22 Aug
2017
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Total Solar Eclipse Debriefing

Brothers viewing the 2017 total solar eclipse

I woke up this morning with the post-total-solar-eclipse doldrums. I’m sure it’s a thing.

The kids and I ate breakfast with a ho-hum attitude. Attending athletic practice and playing at a park seem lackluster compared to the moon and sun show yesterday. It’s akin to the first day home after vacation, or the day after Christmas.

Phase view of 2017 total solar eclipse

We spent months being inundated with all things eclipse related. We live directly on the line of totality and a lot happened in our town of 55,000 over the course of a few days. I’ve been checking the weather for the last 10 days and praying for a cloudless sky. Our state saw an increase of just under 500,000 extra vehicles in the state on Monday and early numbers say at least 1 million people visited to experience the celestial phenomenon in Wyoming. Those numbers are difficult to comprehend for a state with less than 600,000 residents. A five hour drive to Denver, Colorado turned into a nine hour journey of endurance for the mass exodus of people leaving Wyoming after the eclipse. The photos and stories from travelers are surreal.

Phase view of 2017 total solar eclipse

I bought into the hype leading up to totality at least one year ago. We watched videos, listened to podcasts, read books and looked at endless photos of what to expect. I couldn’t learn too much. I thought I was prepared, but was wrong. Totality was a five-senses experience. So much happened in just over two minutes, the fastest two minutes of my life. I found myself emotional taking it all in. Cheering and clapping broke out around our neighborhood. We experienced a partial solar eclipse a several years ago, and it pales in comparison to a total solar eclipse. It’s truly indescribable if you haven’t lived through it.

Attempt at photographing totality during 2017 total solar eclipse

Our town held a four-day eclipse festival over the weekend. We spent quite a bit of time at the festival taking in the thousands of people from all over the United States and world mingling with the local residents. A giant world map was available for visitors to mark where they called home. It’s was incredible to watch the map transform over the weekend and become clogged with pins denoting places people were visiting from. I knew there would be eclipse chasers in town, but pre-eclipse me couldn’t fathom why you’d put in the money and effort to chase eclipses around the world. Post-eclipse me understands the draw. I’d relive those two minutes and the hour leading to it over and over if I could.

Map of total solar eclipse visitors who traveled to Casper, Wyoming

Living on the line of totality was a once in a lifetime treat. I still cannot believe we watched the event from our front yard. I’ve received questions from friends who were only able to view a partial eclipse concerning what the total eclipse was like. What follows are some answers to common questions I’ve received:

  1. 360 degree Wyoming sunset during total solar eclipseDid it get dark as night during totality? Not quite. We were surrounded by a 360 degree sunset, and it was dark enough for streetlights to turn on. It was darker than I thought it would get, but not pitch black at our house — maybe a level of dark you experience 30 minutes after a normal sunset. We could easily see planets like Venus and a few other stars. It was amazing to be surrounded by sunset and interesting as totality approached to witness the dimming of light. It was as someone was slowly using a dimmer switch on the sun. Crazy. Right after totality the light is difficult to describe. It looked like a badly colored movie with muted tones gradually making it’s way to vibrancy.
  2. Did it get cold during totality? We could feel the temperature drop the closer the eclipse moved to totality. It wasn’t cold, but there were fleeting thoughts to grab a sweatshirt. On the crude thermometer at our house we saw the temperature only drop five degrees, but a more reliable scientific measurement in town saw a drop from 82 degrees to 66.
  3. Did you notice behavior changes in animals? Yes. Birds began singing evening songs and flying away. One of our sons heard crickets. Initially there was cheering from the houses around us when the diamond ring made its appearance and then it was weirdly quiet as everyone took off their glasses to enjoy totality. Animals did seem agitated after totality. I’m sure they were confused as to whether it was day or night.
  4. What was the best part? This one is tricky. My favorite part was the shadow bands. We had read about these strange shadows that arrive right before and after totality. You can’t predict if you’ll be able to view them. We followed the suggestion of laying a large white sheet on the ground, ours was technically a really light blue, to make it easier to spot them. They were amazing and mysterious. At the peak of the shadow bands, they appeared like waves of tiny shadow snakes rapidly wiggling away. It was slightly disorienting. Our children all said the diamond ring and Baily’s beads were their most memorable part of the eclipse. I also enjoyed experiencing the subtle changes in light and temperature the closer we were to totality.
  5. Was it difficult to take photos? Yes and no. I love to take photos, but did not stress about catching the perfect shot. I’m more interested in the unreal photos NASA captured. I wanted to experience the eclipse and not miss it bothering with photos. That being said, I did set my DSLR camera on a tripod and snap a few photos. I also used a smaller camera to take photos of everything else happening like the people, shadows and sunset. I’d really suggest, unless you’re a professional, to enjoy the moment. It goes lightning fast. I also videotaped throughout the morning and caught everyone’s reactions during totality and right after. I look forward to watching those snippets in years to come.
  6. Would you travel to see another total solar eclipse? Last week I would have said no, but now I’ll say “never say never.” It will be difficult to beat a cloudless, August sky and mid-day in my front yard. The next one is April 8, 2024 in the United States, the day after my husband’s birthday. I think I know what I’ll gift him with that year.

 

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