KIPAC reacts: Members' stories from the path of totality

Now, to bring it a little closer to home from our general astronomical discussion of eclipses, let's check in with some KIPAC folk who actually were in the Totality Zone, and see what their reactions were to the actual event.

M. Gill wrote:

I was with a large group of cousins and their kids in a campground just north of Madras, Oregon. To say it up front: my experience of the moment of totality is that it was rather 'unearthly', even jarring and very out of the ordinary, different than anything I'd ever gone through.

Group viewing of the August 21, 2017 total eclipse. (Photo courtesy M. Gill.)
"Oh my goodness, what's happening to the Sun??!" (Photo courtesy M. Gill.)  

 

I'd been in a couple of partial eclipses before, the last in the Bay Area in 2012, and remember even that felt curious as I looked down on the ground and saw the crescent-shaped shadows of the Sun through the gaps between the leaves, very different than what we're used to seeing and something I didn't even realize I would notice, because it's just taken for granted all the time. The lighting also felt strange then, much more subdued, and a bit 'alien'-feeling, different than what happens from normal cloud cover.  So I did feel all that here as well as the Moon slowly ate into the Sun in this case as well, but then it steadily got cooler, as over 80% and 90% of the Sun's face was covered, and people started donning sweatshirts and light jackets as the air chilled down. Looking around, it was getting noticeably less bright as well, in that same alien way I'd felt before.

But then, as actual totality begin (10:17 am in our location) everything suddenly became much weirder and eerie, even—a twilight fell all around, and everyone was just stunned to see the corona of the Sun streaming outward, with it giving enough light that we could still see one another just as we would some 10 minutes after sunset.  Initially, a quietness fell on everyone. But in short order, there was cheering, and whoops all around. It was true—the astronomers did know what they’re doing in predicting this so very rare otherworldly occurrence.  Our sky was clear enough that a number of stars and planets also started appearing, with Venus being the brightest object, straight up in the sky—at a height it normally is never seen when the Sun has already set (since it is inside the Earth’s orbit, and thus must always be within a certain angular distance from the Sun). In the end, what I was most left with was: those two moments of totality were transfiguring, magical, and, as mentioned—even jarring. The feelings connected me with all humans who have seen total eclipses through the ages and marveled at them in awe—including thinking about Art Eddington on that ship! 

Then, as soon as it had started, it began reversing, with the Moon beginning to slide off the Sun's face, and the life-giving warmth and light coming right back in full force to shine upon us. Everyone cheered again—just as countless people have through the ages, glad to see the life-giving face of the Sun again. I definitely found it a moving moment, and even if i don't become a dedicated worldwide "eclipse chaser," I do plan to make the effort to see upcoming ones that are reasonably accessible (like in Chile in July 2019, or somewhere between Austin and Boston in April 2024). 

The strongest experience of any friend that I personally heard of was from one I was planning to meet, but with whom I wasn't able to connect because of the massive traffic everywhere of the night. She texted me: "Wow! I cried that was soooo incredible. I don't want to wait another 40 years." (Eileen Riordan).

Pierre Schwob wrote:

Having read and heard from serious eclipse-chasers that one shouldn’t busy oneself taking pix during your first total eclipse I can only share my awe at the sight and my sense of communion with other watchers.

I had solar binoculars which helped immensely with the 4 contacts—and to observe three groups of sunspots. (Didn't notice the ISS—not sure it was visible in Corvallis, OR.) At totality I switched to Canon-stabilized binocs that were fantastic. And the Bailey's beads and instantaneous emergence and beauty of that corona (and prominences) was truly breathtaking. Forgot to hunt for Mercury though—too enthralled by the sight. Then—good and stupid heart that I am—I shared them with neighbors, ignoring that totality was only 1 3/4 minutes!) But my karma may have gotten some serious brownie points.

solar eclipse
(Credit: Josh Meyers.)

 

Lori Ann White wrote:

My family made this a mini-reunion, as most of them already live in the Pacific Northwest, with my eldest brother in Pocatello, ID, just south of the path of totality. We converged on his place (thanks, Mitch!), then trekked up to Yellowstone Bear World, a wildlife park near Rexburg that isn’t in Yellowstone but does have bears. They also had a big field that they rented out to campers, so we had a bit of a party atmosphere for the whole weekend.

After thin clouds the day and night before (and a mini-star party hosted by some eclipse watchers who graciously used their scopes to show some globular clusters and Albireo), Monday morning dawned clear and bright and the weather was perfect. Our crew had a mix of solar binoculars, welding goggles, and the low-cost eyewear that was available to just about everyone. We also had a white pillowcase laid out on the ground (for shadow bands, which we saw) and a colander (for pinholes). We were prepped!

As totality approached, the light took on a stark, jarring quality and the temperature dropped drastically. The one pet who came along, already a nervous little dog, huddled with her tail between her legs (poor thing). We weren’t close enough to the bears to see how they reacted.

Then, amidst strains of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” from one campsite, totality hit. I’m not ashamed to say that for a moment I wondered what was going on, as I couldn’t see anything, then I realized I had yet to take my glasses off. (My first eclipse; what can I say?) Any prominences were too small to see with the naked eye, but the corona was glorious—pale light streaming out from a black, perfectly round hole in the sky. The horizon all around was the red of sunset, and the world got very quiet (except for our enthusiastic whoops). I saw Venus, but didn’t spend too much time on stars. Just that amazing hole in the sky.

Then we waited another four hours for traffic to clear, and it still took five hours to drive a little over a hundred miles, but that’s another story.

A standard kitchen colander proves a unique eclipse viewing tool. (Credit: L.A. White.)
(Credit: Lori Ann White.)

 

Solar corona at totality of August 21, 2017 eclipse.  (Credit: Josh Meyers.)
(Credit: Josh Meyers.)

 

Lance Dixon wrote:

We had a great time viewing totality in a valley just south of John Day. Primal and mystical really describe the feeling as you slip into twilight and see the corona come out.

Viewing the August 21, 2017 eclipse from Carhenge. (Credit: Devon Powell.)
Viewing the eclipse from Carhenge. (Credit: Devon Powell.)

 

Bob Wagoner wrote:

We had ideal viewing conditions, good dorm rooms and food, and little traffic … at Oregon State University. The main thing that surprised me during our 1.6 minutes of totality was the structure of the corona: like the petals of a flower.

Laurence Levasseur wrote:

It was way beyond anything I could have imagined. When I took off the glasses and looked with my bare eyes I actually started crying. From the beauty of the phenomena and how just mind blown I was. 'Breathtaking' took a whole new level of meaning for me, as in, literally my breath was taken away. Later my husband Yashar told me that my jaw literally dropped. There is just no words. I thought I had seen an eclipse before, but it was an annular eclipse when I was six and I was expecting this to be sort of the same thing, so let’s put it that way: I had no idea of what I was about to see.

Tom Shutt and family viewing the August 21, 2017 eclipse from Madras, Oregon. (Credit: Dan Akerib.)
What's cooler than a hipster?  An Eclipster, of course. (Credit: Dan Akerib.) 

 

Todd Hoeksema and family saw the eclipse from Madras, OR:

This was my second, the first was viewed from Baja, Mexico in 1991.

Our family and friends stayed in Sunriver, OR and drove up to Madras EARLY in the morning to avoid [what turned out to be light] traffic. Excitement started to build as the Sun got higher in the sky—and then there was first contact! Anticipation. The last few minutes before totality were strange—the light dimmed and had a surreal quality. Darkness approached from the west(?!), the temperature fell, and activity all around ceased. Then the last sliver of blinding solar disk vanished and suddenly a black hole appeared in the sky. I'll always remember that inky circle overhead. The pearly corona surrounding the gap extended out a few diameters and its asymmetric shape was a pretty good match to predictions. But so much richer and more textured! After a moment of awed silence we heard gasps and cries from the folks stationed not far from our group. We scrambled for our binoculars, looked toward the horizon and back to the sky, marveled, searched for stars and planets, pointed out features, and looked back again to the Sun trying to imprint the experience in our minds. Then all too soon the brilliant diamond ring appeared, the sky quickly brightened, the filtered glasses came back out, and life resumed. Immediately after we looked (unsuccessfully) for shadow bands.

Each of us had something exciting to share with the rest—Did you see ...? What about ...? How weird was ...? It's so different than ...! When can we go again?

 

List of KIPAC-ers who went,  for completeness:

Name

Where you plan to be

Seen a total eclipse before?

How awesome do you think the experience will be, on a 1-10 scale?

Mandeep Gill

Camping near Madras, OR

Nope!

Well, I'd say 'pretty awesome', maybe an 8, not exactly sure..!

Josh Meyers

Idaho

Nope!

Expectations are high. 10. Unless clouds. Stupid clouds....

Bob Wagoner

Corvallis, OR (Oregon State Univ.)

No

Without clouds, 10; with clouds, 5.

Radek Wojtak

Oregon, Salem (?)

Once: Hungary, 08.11.1999

I hope 10; afraid a little bit of traffic jams ....

Nicola Omedei + Family

Oregon

Yep: Hungary, 08.11.1999

Definitely 10 (if you are lucky with the weather)!

Dan Wilkins

Sun Valley, ID

Yes: UK 1999 but it was overcast!

Hopefully a 10!

Devon Powell

Casper, Wy

No

Turn it up to 11!

Eric Nielsen

Weiser, ID

No.

Definitely hoping for a 10.

Chun-Hao To

Oregon

Nope

10~~~~

Fatima R.

Jefferson, OR

No

10!

Gregory Green

Salem, Oregon

No

9 (less than 10% chance or rain predicted)

Vahe Petrosian

Salem?

Twice

 

Sarah Kernasovskiy

Corvallis, OR

No

 

Phil Scherrer

Madras, OR

Yes, '79 failed, '91 and '12 great

crowded but great.

Kelly Stifter

Mt. Hood National Forest, OR

No

Cloudy = 5/10. Not cloudy = 10/10

Kirk Gilmore

Rigby, ID

no

pretty

Bruce Macintosh

Weiser, ID (Exoclipse conference traveling from Boise, ID)

No

good, except for the 6 hours of bus ride with my small child

Lori White

Outside of Rexburg, ID

No. Lived in path of totality for '79, have felt sorry for myself ever since.

Hope for a 10. Really hope for no fires.

Really, really hope family members don't kill each other.

Elliott Bloom

John Day, OR

No

Looks like good weather - 10 I hope. It will be a "happening in any case.

Dan Akerib

Madras, OR

   

Tom Shutt

Madras, OR

   

Daniel Gruen

Warm Springs, OR

Yes, Germany 08.11.1999

 

Stephanie Striegel

Madras, OR

No

10!

Hiro Odaka

Salem

No

10

Manuel Meyer

Oregon or Idaho

No

10! - Traffic

Alex Malz

Black Butte Ranch, OR

Not that I recall

8? not sure what to expect and might be too swamped to enjoy it

Alden Fan

Wind River Range, WY

No

 

Maria Elena

Salem, Oregon

No

 

 

Addendum—from friends of KIPAC:

Rabbi Deborah Silver wrote:

I flew to Salt Lake City and drove from there for about 4 hours into Idaho - clear blue skies and yellow-brown dry mountain scenery all the way. I joined a party of 26 at a lodge in the middle of nowhere in Ashton, Idaho—all convened by my friend Jo whose calm demeanor and tiny size conceal a brain the size of a planet (she is in fact a rocket scientist, on the team that keeps Cassini in orbit around Saturn, at least for another few weeks) and a five-star travel planner. There were other scientists, university lecturers, a vet, a geologist, assorted adorable little children zooming around on the polished floors on cushions.

We spent the night at the lodge eating, reading, lounging around and after a trek to look at the stars (so many more than usual!) caught an early-ish night so we could be out promptly in the morning. Jo and co had been researching and decided that the place for us was a high school a few miles away—being there would give us about another 30 seconds of totality, which is a big deal when you’re a rocket scientist. Having expected traffic and crowds we encountered neither—the practice field was empty except for one other family. We set up camp with chairs, blankets, eclipse glasses (courtesy of NASA!) and a white sheet in case we could catch the incoming shadow of the moon (though alas we didn’t).

As the eclipse progressed, with ever-greater rounded chunks being taken out of the sun that my eclipse glasses turned a pale orange, we latticed our fingers to make odd crescent-shaped shadows on the sheet, and also cast them through a colander and a straw hat. At a certain point—we had taken a walk—the light around us began to change. Some people perceived it as grey, some green, some yellow; to me it had a gunmetal, iridescent quality, making my skin crawl ever so slightly. It began to get chilly—the temperature was dropping at the rate of about a degree a minute—and the skies began to darken. We hurried back to the field and grabbed our glasses. Apparently the received wisdom is to close one eye as totality approaches so that it’s already accustomed to darkness—so for the last five minutes or so you must imagine a group of permanently winking people milling about in anticipation, some holding down one eyelid.

As the shadow over the Sun increased, only a tiny bright rim was left—more like a fingernail paring than a new moon crescent—and then, suddenly and with great finality, like a door shutting or the last chord of a symphony, totality. We pulled off our glasses. The sky was a cold twilight-blue, the Sun was entirely covered by the blackest of black disks and around it the corona blazed magnesium-white. I had expected a sort of circular fuzziness, but this was angular, pointed and geometric, a strange new shape that made me think of modern art—Braque, perhaps, or Picasso. I found myself shaking and yelling—as I do at peak moments—OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD—which I guess is suitable to the context. I was spilling over with wonder at the strangeness of it all. I was next to my friend Judy and her husband and the next thing we were able to articulate was the blessing for an eclipse, in Hebrew—it translates, Praised are You, Lord our God, ruler of time and space, who works the work of Creation. And then I scanned the sky and found Venus, the only other bright object; and then I turned around on the spot to witness sunset everywhere I looked, at all 360 degrees of the horizon. But not for long; back to the sky my eyes went, to those new colors, that absolute blackness, that feeling of standing in another dimension that’s there all the time but we are only able to enter for a few privileged moments. I noticed red solar flares in the last few moments. It was absolute, otherworldly, majestic, transfixing—and I was watching it with my own eyes—with my own soul, almost.

And then, a blaze of the brightest light at the edge of the black disk—this phenomenon is called the ‘diamond ring’ and that’s exactly what it looked like. Jo yelled, ‘glasses on, glasses ON!’ and then I began to notice the reactions of others, some laughing, some weeping. Those who had taken photographs began to compare them—some were wonderful, others had the strange effect of reversing the colors. But nothing—nothing—could capture what it was actually like.

I’m left with two thoughts. The first—that however technologically adept we become, we can never portray reality because it is something we have to live and experience directly. The second—that even 99.9% is not totality. Being almost can never compare to being absolute.

Ratna Radhakrishna wrote:

I joined the countdown for Totality, passively, expecting just another progression of the overlap of sun and moon that had produced the twighlightness and coolness—this serious chill that prompted my donning of 2 coats (but I was still cold- I think more from the eeriness of the light).. but then "BAM!!" The miraculous glow. I was caught off guard fussing over outerwear rather than paying attention to the Sun- the ultimate energy source of [our nearby] Universe. Her diamond-like beams of coronal light diffused through the perimeter of the Sun-Moon interface. I was curiously mystified and amazed and blown away and delighted and subdued with reverence. But then it was a game of viewing it through the eclipse-shades or trying to get a "better" view through the telescope (which ended up not being able to capture Totality at all, At that moment, the wonderfully magnified and clear images that the 'scope had produced before now fell to darkness, just a dim curvilinear glow.)

Though the corona seemed so magnificently brilliant, it was an effect only, and not true Luminosity. Because protected viewing devices like cameras and telescopes did not pick it up as did the bare eye. So yes I risked looking directly without eclipse-shades, but how could one not? I tried to absorb as much of the celestial rays as I could, but I also looked around as a periwinkle darkness descended on the earth around us, and the most lovely amazing sparkling delightful thing happened, and the evening sky lights popped out their heads—some planets and stars came out to see, and sparkled the darkened sky. That was a magical moment for me. I appreciated the shadow darkness of the Totality even more (despite it being cold).

Then all of a sudden, abruptly, cleanly cut, it was gone. Back to the two geometric shapes simply crossing each other in the sky. But forever behind the sparkle in my eye that allows me to see beauty and witness awe, shall I see that Total and Complete Eclipsian Brilliance, like outer space peeking a gaze at us simple earthlings, and reminding us what magnificence surrounds us each moment, day or night.