I’m fortunate that my husband and his family own land in upstate South Carolina that was within a couple of miles of the median line of the recent total solar eclipse. My brother-in-law mowed a pasture on a hill that he already knew was prime viewing area. Many friends and family gathered there, set up tents and everyone shared food, drinks, chairs, conversation, and more, which enhanced the experience tremendously.
Among the friends who came were a group of amateur (but very serious) astronomers, who had done presentations for my brother-in-law’s scout troop in the past. They had used the hill before and asked if they could set up some equipment there. And they did have some incredible equipment! They were also very generous in sharing their knowledge and letting us peek through their scopes.
But the celestial event was the highlight of the day. I’ve seen a couple of partial eclipses before, though it’s been some years since the last one. The difference between a total eclipse and even 95% is huge. Even moments before the totality, there was still enough of the sun showing to mostly obscure the shadow blocking part of it without the eclipse glasses. You couldn’t even glance quickly and see much but a slight dimming of the light
Photo by Douglas Schiff; Click on the image to open a larger version. The resolution on this picture is so good you can tell that’s the moon in front of the sun at higher resolutions.
Then the totality happened and the world changed. It didn’t get black as night which disappointed some members of the party. But it was very dim, like late twilight about ten minutes before total darkness. The temperature dropped, which was easy to notice since it was a swelteringly hot August day in upstate South Carolina. The coolness was welcome. A strange hush fell over the world. The birds got silent. We got silent as awe overtook us.
The view was magnificent with that black disk completely blotting out the face of the sun, leaving the corona visible in a way it never is otherwise. We saw Venus and a few other stars, though not many. One other interesting effect occurred I hadn’t known would happen until our astronomer friends told us about it. On the horizon it looked like sunrise happening, but it was all around us, a 360-degree dawn. Probably the fact that we were on a cleared hill helped that effect.
Even knowing the mechanics of the moon moving between the earth and the sun, seeing it happen sent a bit of chill down my spine. For a few minutes, the sun transformed into…a black hole. It turned everything inside-out. Turned light into darkness, daytime into night, a hot summer’s day into a much cooler one.
It was eerie and unsettling, a reminder that there are forces much greater than human beings at work in the universe.
I know there will be another full solar eclipse seven years from now and I may or may not be around to see it. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to do so once in my life. It’s one of those events that makes you consider a lot of things about your life and your place in the universe.
I’m very grateful for all the people whose labor and whose sharing helped us enjoy it even more! My brother-in-law, Joe McCullough, and his family did a great job of getting the area ready. Particular thanks go to the wonderful folks who gave us their extra set of eclipse glasses, since by the time I’d gotten around to looking for them, there weren’t any to be had anywhere.
Some of the astronomers with friends, family, and equipment.
Talking to the experts while we wait for the eclipse to start.
Photo by Joe McCullough; A view of the horizon during the totality. It looked like this whichever way you turned.
The partial eclipse taken with my iPhone, filtered through the lens of the eclipse glasses.