It Was Totally Worth It!

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Photo courtesy of Sky and Telescope. Note the reddish prominences.


It was about 10:30 on Monday morning that we saw our first eclipse tailgaters parked in the ubiquitous church parking lots and also along dirt and gravel roads leading out into farm fields of soybeans and cotton. We were cruising down US 601, heading to Orangeburg, South Carolina, and my adult children were still berating me for getting them up at 6:30 because I was afraid of the gridlock that could have covered all of the roads south out of Charlotte. Traffic going down into the zone of totality was non-existent, and there were no backups anywhere.


Eclipse tailgating! That would have been a good idea. Groups had their shade canopies and lawn chairs, most folks had coolers, and some had even brought grills and other food items out to enjoy before the big event Monday afternoon. As for us, we had made a stop at Mr. Bunky's Market on US 378 east of Columbia. This was quite an eclectic place, two gas pumps keeping sentinel outside, an interior with a second floor that was part antique store, part flea market. The main floor held everything from PVC pipe fittings to burlap bags advertising 50 pounds of Mr. Bunky's Marijuana. There was a restaurant on the side that we didn't go to, but we did get our commemorative eclipse t-shirts with the palmetto and sun phases on the back. Mr. Bunky's was my fall-back viewing location if traffic was horrible, but since we were so far ahead of schedule, leaving this store by 10:15, we went on to my primary objective of Orangeburg.


Thank heavens for Google Earth and Google maps. Using those tools, I could scope out the entire route. We made it to Orangeburg by 11 AM and stopped at the FATZ restaurant near the intersection of I-26. They were advertising their eclipse party, and had 100 pairs of glasses to give away, but we didn't need any since we were well equipped. After a leisurely meal and an appropriate beverage, we adjourned out to the back lot of the restaurant, where a few trees offered shade. We set up our lawn chairs and awaited the celestial events. Clouds were blessedly few, but still could have interfered.


Initial contact for us was at 1:14. Within a minute or two, it was evident that there was contact with a dark form just touching the rim of the sun. I started to take photos every 15 minutes of the ambient light, hoping to see the transition from light to dark after the eclipse was over. The word of the day was inexorable, as the moon continued its steady incursion over the sun's surface. Still, there was no observable difference in the light that we saw.


A family in a van who had driven up from Charleston parked near us, and set up their display tools. Besides the glasses everyone sported, they also had brought a colander, a box with a pinhole for observation, and the best touch, a piece of cardboard with 8 20  2017 punched out with small holes. When they held that cardboard up, the second white piece of poster board held the image of the sun with an increasing amount of black displacing the light from the sun. They described the image as the pac-man sun, and that was very appropriate. They kept taking pictures of the date image as the eclipse progressed.


After about an hour, you got the sense that the light was changing slightly. Difficult to describe, but the light began to seem a bit fragile. I started taking pictures every 5 minutes at this time. The change in the light kept coming, and as it started to visibly darken, the light had a bluish tint. I thought about that, and it's my belief that we normally associate sunrise and sunset with a reddish tint. That's partially due to the longer path that the light takes through the atmosphere, and it tends to scatter the light and emphasize the redder wavelengths. But with an eclipse, the sun is shining straight down, and it is more of the blue of the sky that you sense as you head towards this unnatural dusk.


By the time you got to 10 minutes before totality, it became noticeably dark. The parking lot lights began to flicker on and tried to fight this unexpected dark. Still, I did not see any bird activity, nor did I hear crickets start their evening chorus. We were near woods that led towards a railroad track, so we could have seen these things, but I didn't notice this happening. The tailgaters out in the country probably did.


As totality neared, everyone was craning their necks up with their eclipse glasses watching the last thin remnant of the crescent sun disappearing. We were not blessed with the brilliant images of Bailey Beads, or a diamond display as the last rays vanished behind the moon. Then, as the eclipse glasses grew dark, we removed them and saw.....


Totality! The pearly glow of the corona extended out about one solar diameter from the surface on all sides. It shimmered with white-hot ferocity around the black disk of the moon. At about 4 or 5 o'clock on the disk, there was just the faintest touch of orange extending over the moon's surface. We actually saw a solar prominence with the naked eye. I had tried to take some pictures with my cell phone camera, but looking at the images later, it was obvious that the corona was too strong to image properly.  I didn't want to look away from the corona, but forced myself to briefly look around at the horizon. Light shone faintly in all directions as the sky outside of the zone of totality stayed illuminated by the remnant of the sun.


It is impossible to fully convey the image of the corona. It was the single most incredible image I've ever seen myself. Dazzling. Irresistible. I can see why some people become eclipse chasers, willing to spend whatever it takes to experience this image repeatedly in their lifetime. And then, it was over. Sunlight peeked over the rim of the moon, and it became necessary to put the eclipse glasses back on. Cheers erupted from the crowd as we all knew that the best part of the show was over, but we all reveled in the experience.


I remember back in 1979 during the last eclipse, I was working at a chemical plant. There they had welding goggles that we were able to use to look at the sun, and I remember using the pinhole method to see the image of the sun projected and showing the portion swallowed up by the sun. But for anyone who questioned whether it is worth it to get inside of the zone of totality, it is totally worth it. It is only during the last few minutes when the solar illumination is about 2% or less that you really sense the difference in light level, and seeing the corona is just incredible and is an image that I will take with me through the rest of my life. Make your plans now for 2024, because it is worth it.


After totality, everybody started packing up. My older son was going on down the road to Folly Beach for camping, so we said our farewells. My younger son came back with us to the hotel to decompress from the event. We encountered much more traffic on the return trip than we did on the way into the zone of totality. Still, traffic didn't prevent us from seeing, and no clouds obscured the entire time of totality. And I got to share this incredible experience with my whole family. It just didn't get any better than this.


First posted on my blog



Lady Sekhmetnakt Added Aug 23, 2017 - 5:13pm
Sounds like you and your family had a great time. Here in Cincinnati it only got to about 95% totally, but was still a decent show. The 2024 event should be 100% if I'm not mistaken. If not we may plan a road trip to see it. My daughter is only 6 now but she should be able to fully appreciate the 2024 event (she was not overly impressed with this one). It never got really dark here, more like a cloudy day than nighttime. I do hope it won't be too hot next time. It made being outside to watch it fairly uncomfortable for some. But I enjoyed what I saw :-) 
Tubularsock Added Aug 23, 2017 - 7:54pm
Glad you got to see it so well. Tubularsock was on a run and saw several hundred people taking photos of the sky where it was "supposed" to be and they all had those glasses on.
It was pretty funny for me ....... it was foggy in Oakland/SF so Tubularsock ran past all of them but never even looked up once.
Wonderful foggy day for a run but not for the sun!
wsucram15 Added Aug 24, 2017 - 6:44am
Awesome..could not see this at all from my location and it rained.  Thank you for the great pic.   Great shot.
Leroy Added Aug 24, 2017 - 1:52pm
Thanks for your vivid description. 
It was surprising to me.  As soon as the total eclipse was over, everyone went inside.  Traffic became heavy.  I wasn't in it; I just watched it pass by from the safety of my deck.
Even A Broken Clock Added Aug 24, 2017 - 3:09pm
It seemed like what had been so exciting as the eclipse approached (the narrowing of the sun's surface, the dimming of the light) held no attraction going the other way. It was strange, but that's kind of the way humans work. Like it was Christmas morning as a child, and once the stocking was emptied and the presents unwrapped, the excitement was gone.
Stone-Eater Added Aug 24, 2017 - 4:13pm
Must have been fun. We Europeans saw shit and even when it would have been visible here our clouds in Central Europe often block everything. Well.....I guess I will let write on my gravestone:
"Here lies an unfortunate guy who never had a chance to experience solar eclipses or northern lights because he was not in the right place at the right time. What a failure he was."
Dino Manalis Added Aug 24, 2017 - 4:29pm
The solar eclipse of the 21st Century!  
Stone-Eater Added Aug 24, 2017 - 4:31pm
Yawn, Dino. Really.
Bill Caciene Added Aug 25, 2017 - 5:55am
Will someone explain to me why sunglasses aren't adequate for looking at an eclipse?
Leroy Added Aug 25, 2017 - 8:36am
Bill, try staring at the sun while wearing your sunglasses on a clear day.  I think you will have your answer.  Your sunglasses might say it blocks 100% of the UV, but it is a lie.  No filter is 100%.  Then you have the infrared energy.  Your sunglasses have little effect against it.
Normally, you blink or squint when you inadvertently glance at the sun, even with sunglasses.  That protects your eyes.  If you stare at the sun, you lose that natural protection.  There is nothing magical about viewing the sun during an eclipse regarding damage to the eyes.
Even A Broken Clock Added Aug 25, 2017 - 10:17am
Bill, Leroy is correct. While the UV filtering capability of sunglasses is good for diffuse UV rays (rays from the sun that are scattered by the atmosphere), they are not able to handle the direct radiation from the sun if you stare at it.
My eclipse glasses that I got cut down almost all light. I put them on in my house and could barely see an illuminated light bulb. Nothing else at all was visible. When I used them during the early phases of the eclipse, the sun was merely an orange disk with no real strength (I could even detect sunspots). Looking at one source, it says that the eclipse shades only let in 0.00003 of the original percent of visible light and similar percentages of UV and IR radiation. A tiny fraction of the total. Standard sunglasses don't cut it.
Ari Silverstein Added Aug 26, 2017 - 6:09am
If you find eclipses such a big deal, it wouldn't be that difficult to watch the three scheduled to occur in 2018.   
Leroy Added Aug 26, 2017 - 9:50am
A total solar eclipse is a big deal.  None occur in 2018.  There are a couple of total lunar eclipses, but that is not as big of a deal, IMHO.  Partial eclipes are no big deal to me.  Been there; done that.
Autumn Cote Added Aug 26, 2017 - 10:34am
There are roughly three total solar eclipses every year.  It all depends on what part of the globe you live otherwise you won't be able to see it.    
Leroy Added Aug 26, 2017 - 1:41pm
Thanks for your information, Autumn.  My source is:
It seems that over the next 10 years, there is less than one a year.  I count seven, including this year.  The next shows as July 2, 2019 in South America.  Where do you get your information?  Could you possibly mean all solar eclipses?  Even at that, the site above indicates about 2 a year, including partial and annular eclipes of the sun.
Autumn Cote Added Aug 26, 2017 - 2:53pm
I'm not sure what the difference is between our two sources, but mine says 2 a year:
Leroy Added Aug 26, 2017 - 6:15pm
Autumn, I think we agree on 2 solar eclipses a year of any type.  The difference in your link and mine is that mine is for total solar eclipses while yours is for any solar eclipse.
Leroy Added Aug 26, 2017 - 6:16pm
Bill C., sunblock on your eyes doesn't work either.  I just read where people were seeking medical help for doing this.
wsucram15 Added Aug 27, 2017 - 5:58pm
Just wanted you to know I really did enjoy to pic and the article.
Even A Broken Clock Added Aug 28, 2017 - 9:55am
Thanks, Jeanne. Already a week ago and the image is still shining in my mind. We sang a hymn yesterday where they mentioned seeing the face of God. If God has a face, it would be typified by the brilliance of the corona.
Lady Sekhmetnakt Added Aug 28, 2017 - 5:05pm
I read a report that said because of the moon slowly moving away from the earth, the last total eclipse will be in about 400 million years. The last eclipse of any kind ever in about 750 million years. So get your viewing in while you still can.