Physics and Astronomy

Astronomy: Eclipse 2017

Photo before, during, and after Totality

We are fortunate enough to live within walking distance to the beach. Specifically, Sullivan’s Island, SC. So when an influx of people, two million strong, arrived from all over the globe to watch the 2017 total solar eclipse from our sandy backyard, our local knowledge would surely have come in handy. We thought it would be simple to avoid the crowds and pick a desolate spot to watch the event of a lifetime, weather permitting.

The weather did not permit.

We woke up to a thick overcast. One like we had not seen in weeks. We can’t say that it wasn’t expected. The forecasts had looked bleak anyway. They had looked bleak for the entire state.

Regardless, I picked a spot on the beach with some friends under the overcast, just as the moon began passing in front of the sun. It was 1:15pm, almost 90 minutes before totality.

I was anxious. We all were; though none of us would admit it. I worried that our hospitality and my guests’ plane tickets would be all for nothing but a cloudy day at the beach with a little less sunshine. The beach was littered with families feeling the same; straining to see the faintest sliver of the almost totally eclipsed sun through clouds and glasses. I began thinking that I had picked a cursed spot. I could see far down the beach to clearer skies, but with no way to get to them in time. The sound of thunder even brought the threat of rain. I began accepting that it would not happen, so far as to begin thinking about plans for the next eclipse. It was only 15 minutes before totality.

Hope started to spread around. Clouds shuffled about with patches of blue sky overhead. I did not have to focus as hard to find the sun through our glasses anymore. The kids on the beach seemed overly excited to see a dim crescent, but their excitement was contagious. At least it was turning out better that I had expected an hour ago. With about 7 minutes towards totality, I was not completely upset.

But the clouds kept moving. They kept clearing. Now, I was the excited kid. Elated even. Under a completely clear patch of sky overhead, darkness fell hard as the crescent sun collapsed into nothing. It was a erie darkness. So surreal my mind kept telling me that something was wrong. The temperature was too cold. The light, too unnatural. We were surrounded by a panorama of red thunderclouds over the land and ocean flashing with lightning. And above us, the glowing corona. Crystal clear. The beach erupted with cheer. It was 2:47 and we had reached totality.

I took off my glasses and stared at the sky. The sun and the moon nested perfectly between the clouds. There was this incredible rainbow halo effect that the eclipse had on the surrounding clouds. Inside the halo were unmistakably Mercury and Venus. The surrounding scenery was incredible. The lightning in the red clouds in all directions, fading into a deep blue, to the halo, to a black sky dotted with stars and planets, to the corona. It was not real. Darting through the cloud window was a NASA jet; flying faster and higher that anything I have seen. My attention was drawn back to the corona, and in that moment a fractured sliver of sun creeped out from behind the moon. Totality was over.

The beach erupted again. This was never a singular experience. We all felt like we had together defied nature and willed the clouds out of the way for a long enough moment to witness this event. The clouds quickly took notice and covered the sun, but we had won.

The rest of the eclipse was spent catching a few waves and recalling the best parts of the event with each other. It was an incredible experience, and we are now planning for the next one.

Better photos coming soon!

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