2017 Total Solar Eclipse Experience and Pictures | Almanac.com

Looking Back at the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse

2017 Eclipse Alexander

Twelve-year-old Alexander Boeckmann watching the total solar eclipse and making memories. “It was awesome!”

Photo Credit
Catherine Boeckmann
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Looking back at the 2017 total solar eclipse gives us a taste of what’s to come during the even bigger, longer 2024 total solar eclipse. From totality’s eerie darkness to seeing the diamond ring effect, the eclipse makes for incredible memories.

August 2017 brought the first total solar eclipse visible from the U.S. since 1979 and the first to cross the country in 99 years. One popular destination (where this Almanac editor was positioned) was Carbondale, Illinois, which NASA proclaimed “the point of longest duration for the total solar eclipse.” 

As the map below shows, the small college town of Carbondale, Illinois, was smack dab on the “path of totality,” where people can see the Moon completely block the Sun’s light (By some stroke of cosmic coincidence, the 2024 total solar eclipse intersects at Carbondale as well).


Carbondale, IL. The Eclipse Crossroads of America.


Approximately 50,000 people traveled to Carbondale to view the event from the Saluki Stadium at Southern Illinois University, which also hosted fun eclipse festivities, including a big science and technology expo with participation from NASA, the Adler Planetarium, the National Solar Observatory, and The Old Farmer’s Almanac!

NASA, Bill Nye, and other scientists speaking at the 2017 eclipse event.
Speaking about the “Calendar of the Heavens” at the solar eclipse expo!
Sharing free Almanacs during a fun eclipse quiz with the appreciative crowd!

Every hotel room was booked (six months in advance), and people traveled to the heartland from Europe, Asia, South America, and far-flung places to see the eclipse in the best spot. 

Hundreds of campers could reserve their spot to camp indoors at the university gym.

In the meantime, many scientists, astronomers, and citizen scientists were setting up equipment at the university’s “dark site,” a location established away from people and bright lights. Its ten concrete pads were designed as vibration-free platforms for telescopes. One of the goals was to study the Sun’s corona, which is the glow around the eclipsed Sun and is normally invisible from Earth when the Sun’s bright glare obscures it.

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.


As the eclipse event neared, thousands of onlookers gathered in the 15,000-seat stadium. Tickets were sold out.

Sitting amongst 15,000 eclipse fans was a surprisingly positive shared experience.


An hour and a half before totality, scientists from the Louisiana Space Grant Consortium launched two eight-foot latex high-altitude balloons in order to measure atmospheric data during the eclipse.

 Equipped with cameras and instruments, the balloons captured the eclipse from above the clouds at 85,000 feet.

Witnessing Totality

Totality—when the Moon completely blocks the Sun, and everything is plunged into eerie darkness—had not been viewed in the continental United States since 1979.  In Carbondale, totality lasted for longer than almost anywhere else in the country: 2 minutes and 38 seconds. 

The last 20 minutes before totality were getting as loud as a football game in anticipation. All lights were off as the seconds ticked by to totality. There was some drama when a cloud started to roll across the sky over the partially eclipsed Sun, and the crowd was urging it to go away, chanting, “No clouds!” Thankfully, the cloud floated by just in time for us to witness the moments of totality, and the crowds erupted into cheers. 

 Darkness descended and the air temperature dropped …


When darkness descended, the crowd was stunned into silent awe. The air temperature dropped, and the light (of invisible and visible solar emissions) took on an odd, eerie tint. A total calm and hush covered the stadium, and you could hear gasps from the audience.

At the very beginning and end of totality, we all witnessed the amazing “diamond ring” effect—a beacon of light that flashed brightly in the darkness. 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. It was phenomenal.

Here is more detail about the phases of a total solar eclipse.

The diamond ring effect, solar flares, and chromosphere. Credit: Rob Pettengill in Torrington, Wyoming.


As Almanac astronomer Bob Berman told me, you don’t truly get it until you see it. Afterward, I was surprised to find tears on my face; many others in the audience wept as well. Others shared that they were “not expecting such a powerful experience.” Many used the word “spiritual” instead of “powerful.” It’s not surprising the ancient world was fearful about day suddenly turning to night. See eclipse mythology.

Sequence of the peak of the eclipse. Credit: University of Illinois.

Was Traffic Bad?

One of the big questions I’ve gotten was, how was the traffic? In many places, it was really bad. A colleague’s tour group of 100 people sat on their coaches for 12 hours in an effort to get to Boulder, Colorado, on a ride that normally would take four hours. That’s why many of us arrived the day before and camped out, which I highly recommend for the 2024 total solar eclipse.

On The Bright Side

This was the largest migration of Americans to a science event that we have witnessed in our 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.

Almanac Reader Reactions 
Readers across the United States shared their experiences on the Almanac Facebook page. Here are some of the wonderful descriptions:

“Here in upper middle TN, we had totality and no cloud cover. I wasn’t extremely excited about it, but I 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. A 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.”

The Big Misconception

Outside of the path of totality, what most folks saw is what astronomers call a “partial eclipse.” Some folks sent in photos. There are some interesting phenomena such as the strange sight of “crescent shapes” in the shadows of bushes and trees. But nothing else. In all honesty, partial eclipses are quite common and most folks don’t even know they are happening unless you point it out. 

As totality nears, little crescent shadows appeared on the sidewalk. Like a thousand tiny solar eclipses happening all at once. Credit: Heidi Wilson


Many people assume the draw, the big deal, for a total eclipse is ‘blackness at noon.’  (Actually, totality isn’t very dark, more like dusk). 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 during totality. A partial eclipse offers none of it.

Eclipse veteran Bob Berman describes it (rather dramatically) this way, “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.”

Next Time: 2024 Total Solar Eclipse

Many Americans will have the rare opportunity to see a total solar eclipse again on April 8, 2024, when an even longer four-minute totality will sweep north from Texas and pass over Cleveland, Ohio; Buffalo and Rochester, New York; Burlington, Vermont; and across Maine. There will be 32 million people on the entire “path of totality” versus 12 million in 2017, and even more people will live within driving distance! 

So, for those who missed the total solar eclipse in 2017, this is your chance! I urge you to travel to the path of totality. Then, there won’t be another total solar eclipse visible in the United States until 2044.

Sure, totality is inconvenient and maybe expensive. But do it anyway. Really. 

See Bob Berman’s 2024 Solar Eclipse Guide!

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann