The total solar eclipse is upon us. On the morning of Aug 21, starting in Oregon and finishing in South Carolina, a 70 mile wide shadow will cut across the middle of the U.S. as the moon completely covers the sun. Those wanting to see this in person will cause one of the largest migrations in US history and this event has drummed up more collective excitement than anything I can think of in recent memory. I would not have understood what the fuss was all about if not for the onslaught of new media determined to get me excited. Their plan worked, and I’m a total convert now who is already planning on how to be part of the experience next time. Below are the best things I came across:
Every Little Thing: Rapture Chasers (podcast)
This was the first thing that started getting me pumped up about the upcoming eclipse. I went from thinking eclipses were something probably interesting to see if you happen to be near one, to thinking, “holy crap, I REALLY need to see one these ASAP.” This episode profiles the dedicated group of people who travel the globe every 18 months to witness a totality. Their descriptions blew me away. The experience sounded like a complete spiritual experience, and I wanted in.
Annie Dillard’s ‘Total Eclipse’ (essay)
Writer Annie Dillard first published this essay in 1982 about her experience witnessing a total solar eclipse, and is essential reading for grasping why this is not just some simple, fun event. She assures us that “what you see in an eclipse is entirely different from what you know”, and it makes clear why it is truly something you need to be present for to understand. One of my favorite parts is on the importance of being in the path of totality, and not viewing it as a partial eclipse (as most of the world will on Monday).
“A partial eclipse is very interesting. It bears almost no relation to a total eclipse. Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him, or as flying in an airplane does to falling out of an airplane. Although the one experience precedes the other, it in no way prepares you for it. During a partial eclipse the sky does not darken — not even when 94 percent of the sun is hidden. Nor does the sun, seen colorless through protective devices, seem terribly strange.”
Viewing an eclipse is all or nothing.
An excellent visual breakdown of exactly what is happening during different parts of the eclipse. The total eclipse itself usually only lasts a few minutes, but there are all sorts of interesting phenomena in the hour before and after totality. Destin has a way to make everything exciting and breaks things down in just the right detail with his engineer brain. He also put out this shorter video of the top ten things you need to do if you plan on being in the path of totality.
There are two stories here told before a live audience. The first one is a moving story about astronomy. The second one (starts at 9:15) is a science writer’s personal account of how eclipse chasing has become a central part of his life, and why “a total solar eclipse is the most awe-inspiring sight in all of nature.”
One theme that comes up in every account of the total eclipse is that photographs do no justice to what it’s like to be there. For your first time you need to simply be in the moment and not try to capture it in any way. But for those of us who won’t be there, this video might be the next best thing to get a small sense of what actually happens. This is 360 video during the 2016 total eclipse in Indonesia, where you can move the camera around with your mouse or finger to get more visual context on what it’s like during the event. Still not the real thing, but certainly helps built excitement.
Don’t worry if you miss this one
I am completely jealous of anyone who will be there, but I just recently found out there will be another total solar eclipse passing through the U.S. in just seven years, on April 8, 2024. And it actually cuts through upstate NY where I live, which is incredible luck. Last time the wait in the U.S. was 38 years!
This is now right at the top of my bucket list. By checking out the above links, I hope it will be for you too. Here’s one final link of where all the eclipses will be over the next ten years (ignore annular, go for total). Not a bad way to plan your vacations.