Archived Story

Annular eclipse of 1831 was highly anticipated

Published 5:19pm Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Farmer’s Almanac was second only to the Bible with folks in the mountains of the Dark Corner and other Appalachian regions. In its pages was the wisdom of the earth and how it is influenced by heavenly bodies — the sun, the moon, other planets and stars.
The delivery of each new annual edition was eagerly awaited, for its pages presented forecasts of weather patterns, best and worst planting dates according to the “signs” of the Zodiac and expected abnormalities of nature.
The 1831 edition predicted that, on the 12th of February, an annular eclipse of the sun would take place and would be visible over every part of the North American continent, the West Indies and the upper portion of the South American continent. This was the largest predicted area of visibility for such an eclipse in memory.
Annular eclipses of the sun, whereby the diameter of the moon is too small to cover the whole sun and leaves a luminous ring around the moon as it causes darkness in the daytime, are much more rare than total eclipses. The last annular eclipse in the northern hemisphere had occurred on the 9th of December in 1825.
A previous annular eclipse, lasting for 192 minutes, had been visible in this area in 1811. Mountain folk wondered if the new one coming in February would be longer.
The Almanac, as always, warned viewers not to look at the eclipse with the naked eye, since permanent eye damage could result. A piece of glass, which had been held close over the globe of a burning oil lamp or a soot producing fire, was recommended for viewing.
Glass was a rare thing in the mountains of Greenville County in 1831, however. Most viewers used a pin or small nail to make a hole in a cornhusk or other thin material to reflect the image of the eclipsed sun onto another surface.
The 1831 annular eclipse did not disappoint viewers. It lasted for 179 minutes overall. This meant that mountain folk in the Corner had a viewing time of about five minutes from start to finish.

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