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We certainly saw a lot of press about the 2017 total solar eclipse, but what happened? Here’s a thorough eclipse wrap of the event—and photos—from the path of totality.
Who Saw Totality?
Totality was something that had not been viewed in the continental United States since 1979.
Reports from countless readers and colleagues reveal the happy news that most people in the path of totality got to see the glorious event.
But not everyone. Both coasts had various degrees of clouds, so that people in Madras, Oregon and Charlottesville, South Carolina watched the eclipsed sun disappear and reappear. In Nebraska, some missed totality entirely.
In Carbondale, Illinois, a huge cloud bank obscured the sun just before totality, but thankfully let the spectacle pop into the clear for the final ten seconds. In Casper, Jackson, and Douglas, Wyoming, skies were generally clear to partly cloudy, and few if anyone missed it.
Photos of eclipse watchers at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale, Illinois before and during totality. Darkness descended and the air temperature dropped …
Was Traffic Bad?
In many places, yes. My tour group of 100 people sat on our coaches for 12 hours in an effort to get to Boulder, Colorado, on a ride that normally would take four hours.
The Bright Side
This was the largest migration of Americans to a science event I have witnessed in my lifetime. It was gratifying to see how many were willing to inconvenience themselves for a celestial spectacle. One-third of Americans don’t even bother to vote. And we are not particularly science-savvy. So being stuck in traffic revealed how millions did indeed take the trouble to witness the greatest natural spectacle they will ever see. And if a traffic jam was the price, so be it.
Chris Mandrell and the Citizen CATE (Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse) team in Carbondale, IL. A network of 68 telescopes operated by citizen scientists, high school groups and universities worked together to capture images of the inner solar corona.
Even humans—who knew what was going on—were left to hunt for words to describe totality.
They were exactly what I’d heard after all eight totalities I’ve witnessed, in leading eclipse tours for four decades.
Many wept. Some said afterward that they were “not expecting such a powerful experience.” Many used the word “spiritual” instead of “powerful.” All felt it transcended anything they had ever seen in their lives.
Almanac Reader Reactions
Readers across the continential U.S. shared their experiences on the Almanac Facebook page. Here is a sampling:
“Here in upper middle TN, we had totality and no cloud cover. I wasn’t extremely excited about it but wanted to see it. When I took my glasses off and saw the corona, tears started running down my face. completely unexpected. It was incredible!”
“Total eclipse in Pinckeyville, IL. It was incredible. It was eerie before total eclipse happened, the trees did not have any long shadows, no warmth from the sun, the sky was and atmosphere had a strange color. Where we were at there was few clouds in sky which gave us a great viewing area.”
“Here in Indian Valley, ID, we were able to experience a crystal clear sky for the totality. Watched the moon slowly creep across the sun until it was gone! The sky went dark, the stars came out and my feelings were very unexplainable. I felt like crying and laughing at the same time. The moon kept on it’s path and we witnessed the diamond ring. Wow! What an experience!
“In Hopkinsville, KY, we had totality for the longest time. My mother, daughter and I were at the Western Kentucky State Fairgrounds. When the eclipse reached totality the crowd of people rousingly cheered and clapped. The light dimmed where we were, but all around us on the horizon there was light, as if it were dusk and dawn at the same time. I saw three faint streams of light coming off of the sun from behind the moon, one was larger than the other two. It was incredibly beautiful, and I welled up with tears. I don’t know why it brought about so much emotion, but it did. Nearby I heard a man exclaim, twice, “That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in my life!”
“What amazed me was the suddenness of night noise: crickets and cicadas chirping, and how quickly they silenced once the moon had passed over. Athens, GA.”
“In Crossville TN we had totality with some random clouds but not during totality. The light was so strange. Otherworldly. During totality the moon was SO black, like a black hole with the corona all around it. I wanted to jump up and down (I’m still smiling!). Then the diamond ring was so brilliant and white. Bonus for me was that I shared it with my mom who had a recent health scare. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.”
As totality nears, little crescent shadows appeared on the sidewalk. Credit: Heidi Wilson
How This Compared
This was one of my favorite totalities. But it felt very short. When the 2 1/2 minutes had passed and the second diamond ring appeared, it felt as if just 15 seconds had gone by. This was unique in that the chromosphere—the spectacular, narrow red band of solar atmosphere between the blinding photosphere and the wide corona—was very obvious for a few seconds around the time of the diamond ring, but not in the middle of the eclipse. I’ve not seen it so well before.
The diamond ring effect, solar flares, and chromosphere. Photo taken by Rob Pettengill in Torrington, Wyoming.
What About the Partial?
Dozens of readers who had “stayed home” sent me photos of the partial eclipse. Thank you for taking the time to do so! Some of them were wonderful indeed!
But that’s not how I replied to those readers. Instead, I obnoxiously responded with sympathy messages. You see, totality is so spectacular that in all honesty, I say to anyone who merely saw a partial eclipse, “You missed it. You have my condolences.”
Twelve-year-old Alexander Boeckmann watching the total solar eclipse and making memories. “It was awesome!”
There are upcoming total solar eclipses in 2019, 2020, and 2021 in Chile, Argentina, and Antarctica. But most Americans will wait until April 8, 2024 when a four minute totality will sweep north from Texas and pass over Cleveland, Ohio; Buffalo and Rochester, New York; Burlington, Vermont; and across Maine. Once again I (and others) will urge people to get into the path of totality.
The Big Misconception
Here’s the mistake Newbies make. They assume the draw here, the big deal, is ‘blackness at noon.’ (Actually, totality isn’t very dark). Thus, it seemingly makes sense that an eclipse that is 90% total must logically deliver 90% of the darkness, and 90% of the experience. In reality, strange and wondrous phenomena unfold ONLY at totality. Plus, there’s that otherworldly feeling, or vibe. A partial eclipse offers none of it. (Actually, the amazingly odd light on the surrounding countryside in the ten minutes before totality is indeed seen for those who have at least an 85% partial eclipse. And also the strange sight of “crescent shapes” in the shadows of bushes and trees. But nothing else.)
So What’s The Difference?
I’ll be blunt, so that in 2024 even more of our readers hopefully travel to the totality. The difference between a partial and a total solar eclipse is like the difference between falling in love and washing the dishes. Or the difference between the Greek island of Santorini at sunset versus visiting your dentist’s office. Or dying and going to heaven versus dying and then sitting at an airport departure gate. Just ask anyone who’s seen one. The point: They may each contain the word “eclipse,” but they are incomparable experiences.
Sure totality is inconvenient and maybe expensive. But do it anyway. Really.