The ORBITER team took a road trip into the path of totality for Monday’s solar eclipse, and on our way up in the car, we were joking about which of us might scream.
I was pretty sure I would. But then, I’d seen an eclipse before, and knew what was coming. And then, at that moment when the moon moved from 99.9% coverage to 100%, I screamed and raised my hands to the sky. It was a sacred moment, and it was a terrifying moment. Two minutes and 37 seconds of holy terror. I felt scared and safe all at once.
In her famous 1982 essay “Total Eclipse,” Annie Dillard describes it well:
“At once this disk of sky slid over the sun like a lid. The sky snapped over the sun like a lens cover. The hatch in the brain slammed.”
And so it did. But it wasn’t slammed shut, not quite. Though there was instant darkness, there was—like the sun’s corona surrounding the moon like a consecrated aura—light and meaning and purpose, all magically, mystically finding their way around those lunar edges, stretching out into the sky and down to us on the planet below.
How could one not scream out of sheer joy and fear? It’s the most alive I’ve ever felt.
What we saw when we looked up
Our ORBITER team watched the eclipse on the campus of Clemson University, right smack in the middle of the path of totality. A big shout-out to Clemson’s publicity team for their help throughout the day, Southern hospitality at its best. (See a TON of Clemson’s photos here.)
(The Clemson folks even put together a stellar playlist for the crowds that had gathered—songs about space, the sun, the moon, etc. But here’s one they missed.)
I wasn’t the only one who experienced strong feelings during the eclipse. Here are some reactions from my ORBITER colleagues:
Tara Collins, Assistant Editor:
Being an alumnus of a SEC university, I was curious how southern football culture would pervade the viewing of this celestial event—especially when the host is the defending college football champion, Clemson University. When we started seeing images of a giant paw print eclipsing the sun, I was worried they might over Tiger-ize the event. (Fortunately, they didn’t. But they did bring out the marching band and cheerleaders, and the Tiger mascot was eager for photo-ops.)
The Tigers hosted their guests well—from food trucks to an “eclipse-chaser” host—providing a day-long “tailgazing” experience to some 50,000 people scattered across the campus.
This was my first total solar eclipse, as admittedly, I wasn’t alive for the previous one crossing America. I had heard that reactions could be a little surprising—from cries of fear to magnificent awe—and mine was quite the latter. With the abundance of telescopes on Clemson’s lawns, I was wondering if I would truly be able to see the glory of totality (those couple of minutes when the moon completely obliterates the sun). Finally, the last crescent sliver of the sun was hidden by the moon, and awe completely took over. The rays from the sun’s corona were visible around the whole eclipse, and my eyes were viewing the very same eclipse beauty that I had only seen captured in NASA images.
It was an incredible sight—from the beauty in the heavens to the 360° sunset around us to being with a crowd completely in awe. However dreamy an awe-stricken crowd may sound, the reality of our time kicked in as awe was mainly experienced through shouts, iPhones lifted to the sky, and collegiate cheers roared across campus.
Dale Goldberg, Director of Video:
I was somewhat unprepared for how incredible the experience of totality is. I live in an area where I would not have experienced totality, but about 95% coverage of the sun. I had assumed that would be enough to get the full experience of the eclipse. In reality, the difference between even 99% coverage and 100% is quite staggering. Even if a slight sliver of the sun is showing, you get quite a bit of sunlight and, even though it does get a little darker, it’s nothing compared to the darkness of totality.
The best way to describe totality is like dusk with a giant ominous orb in the sky. The look of the moon placed against the sun is truly like something out of a movie. I didn’t expect the corona to be so bright but it is clear as day. You can see the sun’s corona branching out from around the moon as well as stars and planets all around. The mix of the corona, stars, and dusk-like colors combined with the eclipse in the sky create a sense of awe and wonder as you realize how utterly small and insignificant you are. When I’m reminded of how we are the only planet in the solar system that can experience an eclipse like this, I feel incredibly lucky to be alive. If you have a chance to experience totality in 2024, do it! The experience is unforgettable.
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