The TR staff traveled across the country to catch the 2017 eclipse

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).

After an arduous journey, our party reached its destination.

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.

Comments closed
    • Kharnellius
    • 2 years ago

    Drove down to Mattoon from Palatine, IL on Sunday night. Then after consulting the cloud cover maps we decided to head towards Hopkinsville, KY. Left at 6am Monday morning and got there (with stops) about 11:25 am just a half hour before the eclipse began. Got to see about 2 min 38 seconds of totality for the first time ever.

    It was pretty cool, though I’m annoyed because I wasn’t nearly as wowed as everyone else in our group (9 of us). Maybe I hyped myself up since my dad and I were the ones who organized the trip and had been planning it for almost a year.

    It’s disappointing how short it is. Wish I could pause it and look at it for hours. WHERE’S MY REAL LIFE TIVO, ALREADY?!?!?!?!?!

    Still awesome despite the return trip being a nightmare. Took us from 2:30 in the afternoon to about 2:30am the next morning to make it back to Palatine. Typical trip according to GPS is about 7 hours. Ouch!

    • Ummagumma
    • 2 years ago

    I can imagine the IRS auditors reviewing these travel expenses. One of them makes a comment: “It sure looks like we need to audit these folks.” The other auditors nod their heads in silent agreement.

    The unfortunate TR people then report for their IRS audit appointments. They stare across the table at stone-faced IRS auditors who are busy shuffling through papers.

    The IRS auditors all start to speak to their “prey” somewhat like this:

    “So you are claiming these eclipse reporting trips as business expenses. Right?”

    IRS auditor pauses for a second while looking at some papers.

    “Humm…. From the looks of the TR web site article that we have in these printed out screenshots, these so called ‘business expenses’ look more like family vacations at the taxpayers’ expense. So, your tax deduction for these expenses is declined. You have to pay up at the window before you can leave these offices.”

    • gerryg
    • 2 years ago

    I saw totality in Geneva, Nebraska. Great place to see it, right out front of a library that had restrooms and A/C, and hardly any crowding. Plus there was a team of Polish astronomers who had traveled there and were live-streaming the event over YouTube back to their home country of Poland. Super nice guys and gals, and they even let folks look through their telescopes and also had a projector with live images. We lucked out and the sky cleared completely for 50% through totality through 75%. Was surprised how many people took off as soon as totality was over, we stuck around until under 10%. Way cool, looking forward to 2024!

    My father-in-law went to Wyoming, and while he had a great view, there was crowding and 6+ hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic afterward as people went back to Colorado.

    • StefanVonS
    • 2 years ago

    Traveled with my 6 year-old son 12 hours down to SC. We bailed in the wee hours of Monday morning because of the cloud forecast and drove 5 hours to a rest stop off of I-40 in Tennessee between Nashville and Knoxville. Columbia ended up having a perfect view of it, but I’m not regretting that we moved; the rest stop ended up being an ideal viewing spot! The drive back home however, was horrific 🙂

    • TheEmrys
    • 2 years ago

    I traveled to the totality in Wyoming. It was truly amazing. The totality was just ao much cooler than anything than just about anything I have ever seen in nature. Pics are in the Solar Eclipse thread.

    • Zyphos
    • 2 years ago

    Hello fellow Omahan!

    Traveled to Fairmont, NE. I-80 was slow (30mph) between Omaha and Lincoln. After that, pretty smooth. Took about 90 minutes down, nearly 3 hours back. Oy.

    Totally worth it.

    • Cuhulin
    • 2 years ago

    Did not have totality as long as most of you – about 30 seconds – but the drive was only 20 miles and the experience was still profound.

    My fiance’ is from Dallas, so we’re making plans to go back for 2024.

    • kvndoom
    • 2 years ago

    We got 86% where I live. Was super fun to watch. It was still surprisingly bright outside even with 86% of the sun blocked; kinda puts into perspective how bright that big ball of light truly is.

      • meerkt
      • 2 years ago

      Or maybe, how non-linear human brightness perception is. 🙂

    • albundy
    • 2 years ago

    wow man, i haven’t seen that kind of green space in years. been locked in cement city nyc for way too long.

      • just brew it!
      • 2 years ago

      Welcome to the Midwest, where nearly everything is flat and most of it is planted with corn or soybeans! 😉

      Edit: I work in the Chicago central business district these days, so I’m no stranger to “cement city”; but I commute from one of the “collar counties” (on public transit, fortunately). Although I live in a fairly generic subdivision, there’s an 1800-acre prairie preserve within walking distance, and farms within a 10 minute drive.

        • Tamale
        • 2 years ago

        Ha, where about downtown? I’m also in Chicago and used to live out in Geneva but now live in the bucktown/wicker park area.

          • just brew it!
          • 2 years ago

          Right by Union Station, across the river from the [s<]Sears[/s<] Willis Tower. So technically West Loop, but effectively still part of the CBD. For lunch I often hit the food trucks that park along Wacker between Monroe and Adams.

            • atari030
            • 2 years ago

            I just moved to Chicago from the Detroit suburbs and currently reside in Edgewater/Rogers Edge. I really like the blend of urban, yet suburban, that these particular neighborhoods bring.

            • just brew it!
            • 2 years ago

            I grew up in that neighborhood, more years ago than I care to admit. 😉

      • UberGerbil
      • 2 years ago

      Central Park exists. There’s even a part of it called “The Great Lawn”

    • Captain Ned
    • 2 years ago

    2024 goes over my house and the center of totality lies but 15 miles north at my old YMCA camp. The only problem is that it’s early April and Vermont. That does not come with good odds.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 2 years ago

      Thinking I need to fly to Yarmouth, ME to work out of the corporate headquarters for a couple days. Should get a pretty good view from there.

    • just brew it!
    • 2 years ago

    I’ve always found it profoundly weird that the moon and sun have the same angular size, as seen from the surface of the Earth. What were the odds of THAT happening?

      • bill94el
      • 2 years ago

      Its just profound divinity how that works out sometimes.

        • kvndoom
        • 2 years ago

        Zeus is the man!

      • K-L-Waster
      • 2 years ago

      Very low, and it won’t last forever…

      • superjawes
      • 2 years ago

      For me, the coincidence is the timing. The moon is drifting away from the Earth, so there will be a time when there are no more [total] solar eclipses…

      …of course, that’s ~650 million years from now, but still.

      • Shobai
      • 2 years ago

      1 in 1, I guess?

    • ludi
    • 2 years ago

    92% in Denver, still quite bright although everything had a desaturated, grayish cast during a 20 minute period surrounding the peak. Also, the temperature dropped 15-20 degrees for the duration.

      • Mr Bill
      • 2 years ago

      I was in Broomfield North of Denver. Noticed the same thing as well as insect noise started up at the darkest, it was very perceptively cooler and all shadows of the leaves of the trees made little moon and sun images on the sidewalk that fluttered in the slight breeze that sprang up. It was very cool.

    • Kretschmer
    • 2 years ago

    NYC was only 70%. Borrowed glasses; glanced up; looked cool. Unfortunately, the light level was more “cloudy” than “eclipse.”

      • Ummagumma
      • 2 years ago

      I remember a few times when NYC was in “totality” … but it had nothing to do with an eclipse.

    • Kougar
    • 2 years ago

    Alas wasn’t going to drive 14 hours one-way (assuming good traffic). Amazingly it looks like the 2024 eclipse totality will be <2 hours away, so if I’m still in state I’ll definitely drive for that one.

    Glad you guys had a blast seeing it!

    • Dposcorp
    • 2 years ago

    My eclipse got eclipsed by clouds <sigh>

    • xeridea
    • 2 years ago

    Traveled 2 hours each way with 5 kids 5 and under to see totality. for about 30-40 seconds. Total eclipse is 1000x better than 95%. And you are right, seeing in person is way better than in pictures, the white light around the moon is amazing. Going to be chasing eclipses in the future for sure.

      • Kretschmer
      • 2 years ago

      “Traveled 2 hours each way with 5 kids 5 and under…”

      Trunk?

        • chuckula
        • 2 years ago

        You can’t put them in the trunk! They can’t breathe!

        Any responsible parent knows how to use an approved roof rack.

      • superjawes
      • 2 years ago

      It looks like 2024’s eclipse will go over my old hometown of Indianapolis, so I think I already have a vacation planned…lol.

        • xeridea
        • 2 years ago

        My hometown was actually smack dab in center of eclipse. Would have been nicer.

      • not@home
      • 2 years ago

      When I was 5, my ma would have just thrown a few bags of chips on the porch and told us to go play in the yard for a few hours. She might have come back in 4 hours or 4 days.

      • gerryg
      • 2 years ago

      +1000 on 100% totality, it’s way different than a partial eclipse!
      +1000 on in-person, pictures and video don’t do it justice, you HAVE to be there, totally worth it!

    • chuckula
    • 2 years ago

    Saw it at 99% and managed to avoid trafficpocalypse so I’ll chalk it up as a success.

    At the maximum eclipse point you could clearly see Venus to the right of the sun and I imagine the folks who saw the 100% eclipse could see Mars & Jupiter as well.

    Thanks for the awesome photos too guys!

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