You bet your bottom dollar that I would travel to see this eclipse. I may never see another one again in my lifetime, and a little travel and traffic isn't going to stop me from experiencing the greatest astronomical event ever.
Leading up to the big day was very stressful for me because I had planned on photographing it. Reading up on it and doing research (including downloading Photopills to my phone which gave me data about places, times, direction and azimuth) helped, but I am very much still an amateur and I knew I was only going to get one shot at this and if I messed it up I was going to be really upset. I wasn't going to expect perfection out of myself, but I needed this to be decent at least, which is why I knew I was going to do a time lapse.
I had also made my own solar filter by buying a flat sheet (certified of course) of material and cutting a circle to fit in between two UV filters. That worked amazingly well. I chose Lime, Oregon for my destination solely on it being in the direct path of totality (for the longest exposure time). I will talk more about my actual trip in another post, though. For now, I want to focus on the eclipse.
I do not have the words to express how amazing, how awesome, how incredible seeing the eclipse was for me. Let me try to describe it for you.
You're sitting in a camping chair at 9 o'clock in the morning, surrounded by hundreds of other people that are just as excited as you to watch this phenomenon. It's already at least 80 degrees outside; the sun is beating down on you and trying to burn your skin but you were smart enough to put sunscreen on. You begin to get anxious. At 9:08, you put on your very uncomfortable solar eclipse glasses that you got for free from the library and look up at the sun.
You see nothing.
But then, other people proclaim "I can see it! It's starting!" You look back up at the sun and finally notice it - just a little tiny shadow over one corner. Your heart beats faster. The heat from the sun sears your sensitive skin but you don't care. You lean back in your chair and stare at the sun until your eyes begin to cross. This is a very slow process, you think. You're excited, but can't look up forever. You take several breaks as the moon creeps closer to the center. You notice that the temperature is seeming to drop even though it should technically be getting hotter as the day goes on. The moon is not only blocking the light but it is blocking the heat. It's flipping awesome and very relieving. Staring up at the sun all this time was making you second guess if the amount of sunscreen you put on was enough.
You begin to feel an anxious excitement again as the moon gets closer and closer to the center. The sun is just a sliver now as you start to realize that the world around you is getting duller. It's not exactly getting darker per se, just oddly grayish, as if everything around you is losing color. What was once a temperature of 85 is now closer to 75.
Then, all at once, totality. There is a bright flash as the last remaining bit of light is being blocked by the moon, and you remove your solar glasses so that you can see what is going on. The world immediately plunges into darkness as if someone hit the light switch of the planet. It's not completely black - more like an early morning or late twilight. You notice Bailey's beads... they're little red specks on the corner of the sun before the moon completely covers it.Your heart seems to stop as the corona of the sun is now visible; undulating white wispy waves coming out of a black hole in the center. It reminds you of angel wings - you know this is what they look like even though you've never seen them. It's hard to breathe. You can't even think but to repeat how beautiful it is. A couple of stars appear, winking at you as the moon hogs all the glory in the moment.
It's so hard to look away, but you want to see what everything around you looks like. It's far from silent with so many people. The twilight seems very unnatural; it would be unnerving if you didn't know what was happening. Since not all the light is gone, the only stars you see are the two next to the sun - they are probably Venus and Mars. But, you can't look away too long - the eclipse is finite; you don't want to miss a single moment.
It's almost as if everything is taking in a collective breath and holding it. You wonder if time has stopped, but then another flash appears as the Diamond comes out - a bright ball of light in the corner, and you know it's over and you must put your uncomfortable solar glasses back on again. The light immediately returns and people clap and woot and yell as if the sun would bow at its performance. I would, if I were the sun.
Many people begin to pack up and leave now that the "best part" is over, but you can't tear yourself away. It's not over yet. The moon still has to pass over the other side. Color begins to return to your surroundings as the temperature begins to rise again. The only stragglers left are the astronomers and photographers.
Once it's finally over, time seems to resume. It's almost as if you were on another planet for 2-1/2 hours, where nothing existed but the sun and the moon, competing for space.
Totality was so short, but it's now seared into your mind forever. The time, the travel, the traffic. It was all worth it for those two fleeting minutes of your life. A moment you will never forget for as long as you live.