Saturday, September 2, 2017

Total Eclipse Of The Sun

On August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse was visible in the U.S. literally from coast to coast as it moved across the country—from the Pacific Ocean on the west coast to the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast. I traveled to an area where I could see the total solar eclipse. The area we selected was the town of Hiawatha, Kansas, (population of a little over 3000) in the far northeast corner of the state.  In Wichita, where I currently live, the eclipse was going to be 94%. But when a 3.5 hour drive can get the total eclipse, we decided that was the thing to do.

In Hiawatha (central time zone), the eclipse started at 11:39AM and concluded at 2:33PM with totality occurring at 1:06PM and lasting for 2 minutes and 34 seconds.

We bought our eclipse glasses about 2 weeks in advance. I spent lots of time going over all the settings on my DSLR camera that I don't normally use to make sure I could photograph everything with quick efficiency. Traffic-wise, we anticipated crowded roads so we left before daylight. The drive up was surprisingly quick and easy, normal traffic moving along as highway speeds.

Rather than finding a quiet place on a country road somewhere, we headed for Hiawatha's city park which had been set up as the center of eclipse activity. Parking was a reasonable $5. Just 2 blocks away from the city park, a church was charging $20 for use of their parking lot (however, I suspect that it might have been an overnight parking fee for motor homes and recreational vehicles).

At the city park, the main recreation building housed a demonstration and talk by NASA personnel in the auditorium and the gym had been opened for children. Outside in the open grassy areas, a band provided live music, one of the television stations (I'm assuming from Topeka, Ks) set up for a live broadcast, about a dozen food trucks were on site and they offered a wide variety of choices rather than everything being the same. Lots of picnic tables and even a beer garden. There were, of course, the normal mandatory souvenir stands selling T-shirts and other Eclipse-themed items. But the main attraction was the rapidly approaching time for the eclipse.
clouds closing in as eclipse starts
Since viewing the sun at mid day is a matter of looking straight up rather than at a stage, there were no bad seats. Everyone was the same 93 million miles away from the show with an unobstructed view of the event.

But…as the old saying goes, into every life a little rain must fall. And so it was on August 21, 2017, in Hiawatha, Kansas.

That whole portion of the state had been having off and on rain for several days. The forecast for Hiawatha for August 21 said partly cloudy with possibility of showers. The morning looked pretty good, then the clouds rolled in. But we weren't worried. It was not a solid cloud cover, it was your basic intermittent coming and going cloud cover with the sun visible most of the time.
last picture before clouds cut off view 
Until about 12:30, approximately an hour into the eclipse and half an hour prior to totality, when the partially cloudy turned into definite storm clouds and started to rain. And that pretty much describes the weather for the rest of the day.

However, the 2 minutes 34 seconds of totality was not lost on us even though the sun/eclipse was not visible. The cloud cover broke at the horizon. As anticipated, the sky became dark (however not black like midnight on a moonless night) and street lights came on in response. The temperature noticeably dropped, but the rain helped that along. The most intriguing part of the obscured eclipse was the color and feel of the air.

The color was twilight, but not really. A combination of many hues, but no specific one. A soft glow that seemed to surround rather than coming from a single direction.

When I say feel, I'm not referring to the sense of touch. The feel was somehow ethereal—aesthetic rather than tactile. The very air surrounding us oozed an almost surreal awareness, a sensation of awe, a perception that can't be explained using mere words.
after the eclipse 
But reality soon set in. What was a 3.5 hour drive to Hiawatha, Kansas, was an 8 hour drive home. The highway was literally a parking lot.

Even though we could not see the moment of totality, the experience was well worth the trip.

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