Two Minutes of Totality: My First Total Solar Eclipse
August 21st, 2017. Total Solar Eclipse. Also known as “The Great American Eclipse.”
I didn’t understand all the hype but figured I’d check it out. My expectations were that it’d be pretty cool and then I’d get on with my life.
In reality, the event put my world on pause 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 embarrassingly limited. The extent of my understanding of what NASA is up to consists of a picture I took of “some rocket” driving by Cape Canaveral a few months ago. I’m still confused if Pluto is a planet or not. I would be the last person Elon Musk would send to Mars. Simply put, I’m not your typical eclipse-chaser.
I’m certainly a sunset junkie (proof scattered throughout my camera roll) so maybe that’s why this event hit me hard? Maybe, maybe 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 very thoughts that day.
It’s a different style of writing, and I’m not totally [pun intended, nerd alert] sure why I’ve compiled it like this, but here it goes.
First, a full discloser that you cannot fully experience the sight by simply looking at pictures of the event. From what I’ve read, one reason is that in 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 phone thankfully doesn’t provide that luxury. (Next generation of phones, Apple?) Therefore, I’ve tried to find pictures online to share what most closely represents my memory of that day. But I CAN 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 family friends.
I’m the only girl, but how hard could it be to mess up a bros trip?! I’ve got this.
Just a little mascar—– Oops, “Y’all waiting on me to hit the road?”
An hour drive from Myrtle Beach to Georgetown. Not bad.
“Hey can we stop for a coff—-”
Of course, they had coffee and donuts while I was getting ready.
I’m 0 for 2.
Better just sit still and play dead.
What’s so special about a solar eclipse anyways……
Well isn’t old historic Georgetown a cute little place.
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 1:00 pm; Totality is set to take place at 2:46 pm.
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 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 just got bit in the face by a freaking ant (true story). This eclipse better be damn good.
Another cloud. I can’t see anything through the glasses.
Well now, that full-grown man over there is getting more excited than the kids next to him. Good for him.
The Final Countdown
Five minutes out, and it’s noticeably colder.
We started at 88 degrees when we first got out here.
But with so 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 good chance of seeing this thing for real.
The atmosphere around us is getting darker.
It’s not pitch-black, but the skyline is now a blueish gray as if dusk has 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 should 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. In. The.
Instant goosebumps. 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, get it together.
Why isn’t the sky black?
Why is it a beautiful bright blue??
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, it’s only capturing a bright round hole in the sky.
This is not what I expected.
I didn’t believe the articles I read. I laughed when people warned about how intense it would be.
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?
It’s my bare eyes versus the power of the universe.
I wonder if Donald Trump is doing the same thing right now.
This is incredible: When I look around, it’s like a fast-forward time lapse of night turning back into 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,” and “wows.”
My dad is standing next to me now, but he’s speechless too.
I guess it’s time to slowly pack our stuff and walk back to the car, all six of us 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, the shadow at any given point of the solar eclipse’s path 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.)
So just 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, we had rotations in surgery, and I LOVED being in the operating room. 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.