JEM Professor Releases New Book On Eclipses, Recounts 2023 ‘Ring Of Fire’ Eclipse
School of Journalism and Media Professor Mark Littmann has written a new book with Fred Espenak called “Totality: The Great North American Eclipse of 2024”.
School of Journalism and Media Professor Mark Littmann still recalls his first total eclipse.
The year was 1979 and a total eclipse of the sun would occur on February 26 along a path through the northwestern United States and central Canada. Given the time of year, he knew visibility from the ground was unlikely due to heavy cloud cover at that time of year, so some people wanting to experience a total eclipse were trying to get above the clouds.
Fortunately, he had a friend who chartered two large airline jets to fly public groups above the clouds to guarantee seeing an astronomical wonder.
Even though he was at that time directing a large planetarium and teaching astronomy for the University of Utah, “I had no real idea what to expect,” Littmann said. “It just blew me away. There was a black hole where the Sun should be. The sky was deep, dark blue with twilight colors around the entire horizon—in the middle of the day.”
Following that experience, Littmann looked more deeply into eclipses and through the years he has written a series of books about eclipses for people of all ages—both adults and children— to help them learn more about the science, history, mythology, and folklore of eclipses and to offer step-by-step suggestions for observing them.
His most recent work is Totality: The Great North American Eclipse of 2024 (Fred Espenak, coauthor) which places a special emphasis on helping readers understand the upcoming 2024 total eclipse in the US. The book will be available for sale starting on Oct. 19.
Littmann has also written another book called Eclipse 2024, which is geared towards helping younger readers understand and enjoy eclipses. He has spoken about eclipses to audiences around the country and has led or co-led group expeditions to sites in the United States and foreign countries to witness six total eclipses.
In addition to the six total eclipses Littmann has seen, he has traveled to a handful of partial eclipses including the rare “ring of fire” annular eclipse this past Saturday in Kerrville, Texas.
The 2023 annular solar eclipse was special due to how close it came to being a total eclipse. The moon, as it passed in front of the sun, was a little too far from earth to cover the entire face of the sun, leaving a thin ring of bright sunlight visible—a “ring of fire” solar eclipse.
“For the partial phases, it was a pleasant, gradually intensifying drama,” Littmann said. “As it got very close to being an annular eclipse, it became a different animal altogether. It got noticeably darker and the sky was now a kind of metallic, grey-blue color. You get that only at total or annular eclipses.”
According to NASA, the next annular solar eclipse visible from the US won’t occur until 2039.
As exciting as the most recent annular eclipse was, Littmann says nothing compares to a total eclipse and hopes those who witnessed the 2023 annular eclipse are inspired to seek out viewing a total eclipse one day.
Luckily, they do not have to wait long. The next total eclipse is scheduled to cross the US on April 8, 2024.
Littmann plans to return to Kerrville to observe totality and speak to different local groups about the science and cultural significance behind this astronomical phenomenon. He strongly recommends others to make plans to witness the event if they can.
“It looks like there’s a black hole in the sky,” Littmann said. “As if now suddenly you can see through the sky to the infinite beyond. It’s quite phenomenal.”