Sunday, April 14, 2024

I saw my first Total Solar Eclipse, and I have some advice.


Photo courtesy of David Rogers. 

I was lucky. My first Total Solar Eclipse AND all the cool people who chase eclipses came to ME. It all happened in the city where I live: Russellville, Arkansas. Our little town was mentioned in The New York Times at least three times before the big event. People came here from all 50 states, and from at least 40 countries to see this thing. Three astrophysicists from the Paris Observatory in France came over for it. I enjoyed hearing them talk immensely. One of them had already seen nine (9) Total Eclipses, and he was not here for business. He said he was addicted to experiencing eclipses. The French astrophysicists gave multiple public seminars, and they talked about how people are made from stardust, and how no other planet in our solar system experiences Total Eclipses because every other planet's moons are the wrong size. They said beautiful and mesmerizing things, including how we will be in perfect alignment with our sun and moon during this very special and rare time.            

   On the day of the eclipse, I was running an art booth downtown for our local community arts center. Several people I knew took turns sitting at the large 3-table booth with me. Everyone was excited and on their best behavior. I heard no complaints from anyone on this magical day. A smart college student named Meghan was one of my favorite visitors that day. She and her classmates have been developing a new website for the arts center, so I knew her pretty well. I had a large sketchbook open, and we took turns drawing the sun and moon as soon as the eclipse started. Our drawings were pretty terrible, but we documented the eclipse progression every few minutes using the same tools our ancestors had: writing tools and paper. The sky went dim, and then it went pretty dark. Not pitch black, not what I was expecting. It was an eerie sort of glowing darkness, with lightness all around the horizon. That's one of the things you need to look for - it looks like the sun is setting (or rising) in a complete 360 degree range around you. The sun itself will look like a pitch black hole in the sky, like some sort of space portal, or a illuminated message from the gods. It is truly otherworldly. This image of the black hole sun with a white glowing corona around it, is the stuff of legends. A partial eclipse cannot compare. Meghan had her eclipse glasses off before I did, and she said, "I can definitely see why people describe this as a life-changing experience." It is unreal! I could see a red glowing structure at the 6 o'clock position under the sun. It was fairly large, somewhat diamond shaped, and persistent. I asked the people around me if they could see it. They said yes. I tried to snap a few half-hearted pics with my budget iPhone, but I didn't have a filter for it. I was relying on the fabulous photographers I knew to get fantastic photos of this. (And they did not disappoint!) Since I was downtown, the streetlights automatically came on in the darkness. You want to avoid this if you can. The streetlights were annoying. I loved being with all of the excited people, which was part of the downtown experience. People who lived up the mountain on Skyline said they could hear us whooping and cheering downtown as soon as Totality began. 

   If you want silence, get out in the country. If you enjoy hearing the excitement and comments from others, go downtown. We found out later the large red glowing objects were plasma "prominences" from the sun - the large one I saw was approximately three earths in diameter. Many photographers were able to get high resolution images of this, and this will always be magical to me. I saw it with my naked eyes during Totality when I took my eclipse glasses off.

   I made friends with people from California, Canada, Washington, and New Mexico. An old friend from college who I hadn't seen in about 25 years found me downtown! He had made the trip from Florida because Russellville looked like "the place to be." Some of us are making plans to catch the next Total Eclipse together. Don't say I didn't warn you! After you experience a Total Eclipse, there's nothing else that can compare. They are fabulous and addictive, and I sincerely hope you are able to catch one.