Thursday, August 24, 2017

MY Total Eclipse of 2017

NASA/MSFC/Joseph Matus
   After months of pre-planning and a few last minute destination changes as the weather in some areas became  “iffy” at best, I eventually wound up in Glendo, Wyoming for an ideal viewing area.  "Ideal" for me was somewhere in the direct path of the eclipse that I could also stay overnight in my small van-sized RV the night before. I also avoided the historic traffic jams that followed later that night and the morning of August 21st.

   As mid-day approached and everyones’ cardboard viewing glasses appeared in hand, I was a solitary viewer in a cleared field populated by many other RV’s and tents.  I, along with many others, stood a half mile or so away from the larger concentration of other campers and day viewers lakeside along the large Glendo, WY reservoir.  The town of 205 swelled to an estimated crowd of 300,000 — all of whom united as one happy family to see what they could see. With well over two minutes of totality the only criteria was looking UP, so everyone had a front seat position.

   For me, Totality meant more than just full coverage of the sun by the moon. Totality included the entire on-site experience complete with my whole world going dark, temperature and wind dropping 20 degrees, a full 360 degree beautiful sunset along the entire horizon surrounding me, the appearance of a couple of planets and stars at mid-day, and the shared oohs and ahhhs and sporadic emotional outbursts of cheers and applause as each component of totality unfolded.

   The initial partial coverage included several minutes of a sunny day seemingly unaffected by the moons’ slow passage across the sun, beginning with a small bite which then grew to quarter, then one-half and then three-quarter crescent until only a small but bright sliver of light remained. Even at this point daylight, though dimmed slightly as if an overcast day, still ruled everything in sight.

   Then, with a bright instantaneous flash at about 7 or 8 o’clock position on the sun’s circumference, the sun was blotted out by the moon -- creating a black color I’d never seen before  -- just barely corralled by a bright corona of blazingly silver light with varying glowing streaks of linear solar plasma reaching out thousands, if not millions of miles into space. I noticed about a minute into full coverage, as I strained to adjust my aging eyes to better focus on the suns’ corona and watching for a prominence or two, that I started to see multiple images.  This, the sight I had driven over 1,000 miles to see unobstructed was now being slightly refracted by the beginnings of a tear welling up in each of my eyes.  A quick swipe across each with the upper sleeve on my polo shirt and I was back in business.

   I was surprised by the lack of colors, as I was expecting to see bright yellows along with the white light of the sun. Yet here and there along the outer edge, I noticed slight splashes of reddish orange as if the edge of the sun was bubbling.  This, I learned later, were prominences of solar plasma exploding out away from the sun, only to collapse downward again.

   Just an instant before the moon began to release the sun and return daylight to us all, a short ripple of light appeared at the suns’ 2 or 3 o’clock positioned revealing what has long been called “Baileys Beads” as a smattering of sunlight spilled through mountain ranges and canyons on the edge of the moon. Then a bright flash in the same area -- creating what's referred to as the “Diamond Ring” effect -- signaled the end of totality and a quick return to the safety glasses as the moon crept slowly across and away.

   Visually the experience far surpassed any of the professional and scientific images that I’ve seen since the event. There’s something they always miss compared to when the image gathered by the human eye works in harmony with the human heart and imagination.  I get goose bumps just typing this or explaining it, something I learned is shared by most who have experienced totality in person.

   Another total eclipse crosses several US states in 2024.  Whatever it takes, be there!