]” the the 62-year-old Boulder, Colorado, resident said.

“He documented a shift in awareness that some astronauts have when they see the planet from in space. There’s this big shift when you’re aware of the unity and the cosmic dance that we’re all part of, and it’s a very profound shift, right?

“But when astronomical events like eclipses occur, it’s an opportunity for all of us here on the ground to have that same type of shift in perspective.”

Garan, who will observe the total eclipse at a viewing event near Austin, Texas, stressed the importance of donning protective eyewear during the eclipse, which will last for several hours surrounding almost four minutes of darkness in the zone of totality — a narrow band of about 100 miles that will stretch from Mexico to Maine and beyond.

Most of these people have the right idea — make sure you use specialized protective eyewear to view the eclipse. Saul Young / Knoxville News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK / USA TODAY NETWORK
Most of these people have the right idea — make sure you use specialized protective eyewear to view the eclipse. Saul Young / Knoxville News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK / USA TODAY NETWORK

“When we look up at the sun now, we’re looking against a blue sky, right? But when we look at it from space, we’re looking at it against a black sky, so we’re seeing our sun as a star, as it really is,” Garan said.

Ronald Garan has logged more than 71 million miles in <br>space during two missions to the International Space Station.
Ronald Garan has logged more than 71 million miles in
space during two missions to the International Space Station.

“And you shouldn’t look at the Sun. The sunlight is much brighter there. And so, you shouldn’t look at the Sun for any extended amount of time on Earth, ah, or space, but, you really need to be careful in space,” he added, noting that space suits have reflective visors for that purpose.

“In an eclipse, you don’t want to look at the Sun at all, because it’s very very dangerous [without protective eyewear].”

A total solar eclipse won’t be visible from New York again until 2079, when the zone of totality will include the five boroughs.

The astronaut said he hoped the rareness of the event will encourage people to enjoy the “shift in perspective” that comes with appreciating routine astronomical wonders.

“The reason why the eclipse in particular is so compelling is because it’s so rare,” said the spaceman.

“But everyday, or actually twice a day, we can experience a sunrise or a sunset, and so that’s an equally compelling astronomical event that shows the cosmic dance and our place in the universe, and all that, which should have an equally powerful effect on us.

“We’ve been conditioned throughout our lives to take these miraculous things for granted, and we’re lucky if we notice.”