On Monday, August 21, the sky darkened and the United States was treated to a scientific wonder as the moon hid the sun from view. Depending on where you were in the country, you got little darkness from the solar eclipse, or a lot more, if you were in the path of totality.
Several of our contributors shared their experiences with the solar eclipse in the DC region and in the cities and towns they traveled to for this unique experience.
Tracy Loh, who currently lives in Brooklyn, said that the eclipse brought together neighbors in her community. “I went up to the roof of my building and looked at it (about 75% covered in NYC). I discovered a handful of neighbors up there that I had never seen or met before, watching the eclipse shadow through a pinhole viewer. I made instant new friends when I handed over my glasses so they could look directly at it.”
Kristen Jeffers noticed the same thing in DC, which had about 81% totality, saying, “I really liked seeing how everyone came together and stopped what they were doing to watch, as well as helped others, including the regulars of this pocket park, look at the eclipse.” One of her observations was the “pinhole effect” through the leaves.
“I'm not embarrassed enough to admit that I was getting myself pretty nervous and freaked out, like entering a haunted house,” Sanjida Rangwala said, of her experience watching the eclipse in Santee State Park in South Carolina, which was on the path of totality. She said the moon created a “pacman shape” in front of the sun, and the temperature dropped steadily.
She added, “I looked for stars, and saw a planet. It was bright on every horizon. I thought light pollution, and later realized it was a reflection of the sun, a 360 degree sunset. I got irritated by the headlights of a truck parked 25 feet away, adding to the light pollution, inserting a reminder of motor vehicles into this moment. But that's what I remember the most in retrospect - the bright artificial lighting, providing tangible evidence of an unusual, sudden darkness at 2:45 in the afternoon, when it was too hot and bright to stand in the sun merely an hour earlier, and would be again too hot and bright just a short while later.
Sarah Guidi, Managing Director at GGWash, went with her family to Ellis Grove, Illinois, on the path of totality. “As the eclipse approached, the light got weird, and the contrast seemed to increase,” she said. “The cicadas started up as the light faded. The eclipse itself was an amazing experience! The moment the moon completely covered sun and the corona burst into view was emotional. Children were whooping, adults were oohing and aahing! And then, as quickly as it come, it was over and the light started returning, although it took the cicadas a few minutes to quiet down again.
Jeb Stenhouse (brother of GGWash contributor Joe Stenhouse) was also on the path of totality. He and his family were in Clarkesville, Georgia, for the eclipse. “[Forty-seven] years ago, my dad drove several hours only to miss a total solar eclipse due to cloud cover. On Monday, I stood next to him as we made up for that missed opportunity with a spectacular total eclipse of the sun.”
At the point of totality, Jeb said, “I looked over at my mom and husband Mark to barely voice the words “can you believe this?!” Mark tried to respond but was on the verge of tears; my mother's shocked eyes were all the answer she mustered. I choked out a thank-you to my father for bringing us to see this incredible sight - he nodded but was unable to speak. A young girl behind us exclaimed “this is the strangest thing I've ever seen!” as a beautiful punctuation on the peaceful silence of the park. All of us stared in awe at the halo of sunfire writhing around a dark disc in the sky.”
One of the most interesting effects of a solar eclipse is how nature reacted.
David Cranor watched from a donkey farm in Gallatin, Tennessee. “As the eclipse got closer we heard the crickets and the donkeys laid down under their “sleeping tree.” Totality came and the street lights turned on,” he said. “It was bizarre and awesome (the twins were still focused on driving the tractor Donald Trump-style and barely noticed). Dark, but still light in every direction. We had a great view of the corona and even saw a [coronal mass ejection] coming off of one side. Then it was over and the donkeys got up, the birds started chirping and it got light and hot again.”
I was in Hendersonville, Tennessee, on the path of totality, with several friends from the DC chapter of the Planetary Society. We drove to a park and paid attention to the weather and nature, and viewed the partial eclipse through a solar telescope and our eclipse glasses.
As we got closer to totality, we looked at the slivers of sunlight casting shapes through the leaves and listened to the insects getting louder. The fish came to the surface. Even though I knew it was mid-afternoon, my eyes were seeing dusk and it felt surreal. Then, as if a switch flipped, the sky got very dark and still. Baily’s beads appeared, signaling us to remove our glasses.
I looked up, and for about 2 minutes and 31 seconds of totality, I felt like time had stopped. A marching band could have played behind me and I wouldn’t have noticed. The moon created a pitch black circle and the sun behind it took on a silverish glow. For a brief moment in time, it was just me, the sun, and the moon. It was an entirely new and incomparable experience, profound and moving.
If you missed the eclipse entirely, don’t worry. The next one is in 2024, and will be visible from Texas to Montreal. If you can’t wait that long, you can travel for any of the eclipses in between (that won’t be in the United States), watch the 2017 Eclipse Megavideo, a timelapse video of images submitted by volunteers, assembled by Google and UC Berkeley researchers, or look at how the eclipse looked to a weather satellite. There's also a handy guide to fake eclipse photos on the internet and NASA's very real image galleries and news articles.
What did you experience during the solar eclipse?