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Why are total eclipses so rare? A viewer needs to perch where the Sun, new Moon and Earth are in a straight line.

Wife Gosia and I are bummed that we latter-day Alaskans won’t be in geographical position to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse. Nonetheless, I spent a happy Monday researching fun facts about eclipses to share with News-Gazette readers.

Who was first to predict an eclipse of the sun? The Greek astronomer Thales of Miletus (620-546 B.C.E.), according to Diogenes.

Captain James Cook, according to legend, stunned the natives of Tongatapu, Tonga, by announcing the July 1, 1877, eclipse in advance. But in his notes, Cook complained that his own eclipse view disappointed him because he lacked a proper dark viewing glass.

Some indigenous peoples like the Navaho regard an eclipse with spiritual reverence and are urged by their elders to fast without taking food or water.

The Puritans of Massachusetts regarded eclipses as grim harbingers of future crop failure or the imminent death of a colony leader. They took a dim view of rainbows, too.

Citizens of England expressed unfounded fears regarding eclipses. A published pamphlet then was “The Black Day, or a Prospect of Doomsday, Exemplified in the Great and Terrible Eclipse Which will Happen on the 22nd of April, 1715.” Battling such nonsense was Sir Edmund Halley who predicted the day, hour and minute of the 1715 eclipse. (He proved off by about four minutes).

Astronomer Francis Baily (1774-1844) observed striking beads of sunlight during a solar glimpse. The beads hence became known as “Baily’s Beads” in his honor. Look for them.

The eclipse of June 16, 1806, is forever known as Tecumseh’s Eclipse, because his brother Tenkswatawa, The Prophet, predicted the eclipse 50 days in advance and milked it as a sign from the Great Spirit.

A dumb joke circulating in 1880 newspapers was that seven eclipses occurred that year: four of the sun, two of the moon and one of the Democratic Party.

Astronomers at the time of the celebrated New Year’s Day, 1889, applauded advances in photography that enabled “solar physicists” to use exposed plates to capture the corona and to record, as well, spectroscopic observations. Newspapers that year said residents of certain areas of Indiana were able to enjoy the moon blocking out the sun for about five minutes.

One of the most celebrated discoveries regarding the sun’s spectrum was in 1868, when French astronomer Pierre-Jules-Cesar Janssen discovered helium in the form of a yellow line.

Mark Twain’s time travel novel “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” has a time traveler named Hank Morgan avoid a burning at the stake by pretending to be a magician who can create an eclipse.

Experts recommend that viewers wear solar viewing glasses (certified ISO 12312-2). Sunglasses won’t cut the mustard. The reported blindness of 18-year-old Verna Miller was blamed on her looking at a 1925 eclipse without using eye protection.

“Doctors assert that it is doubtful if she will ever see again,” the local paper reported.

A Pennsylvania editor in 1932 reported a practical jokester making smoked binoculars out of two full beer bottles and keeping his fingers on the opening during the eclipse. When a bystander demanded a look-see, the trickster reluctantly handed over the prop, howling with glee as his victim experienced an unexpected shower.

Just prior to the Dec. 18, 1945, total eclipse, Emsley W. Johnson, president of the Indiana Astronomical Society, told readers of the Union City Times-Gazette that if skies were clear the moon would resemble a bright red Christmas ornament. That 1945 eclipse was the only one between 1932 and 1954.

Turn around. Who sang a tune about a “total eclipse of the heart?” Answer: Meatloaf and Bonnie Tyler.

The record for viewing the most solar eclipses was the late Williams College professor Jay M. Pasachoff. He claimed 74 sightings and referred to eclipse fans as “umbraphiles.” His passion for studying the “pearly light” corona and the umbra — moon’s shadow — made him a legend even among astronomers.

Enjoy the eclipse. We Fairbanks folks enjoy prime aurora borealis viewing many nights of the year.