The total eclipse postage stamp!

In June the US Postal Service will release a commemorative stamp to celebrate TSE2017, and it will be a big, big first: a stamp that changes when you touch it.

The heat of your finger will react with the stamp’s thermochromic ink to reveal an image of the full moon over a solar corona. It will revert back to a totally-eclipsed sun when it cools.

The “Total Solar Eclipse Forever” stamp will be made available on June 20, 2017 after its First-Day-of-Issue ceremony at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. (Am I the only Oregonian disappointed that it’s not taking place in Madras?) Apparently there’s some kind of druid sculpture there that manifests its magical properties on that day, the summer solstice.

The image on the new stamp was selected from among Fred “Mr. Eclipse” Espenak’s fine collection of totality photographs, that was shot during the eclipse over Egypt/Libya in 2006.

On the back (each pane of 20) will be the path of totality on August 21, featuring the largest cities and towns in the shadow.

Learn more (and watch for preorder information) at the USPS website.

(Fellow philatelic umbraphiles, spread the word! Uncle Sam says use hashtag #EclipseStamps.)



Inti Jiwaña

Fast forward three years, three months, and 23 days, when I join an Astronomical League tour through Spears Travel to Bolivia, “the last authentic country”. All the usual suspects were stampeding to South America, including groups with Travel Bug, Sky & Telescope, and Scientific Expeditions.

On October 27, 1994 I flew from Miami on an overnight flight to La Paz next to a cranky gentleman in a grey suit who was irritated about what he perceived to be the abundance of “students” on the flight who were discussing, loudly, degrees above horizon, rock collecting, and whether or not they remembered to bring duct tape. Seated throughout the plane were others of my kind: amateur astronomers. I spotted them immediately in the terminal without a field guide, and some were aggressively On The Spectrum. (I boldly introduced myself to a couple—“pleased to meet you, I’m Rhonda from Oregon,” said I. The woman glowered and replied, “how do you KNOW you’re pleased to meet us? You haven’t met us yet.” This is going to be a long vacation.)

“Intijiwaña”—the Bolivian slogan for the TSE of 1994—means “Death of the Sun”, and reflects the myth imagery and extreme behavior of the average pre-Colombian Andean (who also enjoyed savage games involving decapitation). It was a puma spirit that was once believed to cause all the trouble by swallowing the sun, who must be chased away by screaming children brandishing sticks and beating other animals. (Like a dog who is reinforced to bark at the mailman because the mailman always leaves after a couple of minutes, the Andeans learned that this technique is 100% successful.) In some areas the eclipsing sun was thought to be languishing near death, and native peoples lit wildfires to warm the Earth while the sun was on sick leave. CALM DOWN Bolivia.

Above: Death of the Sun


Path of totality, 1994

Ancient Bolivian eclipse causes widespread panic

Eclipse t-shirt quilt!

Eclipse quilt front

If you’re an eclipse chaser, you probably have a t-shirt commemorating each one. They pile up, don’t they? I’ve only been to six totalities but decided it was time to have my tees made into a quilt.

Yes, this is a thing. Any repetitive behavior that generates t-shirts—marathon running, attending the Sturgis rally, visiting Hard Rock Cafes—can be commemorated with a quilt made from the associated shirts you never wear but can’t bear to part with.

HOW AWESOME DID THIS TURN OUT? I was planning to sew it myself, but realized after I cut the shirts into squares that I had neither the skills nor the tools to proceed. Enter Master Quilt Maker Diane Ottenfeld of Bend, Oregon—a lovely local lady whose number I got from the fancy quilt shop in town.

Diane specializes in creating custom t-shirt (and necktie) quilts, and quilt completion and repair. She finished the quilt I started and worked with me to select the background fabric to tie it all together: blue—for the sky and sea—and yellow for Sol.

Eclipse quilt back

For the back she used a fabric souvenir banner I found in a village market in Madagascar in 2001. And look how the stitching on the Egypt square is a flaming sun.

Here’s her contact information. You’re welcome!

Diane Ottenfeld