Stunning Sight Commemorated in Unique Stamp

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Arts / Aug. 10, 2017 11:34am EDT

By Bob Eddy


Celebrating this August’s solar event, the U.S. Postal Service’s “Total Eclipse of the Sun” block bears 16 Forever stamps with images of a total eclipse. Printed with photochromic inks, the jet-black images of the moon are transformed to illuminated moon-scapes by the warmth of a finger’s touch. (Herald / Bob Eddy) Celebrating this August’s solar event, the U.S. Postal Service’s “Total Eclipse of the Sun” block bears 16 Forever stamps with images of a total eclipse. Printed with photochromic inks, the jet-black images of the moon are transformed to illuminated moon-scapes by the warmth of a finger’s touch. (Herald / Bob Eddy) On August 21, a total solar eclipse will track across the United States from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. Those fortunate to be in the 60 to 70 mile-wide umbral path of total eclipse may experience perhaps the most spectacular astronomical event visible to the naked eye.

Here in Vermont, far outside the path of totality, in the shadow of the penumbra, we will see only a very slight dimming, as a portion of the moon slides in front of the sun, only partially blocking its intense rays.

Nightfall and Daybreak

Those directly in the path, howevtotal er, will pass from the bright light of mid-day into the utter darkness of a moonless night in just a few minutes’ time. As darkness descends, all of nature will prepare for the coming of deep night.

Crickets will chirrup, bats will fly from their dens, perhaps a wolf will howl, fish will rise from deep pools in search of food, the hooting of an owl may break the uncanny silence.

Stars will emerge in the night sky, the air becoming noticeably cooler. And there, in the midst of it all, the jet black disc of the moon will cover the brightness of the day, revealing tendrils of the sun’s cornea, streaming out into the vast canopy of our Milky Way and galaxies beyond.

In the space of a few minutes, deep night surrounds us. It is a thrilling experience.

Then, following just two minutes and a bit more, morning will come, the sun rising not from the eastern edge of earth, but from the horizon of the moon high above. Uncannily dawn will break, bringing with it the subtle events of a new day; birdsong, the stirring of breezes, soft warmth on the skin.

A total solar eclipse is somewhat rare. The last one to cross the U.S. from coast to coast was in 1918. If you were born in 1980, and live for a century, there will be 43 more, worldwide, in your lifetime. One of those will be completely over water. Only one will touch Vermont, and then just the northernmost portion. Mark your calendars for April 8, 2024. What a wonderful day that will be! Or will it? The eclipse will happen, but viewing is dependent upon good weather. Our chances are perhaps a bit better than 50/50!

In Print

Only 10 total solar eclipses have passed over part of the contiguous 48 states in the last century. There are eight to come in the next 100 years. Including this August, only three in this 200 year period will pass from coast to coast.

To mark this extraordinary astronomical event, the United States Postal Service has issued a stamp unlike any other in it’s history.

The stamp, published 16 to a block, bears the inscription “Total Solar Eclipse.” The image is of a solar eclipse, the black moon completely covering the sun, with feathery flaring of the sun’s cornea extending out to the jet-black stamp border.

The stamp’s unique properties are disclosed when a finger is pressed onto the darkened shadow in front of the sun. The heat from the touch reveals the fully illumined features of the moon’s surface. As the stamp cools, the shadows deepen until the moon returns to complete blackness.

This startling effect is achieved through the use of thermochromic inks, used here for the first time in the history of the U.S. Postal Service.

On the back of the block is printed the map of our August 21 solar eclipse path. The total eclipse will happen above less than a tenth of the U.S. population. Cloud cover will prevent many of these from experiencing the event.

Thanks to the designers at the U.S. Postal Service, however, we can all celebrate this extraordinary moment in time, even if we can’t see it.

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