A Totally Eclipsing Experience

An eclipse of the sun is always a beautiful sight to behold — but to view a total eclipse is something on an entirely different level.

Owing thanks to modern scientific advancements, scientists and eclipse enthusiasts alike are able to determine the dates, times, and paths of solar eclipses decades before they occur. For years, said enthusiasts have been prepping for the total solar eclipse that occurred recently on August 21, 2017. This eclipse was the first to cover the United States in 99 years.

I myself was able to view the totality, stationed in the middle of a lake with relatives. We’d traveled out about two hours prior and anchored ourselves to get a good spot. Following a text stating the eclipse could be viewed from central North Carolina, I quickly told my relatives to hurry out the water as the event may be starting soon. On further inspection, however, I’d discovered the event had already begun. Exuberantly I shouted to my family to hurry and get their glasses, lending my own to a near by cousin so that he may get a quick view. Leading to totality, we were filled with laughter and awe. I made sure to view the moon over entirely over the sun, which was an amazing sight. At that moment, we all removed our glasses and cheered in cadence with those in boats around us, my uncle shooting off fire works from the near by lake house. Without a doubt, I can say the event was not just calming, but the most beautiful sight I would ever behold.

Science teacher, Heather Earp, acted upon such knowledge, prepping her trip to the small, historic town of Ninety Six, South Carolina as early as January. She chose the location to ensure she would be free of artificial lights from towns and cities during the totality. She brought with her her very own Orion Six Inch Equatorial Mount Telescope and a custom made solar eclipse lens to enable her to capture magnified photos of the eclipse with her phone while having the closure that her lens would be protected from the harmful rays of the sun. Ms. Earp, along with many others, was settled at Star Fort to view this totally astronomical event.

Having a magnified view of the sun thanks to her telescope, Earp was able to capture the earliest moments of the eclipse, where barely even a fraction of the sun was covered. In such shot were sun spots – periodically appearing dark spots on the sun’s surface – which appeared as nothing more than tiny black specs on a massive, blindingly bright, white disk. Throughout the first phase Earp continued to take pictures every couple minutes, while also allowing those around her to use the telescope.

“It was a hot, sunny day, so many people were sitting in the shade until it started. Once we noticed that it had started, everyone moved out to where they could easily see it. Those of us with telescopes were able to see it more clearly as soon as it started, but you could tell just using glasses as well,” Earp said, describing the early moments of the eclipse.

During the final moments before totality the sky began to darken much faster than before, reaching what appeared to be right after sunset in all directions. In the final seconds before and during totality, the smallest slivers of the sun’s light, called Bailey’s Beads, which appear as purple corona, could be seen thanks to craters and valley’s on the surface of the moon. At the moment the eclipse reached totality, the crowd broke out in awe and applause at the pitch black circle with a heavenly white glow around the edges. Earp’s location was relatively clear of animal life, though she did observe the birds going silent and heard talk of bats coming out in a near by neighbor hood. She described the event as life changing and something one would never forget.

The totality continued on for approximately two and a half minutes before entering the second phase, where Earp continued to take pictures. Though the event may be over, it is certainly not the last. In 2024, another total eclipse will make its way across the U.S., going from Texas to Maine, while also covering parts of Mexico and Canada. Earp has already begun planning her tip, looking into locations in Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as making plans to purchase the necessary appliances for the ultimate eclipse viewing experience.

“I am already starting to research locations. I want to be as close to the center line to the path of  totality as possible, and am looking for the areas where I am likely to get the longest amount of totality. I am also looking to invest in astrophotography equipment in the coming years,” Earp said. “Up to this point, I’ve been using my cell phone or a point-and-shoot digital camera pressed up to my telescope. I want to get some nicer equipment and different filters to allow me to view and photograph more things on a regular basis. It’s an expensive hobby though, so it will take several years to accumulate everything I will need.”