Almost every person in the world has seen a picture of the Grand Canyon. Pictures do not do it justice. If you have never been to the Grand Canyon, and you walk up to the rim, it takes your breath away. The Grand Canyon is much larger, much more awesome, than anyone could possibly imagine and expect.
So it is with a total solar eclipse. Yesterday I experienced my first one. I have seen countless photographs, by amateurs, and by NASA professionals. I had first-hand reports from my friend and eclipse chaser M.B., and I knew intellectually what to expect.
Being there and having it happen was like the Grand Canyon to the power of three. It was the most awe-inspiring natural event I have ever experienced (the births of my children excluded).
Trisha and I went to the small town of Idaho Falls, a community of 56,000 people in the southeastern plains of Idaho. We went down to the banks of the Snake River, where there are falls and the river rushes. The area is a manicured park, with lots of grass, trees, benches, pathways, all right downtown. There were probably a thousand people there in the area, but it was not crowded at all.
We arrived shortly after “first contact” when the moon’s disk had just started to obscure the edge of the sun. You can’t see it, unless you have special eclipse glasses, but we had those, so we could easily monitor the progress. People set up their cameras, frolicked in the park, and slowly the anticipation built.
It started getting interesting in the last 20 minutes. While it was hot under the sun at 11:00am, it rapidly started getting cooler. The sun became a sliver, but it was still way too bright to see without the glasses. Then the light changed to an eerie blue and silver tint, somewhat like dusk, but different altogether. Shadows didn’t look right. It got chilly.
In the last three minutes things started happening fast. It was cold. It was dusk. The stars overhead became visible. The city streetlights came on.
And then, from one moment to the next, it was dark. We could look up and the sun was gone. With bare eyes we saw a dark black disk were the sun was, and a bright corona all around it. The sky was dark. The stars were out. Only a light ring around the entire horizon lit up the world. And the temperature dropped significantly. I shivered. It was outright cold in the middle of summer at noon.
I took a picture or two of the moon/sun/corona with my iPhone, but what came out was insignificant. The eclipse looks huge in the sky with bare eyes, but pictures are disappointing.
I took a panoramic video. At the end you can see Trisha waving at me. You can see her face lit up from the dusky glow of the horizon only. That’s how dark it was.
All round us people were cheering and howling, and so was I. Unable to stop the emotional outbursts, I found that a big portion of the experience is sharing it with the crowds around me. Everyone there, young and old, was unable to contain their emotions. The rawness of the experience, the depth, came through.
And then, just a couple of minutes later, a pearl of light shot out and the brightness of the sun was back. We had to use the glasses again. Within a minute, it started getting warmer, the eerie shadows came back for a while – and then, quickly, my normal world returned.
But I was a different person. I had seen an eclipse. It was too short. I wanted another one. How dare they be so rare!
The next eclipse in the U.S. will be on April 8, 2024, and I will be there. There is no way I will miss that. It will arch up from Texas to Maine, and Chautauqua, one of my favorite places in New York, will be right in the path. And I will be there.
Then, the next coast to coast eclipse will be in 2045. I will be 89 years old. I will be there too.
I have seen a total eclipse, and things are different now.
6 thoughts on “My World Has Changed – I Have Seen a Total Solar Eclipse”
I too was changed. It was a combination of being ready to feel this shift, the fact that I saw my first eclipse as a school girl, science focused. And again this week as a grown woman, history focused. The alignment, of stars, of community, helped me bring forward my yoga practice and my humility at looking in awe at a scene seen by so many, in ancient times, in modern times, and not understood through the lens of science but instead, likely attributed to the Gods…and as a warning, I don’t know. But i am amazed we can predict this return, and poof! it happens. I’m grateful to those who do this work..thank you Nasa, sciences of all kinds, and students: may we never stop learning from our surroundings. We are but tiny beings on a greater trajectory.
What a nice comment. Thanks. It changes you, doesn’t it?
I can feel it with your words. Although, I wasn’t there, I saw one of the videos that NASA posted online and I must admit, it changed me too.
There is something wonderfully and terrifyingly primitive about it, telescoping us back to prehistory.
The ancients must have been absolutely terrified, not understanding what it was, and not being able to have glasses to look up and see its progress.
It was awesome. Very eloquently written Norbert.