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Two minutes and 32 seconds. That’s how long I was in the shadow of the moon.
It’s hard to believe that six months have passed since the Great American Eclipse captivated millions of people across the United States.
The total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, was arguably the biggest astronomical event to happen in the United States so far this millennium. The eclipse dominated national headlines for days and some towns in the path of totality spent months preparing for the swarms of spectators.
Although six months have passed since the eclipse, I still think about it every day, and how it was one of the best moments of my life.
1. Three years of preparation
This solar eclipse has been on my radar for years. I can still remember where I was when I added the event to my phone’s calendar on Aug. 21, 2014, knowing that I had three years to plan out every detail.
While solar eclipses themselves are not rare, the path of totality does not fall in the contiguous United States often, so I knew that I had to take advantage of the opportunity.
Looking at the path of totality, I was instantly drawn to four locations:
(Spoiler alert: I did not end up at any of these locations)
2. Final decision of location
The weeks leading up to the eclipse were stressful.
I was constantly looking at the long-range weather patterns, trying to identify where clear skies would be so I could pick a viewing site and book a hotel.
To add to the stress of the weather, there were worries that the Great American Eclipse would lead to the Great American Traffic Jam, so I was trying to avoid major cities, highways and airports at all costs.
One week before the eclipse, I had my sights set on Columbia, Missouri, but a slight change in the cloud cover forecast forced me to change my plans at the last minute.
Cookeville, Tennessee, would be the location where I would view the total solar eclipse.
3. The eclipse
I arrived in Cookeville, Tennessee, before dawn on the day of the eclipse, ensuring that I beat any and all traffic pre-eclipse.
I ended up at Tennessee Tech where NASA was hosting a viewing party from the university’s stadium, although I ended up watching the eclipse with my girlfriend and a small group of people near a shaded tree outside of the stadium.
Once the partial phase of the eclipse started, time seemed to speed up, but everything went off without a hitch.
There are many different ways to view a solar eclipse, so I prepared a few simple experiments ahead of time that are designed for the partial phases. I made a pinhole viewer out of an old cereal box, criss-crossed my fingers to make neat crescent shadows and had a few different types of eclipse glasses to see which were best. The only thing that I forgot was a spaghetti colander, which makes a fascinating pattern of crescents.
Also, I made sure to turn off my phone when starting these experiments so there weren’t any distractions until after totality was over.
Holy cow, shadow bands were awesome. They’re one of the most elusive phenomenon during solar eclipses since they don’t happen all the time and only occur within about a minute of totality, but we saw them, and I managed to take a great video of them.
Needless to say, this added to the excitement right before totality started.
Darkness. Cheers. Complete awe. So much happened in the two minutes and 32 seconds that the moon completely blocked out the sun. The crowd in the stadium roared to life in the distance, while crickets in the grass around us began to chirp.
I allowed myself enough time to take two pictures during totality as to not waste the experience fiddling with my camera. If I had not forced myself to put down the camera, I wouldn’t have seen Jupiter off to the side of the sheer beauty of the sun’s corona or the 360-degree sunset on the horizon.
Everything was perfect.
As much as I wanted the eclipse to last longer, coming out of totality was still exciting. The light from the sun was eerie with the sunlight seeming different than before. At the time, I compared it to the headlights of a car rather than light from the sun.
Shadow bands returned and were just as spectacular as before totality. Jupiter faded away into the brightening sky, similar to how the stars disappear as the sun rises in the morning. The temperature was noticeably lower, dropping by around 17 degrees F since before the partial phase began. I also experienced a great sense of satisfaction knowing that everything happened exactly how I had pictured years ago.
4. The journey back home
It was a long and tiresome trip back to Pennsylvania.
Despite waiting longer than most to leave Cookeville, I still was stuck in the Great American Traffic Jam that added over two hours to my drive back home.
I didn’t arrive home until 4 a.m. the next day, but it was worth it. Everything played out exactly as I had hoped, and then some.
The weather was perfect. It was really hot and humid before the eclipse started, but it was clear during the entirety of the eclipse, including the partial phases. Deciding not to go to Missouri was the right call since Missouri did have some disruptive clouds.
I was surrounded by the perfect group of people. My girlfriend was looking forward to this just as much as I was and enjoyed every second of it. We also made friends with the people around us and had a blast. I was even able to show them a few experiments that helped them enjoy it even more.
The shadow bands were even better in person than I anticipated. I even managed to take a great video of the shadow bands, which would not have been possible without watching this video from the YouTube channel Smarter Every Day.
The two pictures I took during totality came out perfect. They weren’t as amazing as others, but they were exactly what I was trying to capture. My friend Michael Charnick took one of the best pictures I’ve seen, viewing the eclipse from the Grand Tetons. Christopher Becke was also at Tennessee Tech and took some phenomenal photos.
With the Great American Eclipse well past us, it’s time to start planning for the next solar eclipse.
Before last year’s total solar eclipse ended, people already began planning for the next total solar eclipse in the United States, which falls on April 8, 2024.
The path of totality for this eclipse will stretch from Texas to Maine, including some major cities like Dallas and Cleveland; however, there is another type of solar eclipse that will be visible in the United States a few months beforehand.
On Oct. 14, 2023, an annular solar eclipse will be visible from Oregon to Texas. In this type of eclipse, the moon passes between the Earth and Sun, but the moon is farther away from the Earth, meaning that it is not quite large enough to block out the sun.
The result is a ring of light around the moon, which is how this type of eclipse is also known as a Ring of Fire Eclipse.
This will be an amazing celestial event to witness and will be a great warmup for those preparing for the big eclipse in 2024.
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