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Solar power

GAYS MILLS - By the time you read this, the solar eclipse of 2017 will have come and gone. I hope you got a good, cautious, in-person look at this rare astronomical occurrence.  Pre-eclipse, it looked like a stormy forecast which was a big letdown to serious eclipse watchers. There will be scads of pictures and videos that will record the event for posterity in case you missed it.  

One surprising and little known fact about this phenomenom is that there is a total solar eclipse somewhere on Earth about every 18 months.   Many of those eclipses (eclipsi?) happen over water and are seen by very few people.  The next one in the U.S. will happen in 2024, however it won’t be as close to the Driftless as this one.

The event certainly focused our attention on the sun and the sun is something that is easily taken for granted.  Maybe now there will be a boost in the interest in using solar power to generate electricity, although that has already come a long way in recent years. While we aren’t as good a place for solar as the southwest, solar power still offers a lot of potential here. One great idea you may have heard about is the community solar farms that you can buy into; Vernon Electric Co-op has one such farm at their headquarters in Westby. It was the first one in the state. Richland Electric Co-op also has a solar farm near Hillsboro.  

Thinking about the immense power of the sun, who among us hasn’t witnessed this up close and personal? I’m thinking of getting good and (or badly) sunburned back before we learned about over exposure to harmful sun’s rays. I’m thinking of every kid learning how to burn a hole in a piece of paper using a magnifying glass on a sunny summer day. And that brings me to a spooky, potentially tragic story about the power of the sun.

This happened to a friend of mine. He was watching his young children in his new home. He smelled something hot and proceeded to check all the usual suspects.  Was the stove left on? Did the coffee pot run dry? Was a furnace fan overheating? No, no, and no. Everything was copacetic. Yet the smell persisted. Upon a closer and sort of frantic search, he went into a bathroom off the master bedroom. There he discovered the problem. There was a portable mirror sitting on the counter next to the sink. It was sitting in such a way, such an unlikely way, that it directed a focused beam of sunlight onto the bathroom door, which was solid oak. And part of that door was smoking hot. When he discovered the problem, the sun had, indirectly, burned a half-inch wide, foot long strip into the door about three feet up from the floor. It looked like it had been vandalized by someone with a woodburner. Remember those? The problem was quickly solved and curtains were soon installed.

If, if, if.   If the door had been a cheaper, lighter grade it could have caught on fire. If the sun hadn’t kept moving, or wait, if the Earth hadn’t kept revolving, changing the angle of the beam, the house could have burned down. If my friend hadn’t been home and alert, things could have gotten out of control.

This would have been quite a mysterious fire for an insurance adjuster and fire marshal to solve.