Jeff Kampman, Editor-in-Chief
The stars aligned this week to allow me to get away from my testing labs to experience the totality of yesterday's eclipse. We convened with friends deep in rural South Carolina to catch about two minutes and 30 seconds of darkness. My words won't do the experience justice, and cameras fail even more profoundly. An astronomical event of this scale is one of the few events in modern society that one simply has to be there for.
We read stories of clouds obscuring the eclipse as the totality passed across the United States, and we had some clouds of our own cover the sun as the moon began its slow occlusion pass over the solar disc. Happily, the clouds slipped away moments before totality, and we were rewarded with a brilliantly clear view as the beating midday sunlight made an unsettling transtition into a sort of deep twilight. Staring up at the occluded sun while lightning flashed in the dimly-lit clouds in the distance around us will remain one of the most hair-raising and memorable events of my life.
I promised myself going into the event that I wouldn't bother trying to get pictures of the totality itself. I don't have the bulky supertelephoto lens, telescope rig, or solar filters that many serious eclipse photographers do, and I figured the time would be best spent experiencing the moment instead of fiddling with camera settings and lenses. Even so, my itchy trigger finger led me to throw on my grossly inadequate 105-mm lens and take a few grab shots. A scalpel-sharp lens, a Nikon D810, and some Photoshop upscaling led to some pretty neat images, though. Check out those solar prominences around the moon's right edge.
While standing in the totality itself was an incredible experience, the gradual dimming that led up to the event was perhaps even more profoundly weird, and the barely-visible shadow bands we saw after the sun blazed back into being provided yet another memorable capstone to a day I'll remember for my entire life. If you have the chance to see the next easily-viewed solar eclipse in April 2024, it's absolutely worth starting to make the time now. I'll be lucky enough to see the totality of that eclipse in my back yard, and I can't wait.
Wayne Manion, news writer and microcontroller wizard
My wife and I live in Omaha, Nebraska, so we were less than 70 miles from the center of the path of totality. We thought we were prepared for the eclipse. Christie bought T-shirts and eclipse glasses online weeks in advance and arranged to be able to leave work at 11:00 AM on Monday. My brother allowed his oldest son Mason to miss his third day of high school to be able to witness the heavenly event, and we brought our seven-month-old daughter along as well. It should be no big deal to travel 70 miles through mostly-rural Eastern Nebraska in two hours on a Monday morning, right?
With glasses in hand, we left Omaha about 20 minutes ahead of schedule only to encounter severely backed-up traffic on our planned route from Omaha to Beatrice. My wife did some back-seat navigation and we changed course on the fly straight south to Tecumseh, which was a little bit further from the path of totality than Beatrice. Even so, we would still experience a total eclipse of the sun for two minutes and 29 seconds there.
The Nebraska state patrol was stopping traffic on less-busy intersecting highways, so progress down two-lane Highway 50 was steady. We made it to a fairground in Tecumseh at about 12:45 and watched as the sun shrank into a tiny sliver through the eclipse glasses. Once the sun was totally eclipsed by the moon just a couple of minutes after 1:00 PM, we all removed the glasses and were startled at how dark our surroundings had become. The only light was coming from the horizon, like a desaturated sunrise.
The most amazing part to me was how different the eclipse itself was from the pictures I had seen. The eclipsed sun wasn’t a black circle in a black sky—it looked like blue sky with a thin white circle around it. I couldn’t capture a decent picture of the eclipse itself, but I did get a couple photos of the horizon. When the sun re-appeared from behind the moon, daylight returned in the blink of an eye. I can definitely see how an eclipse would have thrown mankind for a loop before the development of modern science.
We couldn’t stick around for the rest of the eclipse for a variety of reasons, so we packed up and got on the road at about 1:30 in the afternoon. The traffic was nearly apocalyptic, and it took us almost four hours to travel the 70 miles back to Omaha.
I spent six hours in the car in order to see an event that lasted just a couple of minutes, but it was totality worthwhile.
Colton "drfish" Westrate, BBQ meister and Shortbread baker
"Worth it!" That's how I'd describe a round-trip of over 1000 miles in about 22 hours to be in the path of totality for just a couple minutes. I drove the group of TR BBQ regulars seen below from Zeeland, MI to just north of the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois. Thanks to careful route planning, and a little help from Waze as we neared our destination, we managed to avoid the worse of the traffic problems. It was still a very long day, though (especially for our Dungeon Master, who ran our ongoing campaign for a good portion of the trip while I drove).
For our efforts, we were rewarded with clear-enough skies and a spectacle that none of us will forget. Even the most disaffected teenager of the bunch said it was, "a lot cooler than I expected it would be." High praise indeed. Everyone agreed that we preferred the color saturation and contrast levels provided by the moon's shadow to normal afternoon daylight. Seriously though, the difference between 'almost there' and totality can't be overstated: the change was rapid and dramatic. Being able to view the event with the naked eye was priceless. If you missed out, start planning your trip for 2024. You won't be disappointed.
Adam Eiberger, business manager
Unlike the others who've shared here, my eclipse-viewing experience involved little planning or forethought. Our home lies eight miles from the center path of the eclipse, so we only had to walk outside to partake. We were blessed with two minutes and 31 seconds sans sun. The only prep we did was grab some swanky viewing goggles from our rural electric cooperative when they were dispensing them freely.
As I heard speculation of what totality would be like my interest was certainly piqued, but low expectations made for a wondrous experience. I agree with those who say there's no way to explain the event without experiencing it in person.
A few points that fascinated me most: as totality approached and the light faded, it was nothing like a sunset. The light was full-spectrum, shining directly from above and not bent through the arc of the atmosphere with the resultant warm orange tint, yet it was increasingly dim. Since it was 1:08 in the afternoon our shadows were basically right beneath us, not long and stretched. All this was just bizarre. Then the final seconds before darkness were almost scary as light disappeared with increasing speed. 97% or 98% obscurity is still enough light to see everything, but before you can adjust to the dimness, the light is just gone.
It rained all morning, clearing about 45 minutes before totality, but we were still surrounded by towering thunderheads—probably around 40 miles to the northwest and at least twice that to the south. I think sunlight reflecting off these huge cloud banks (which were outside the zone of totality) kept us lighter than it might otherwise have been. I made out a couple stars at the darkest point, but it wasn't like night.
Finally, the fauna. At 1:00 we heard several birds singing as they normally do at dusk. Also, I was eager to see how our chickens and ducks would behave. When they're free-ranging, they return to the coop on their own in the evening. As the eclipse approached and light faded much faster than it does at sunset, they started toward the coop in those final seconds but didn't quite make it. They were several feet from the coop when darkness overtook them, and with virtually no night vision they just stopped. They stood totally still for those two and a half minutes and then wandered back off when sunlight returned, as did we.