August 21st: Total Solar Eclipse of 2017. Also known as “The Great American Eclipse.” (This is all explained later – Don’t worry, I wouldn’t leave you hanging.) I didn’t understand all the hype, but I figured I’d check it out if I had the chance. My expectations were that it’d be pretty cool and then I’d get on with my life.
My reality was that it turned my world upside down and the adrenaline hangover still lingers when I think, “When I can I do it again?!”
Let me stress that my knowledge of outer space is limited; The extent of my understanding of what NASA is currently up to consists of a picture I took driving by Cape Canaveral a few months ago. I’m still confused if Pluto is a planet or not. Simply put, I’m not your typical eclipse-chaser.
What I am, however, is a sunset junkie with proof scattered throughout my camera roll. Maybe that’s why this event hit me so hard? But probably not… From posts I’ve read, anyone who was in the path of totality from Oregon to South Carolina had similar intense emotions. Viewers who couldn’t put in words what they saw reached out across social media. Truthfully, I don’t blame anyone who didn’t see it to think, “so what?”
In an attempt to explain why I switched paths from a semi-believer to the next Eclipse Chaser Wannabe, join me for a tour through my mind and see my very thoughts that day.
But first a full discloser that you can’t fully experience the sight by simply looking at pictures of the event. From what I’ve read, one reason is that while looking at pictures, the corona of the sun can only be as bright as your phone/computer screen. As we can all imagine by the warnings of losing your vision and burning out your retinas, or something like that, your iPhone thankfully cannot provide that luxury. (Next generation of phones, Apple?) So I’ve tried to find pictures online to share what most closely represents my memory of that day.
I can, however, share exactly what I was thinking.
My Thoughts Before, During, and After Totality:
The Morning Of
Here I am, crashing a dude’s trip with my dad, brother, and three male family friends.
I’m the only girl, can’t mess this up.
Just a little mascar– Oops, “Y’all waiting on me to hit the road?”
An hour drive from Myrtle Beach to Georgetown. Not bad.
“Can we stop for a coff–”
Of course they had coffee and donuts while I was getting ready.
Better just sit still and play dead.
What’s so special about a solar eclipse anyways…
Hi old historic Georgetown, you’re a cute little place, aren’t you?!
Good thing we only hit bad traffic a few miles out.
This spot on the lawn looks like a good place to set up.
We’ll be around all these other eclipse watchers.
Sweet, we can hear the DJ from here.
I think he’s playing Here Comes The Sun.
Touché, DJ, nice touch.
And we’re right by the boardwalk for people watching.
I’m loving all the cookouts at the local bars.
And all the boats docked up close to shore.
Time to get ready for the show.
Cooler full of fruit and Gatorade? Check.
Special eclipse glasses for game time? Check.
The Partial Eclipse
It’s just after 1 pm. We have until 2:46 pm to make it to totality.
Right now the sky looks like a typical, everyday scene with the typical, everyday sun.
Let’s check out these glasses…
Hm, darker than I imagined.
There’s the sun, it looks like a small, yellow gumball floating in the sky.
The silhouette of the moon is starting to overlap the sun.
Looks just like I had imagined it would.
Let me try to get a picture with my phone.
Okay, that was lame.
Phone says 2:30 pm on the dot…
16 minutes left.
I’m starting to get into this, so these passing clouds better get to passing.
Are you kidding me? I think I just got F-ing bit in the face by an ant.
This eclipse better be damn good.
Another cloud. I can’t see anything through the glasses.
Wow, that full-grown man over there is getting more excited than those kids. Good for him.
The Final Countdown
Five minutes out, and it’s noticeably colder.
I know we started at 88 degrees when we first got out here.
There are too many people in the area; My service is too faulty to see the temp now.
The last of the clouds is making its way across.
We have a damn good chance of seeing this thing for real.
The area around us is getting darker.
Not pitch-black, but the skyline is now a blueish gray as if dusk engulfed the town’s center.
Did those streetlights just turn on?
That man-child is really starting to get amped up.
That’s him screaming, “Two minutes!!!! Two minutes!!!!”
Can we get him some oxygen?
I don’t know exactly what I’m getting excited about, but my heart is beating a little faster.
I think I’ll lay down on the ground to get a good view.
Wow, now that I look around again, it’s actually pretty dark out.
People are clapping, laughing, and hoo-hawing.
I’m looking at the sky, but I can’t see anything through my glasses.
It’s all black. What are people screaming about?
Okay, what am I looking at..
Let me lower my funny 3D-looking glass— What.
The hair on my skin is standing up.
I can’t look away.
I think I’m tearing up.
Shit, please don’t tear up, you’re with a group of dudes.
You’ve got a minute and a half left, control yourself.
Why isn’t the sky black?
Why is it a beautiful, bright blue, but meanwhile all around us on earth is dark??
There’s a beaming white-yellow ring of light in the middle of the sky.
When I hold my phone up, all it’s capturing is a bright round hole in the sky.
This is not what I expected, I was not prepared for this.
Why didn’t I believe the articles I read?
I laughed when people warned about how intense it would be.
Now I’m here tearing up on the ground.
Woah, that’s an extremely bright light taking over the sky.
How are two minutes up that fast?
With my glasses on, it’s the tiniest sliver of sun reappearing behind the moon.
But with the glasses off, it’s the brightest I have ever seen daylight.
I know I’m not supposed to look at the sky.
I’ll put the glasses back on in a second.
I’ll be fine with just a few seconds, right?
I wonder if Donald Trump is doing the same thing right now.
This is weird. When I look around, it’s like a fast-forward time lapse of night turning to day.
The grass just got brighter, the sky behind us just got lighter.
The people around me are no longer standing shadows.
I’m still hearing the “oos,” “ahhs,” “oh my Gods,” “woahs,” and “wows.”
My dad is standing next to me now, but he’s speechless too.
I guess it’s time to slowly pack out stuff and walk back to the car, in awe.
So why is something so beautiful so rare?
From what I understand now, as we make our way around the sun every year, there are about two times per year that the moon aligns directly on the same axis as the sun and earth. (Only twice because the moon is on a rotating axis of its own.)
If the earth plays the monkey in the middle, we get a LUNAR eclipse where the earth’s shadow covers the path of light to the moon for a few hours. Alternatively, if the moon is in the middle, we get a solar eclipse. And if it’s a TOTAL ECLIPSE, that means the size of the moon (aka the distance from the sun) is just perfect enough to completely block the view of the sun.
A shadow is projected on a certain part on earth and as it moves, it creates a path of the shadow.
Unlike the lunar eclipse, this shadow lasts only minutes. What made the August 21st event even rarer, was that the US was the only country that could see the eclipse, which is the first time in 99 years. Hence, “The Great American Eclipse.” Also, its path spanned the entire length of the country instead of just a small portion. (The 2019 total solar eclipse will be mostly wasted on ocean space, only hitting land in certain parts of Argentina and Chile.)
How intense was this experience for me? Call me crazy, but I compare it to holding a human heart in my hand.
In PA school, I had the extreme privilege to be in OR. Every time I was scrubbed in, I felt so thankful for human life. Most recently, about two weeks before the eclipse, I had the amazing experience of touching a human heart and holding it in my hand shortly after it stopped beating to be sent off for research. I remember standing there and thinking, “This might be the coolest thing I have ever done.” Until the day of the eclipse. It was that amazing. Dramatic? Maybe. But nonetheless, I am so happy I made the trip to Georgetown.
The next total solar eclipse in the US is on April 8, 2024. The path of totality will range from Texas to Maine.
I plan on being somewhere along that path, and I highly recommend you make the trip too. It will be worth it.