Many of us have looked forward to this eclipse opportunity for years. I’ve been telling my students about it for a long time. I will now share my experiences during the 2017 eclipse while I am still in post-eclipse euphoria. I must say that, though I have been teaching about total solar eclipses for decades, it is a completely different thing to actually observe one.
I viewed the eclipse from the home of my colleague, Dr. Patterson. We were fortunate to have clear skies. We day started with some gentle rain, but the clouds moved away about an hour before totality. By that time, many friends and colleagues had joined the party. I brought my solar binoculars to the party, but I let one of the girls use them. Rather than looking at the Sun while totality was approaching, I was observing the increasing darkness. In addition, I was double-checking the settings on my camera, hoping get some decent photos. I automated as much as I could because I didn’t want to spend time messing with the camera during totality.
As totality approached, it started getting noticeably darker. Except for the short shadows, the surroundings began to appear a bit like they do during short winter days when the Sun is lower in the southern sky. During the last minutes before totality, when it started to resemble nighttime, I found it a bit disorienting. This was truly strange environment. Though I knew exactly what was going on, I still wrestled with nervousness! I could now understand how this must have terrified people who didn’t understand what solar eclipses were about.
During totality, when it was safe for me to finally look up at the Sun, I was in awe! My nervousness was replaced by curiosity and an excitement like I haven’t felt for a long time. Glancing near the horizon, it looked like sunset all around. Venus was clearly visible. The eclipse itself was breathtaking. I knew that no single image could truly capture the incredible sight that was above me.
I didn’t trust my timer, so I was nervously pushing a remote button on my camera, snapping photo after photo, stopping only when I had to wait for data to load onto the SD card. I did something called bracketing. I set my camera to cycle through different exposure times so that some photos would capture dimmer light from the Sun’s corona while other photos would capture the brighter features, such as solar prominences and the “diamond ring”. Below are some photos I took just before, during and after totality.
At the end of 2-minutes and 10-seconds, the Sun started peeking out from behind the Moon. Someone yelled, “Diamond ring!” Totality was now over. It seemed like the fasted two minutes ever! Many at the party voiced that same opinion. My only regret was that my family was not there to experience it with me. Because of the weather forecast, my sons had made responsible decisions to go to school that day. My wife had to work, but at least she and her coworkers did get outside to see the partial eclipse.
Seeing a total solar eclipse was an experience that I will never forget. Going back into the classroom, I now have my original photos and, more importantly, personal experience to pass along to students. I will also emphasize that no amount of description or analysis takes the place of actually experiencing one. I will therefore be urging them to see at least one before they die. Now, we look forward to April 2024!