Summer 2017, Day 27: The Eclipse of 2017

In the morning we were rudely awakened by shouting Walmart employees collecting scattered shopping carts. Overnighting at Walmart is certainly convenient but doesn’t usually lend itself to a restful night. It was 6am and the sun had yet to rise, yet the temperature was already in the mid-70s with humidity around 80 percent.

Welcome to Southern Kentucky.

After breakfast, we repositioned the RV to a gravel stub off the end of Walmart’s access road. Being out of the Walmart lot itself, we could now unfurl our awning in an attempt to slow what would be an inevitable rise in the cabin temperature. Our generator is only powerful enough to power one of the RV’s two air conditioners, so the best we could hope for today was reduced humidity inside the RV and a temperature a few degrees cooler than the 95 degrees forecasted outdoors:

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The partial eclipse was scheduled to start shortly before noon, so we set up our folding chairs, prepared the binoculars (for totality only), and donned our eclipse glasses. I also set up a small telescope with a solar filter affixed to the end of the telescope and a photographic adapter that allowed my DSLR camera body to mount directly to the back of the telescope, With the flip of a lever, I could direct the telescope’s light either to the eyepiece or the camera.

We were ready.

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Our reposition to Kentucky paid off, with completely clear skies forecasted for the whole day. At noon, we watched through solar glasses and telescope as the Moon began its slow crawl in front of the Sun. Totality was scheduled for around 1:30pm, and by 1pm the air temperature begin to fall and the sky started to darken slightly. It wasn’t like sunset because the sun was still overhead, rather it was as if we was looking through increasingly dark sunglasses. Note the sunspots: 

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The effect became extremely pronounced in the last ten minutes before totality. The temperature had fallen from 90 to about 80, and the sky somehow felt heavy, as if the darkening celestial sphere was pressing down on us.

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In the minute or so before totality, the sky darkened rapidly, as if the Sun was being controlled by a heavenly dimmer switch:

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In the seconds before totality, we viewed the Sun without the solar glasses and saw the “engagement ring” effect as the last sliver of the Sun desperately peeked around the Moon:

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Then totality.

We all gasped as the sky went twilight-dark and bright stars and planets sprung to life in the sky. Set on the sky’s dark blue background was the black hole that was the Moon:

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Spreading out beyond the Moon’s edge was the Sun’s white Corona. It stretched away from the Moon like a cotton ball being pulled apart:

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In the binoculars and the now-unfiltered telescope, we could see red prominences protruding rope-like from the Sun’s concealed surface:

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It was the strangest two-and-a-half minutes of my life. At that moment, the Sun had ceased to exist. It was as if creation itself had been profoundly and permanently altered. I was deeply moved by experience, and had to blink back tears as I looked through the binoculars.

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As if unwinding a vast celestial mechanism, all the events we witnessed minutes before repeated themselves in reverse. The Sun’s edge, impossibly bright, forced itself past the Moon’s concealment, creating a second “Engagement Ring” effect:

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The light level rapidly “came up” as if at the end of a play and the Sun began to move away from its temporary prison. The light level slowly increased and Walmart employees and shoppers went back to what they were doing.  I desperately tried to hang on to what I had experienced, to force into my memory all the strange sensations I had experienced only minutes before.

Views of the sun after totality:

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The sun, projected between gaps of leaves onto the ground, creates crescent-shaped highlights:

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The end:

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It’s late afternoon now. The Sun is now completely free of the Moon’s temporary embrace. We have another few days to travel until we return to New York. We will visit and experience natural wonders and locations of historical significance, but I suspect they will all pale in comparison to the 150 seconds of miracle we experienced today.

In what has been called the “golden age of American eclipses”, today’s eclipse is a preview of two more cross-country eclipses in 2024 and 2045. In less than seven years, the Moon will once again conquer the Sun, this time over the skies of upstate New York.

We decided to stay here for the rest of the day so I could write an article for Mishpacha Magazine about this trip and our eclipse experience, due Wednesday.

See the alternating light blue line on the trip map for today’s drive.

Summer 2017, Day 26: Truman NHS, Grant NHS
Summer 2017, Day 28: Mammoth Cave NP, Abraham Lincoln Birthplace NHP

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