There was a total solar eclipse visible across the U.S., August 21, 2017. There will be another one visible in the U.S., April 8, 2024. The chances of seeing 2 total eclipses from Kentucky and Tennessee in 7 years are remote. Nonetheless, it will happen. Lebanon, a small town near Nashville, was in the path of totality in 2017.
A solar eclipse happens when the sun, moon & earth line up with the moon in the middle. This happens at new moon. There is not a solar eclipse every month because the moon's orbit is tilted and the moon usually goes above or below the sun. Whereas lunar eclipses are seen by everyone on the night side of the planet, solar eclipses are local. Eclipse chasers travel to stand in the path of the moon's shadow.
It is an amazing coincidence that the sun and moon appear to be the same size. The sun is 400 times larger than the moon but 400 times farther away.
Both the moon and the earth cast shadows into space. The moon casts a small shadow, so an eclipse of the sun lasts a few minutes. The path of totality can be thousands of miles long and only 70 miles wide. The moon's shadow travels 1000 miles an hour.
The moon orbits the earth from west to east, so it makes contact with the sun on the sun's western edge. In half an hour, the sun is half covered. The sky takes on a metallic look. The moon's shadow approaches and, suddenly, the sun is a crescent. Baily's Beads flicker as light passes through lunar valleys. The beads were named after Francis Baily. We see the diamond ring and the corona! Totality! There is a black disk in our sky! We stand in the moon's shadow! Look around! There are stars and planets. Orange twilight is on the horizons, coming from areas where the eclipse is partial. The sky brightens in the west, and totality ends.
The experience is eerie! The temperature drops, and birds go to their nests. But the eclipse must be experienced in the path of totality!
On August 21, the moon's shadow touched down in the Pacific Ocean. It crossed the United States from the northwest to the southeast. It crossed Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North and South Carolina. It passed into the Atlantic Ocean and left the earth near the Cape Verde Islands. I was in Lebanon, Tennessee, where the duration of totality was 2 minutes, 35 seconds. The crowd reacted! It is strange how the moon's shadow is treated as if it were a tangible thing. In reality, it is the absence of something: the sun's rays.
TOTAL ADDICTION: THE LIFE OF AN ECLIPSE CHASER by KATE RUSSO - Jim Colyer summary
Kate Russo is a psychologist. She is an eclipse chaser. At the time of her book, she had seen 9 total solar eclipses. It is her passion, and she says she will chase them as long as she can. Being a psychologist, Kate is interested in the human aspects of totality. Why do people chase eclipses? How are they affected by them? There is fascination, awe, even fear, a connection with primitive ancestors. Kate calls it a passion, although "eclipse virgins" may deem it an obsession. She speaks of an eclipse chasing community. There is a picture of Kate after a solar eclipse, and she is in ecstasy!
Chapter 5 deals with the science, and Kate explains what a total solar eclipse is. Basically, it is a situation where the moon moves between the sun and the earth. For a short time, the moon's shadow traverses a long, narrow strip of Earth's surface. Observers along the path see the sun covered by the moon and its light blocked. Daytime becomes night! Mercury and Venus are seen. The sun's corona, or outer atmosphere, becomes visible, surrounding the moon's black disk. Solar eclipses occur at new moon, unlike lunar eclipses, which occur at full moon. Total solar eclipses vary in duration, the longest being 7 minutes, 31 seconds. There is one somewhere on the globe every 18 months.
The stages of a TSE are called contacts. First contact is when the invisible new moon takes its first bite out of the sun. Second contact is totality itself. The 30 seconds before totality are intense! Baily's Beads (sunlight passing through lunar mountains and valleys) and the Diamond Ring (the final Bead) are witnessed. At second contact, the moon is a black disk covering the sun. Third contact is when the Diamond Ring and Baily's Beads appear on the other side. Fourth contact is the end of the eclipse with no trace of the moon. The moon crosses the sun in 3 hours.
Kate is interested in emotional reactions. Emotions run wild: anticipation, excitement, joy, exhilaration & happiness. There is wonder, anxiety, amazement, curiosity & relief. There are goosebumps as the moon's shadow rushes toward onlookers. Breathing is heavy, and there is screaming!
Kate interviewed eclipse chasers. Foremost was Patrick Moore, who saw 7. Moore was the face of British astronomy for decades.
David Makepeace is a film maker who sees eclipses as opportunities to connect with the universe. Makepeace calls himself the "eclipseguy" and has a website.
One chaser confided that the minutes of totality are the only times he is at peace. Another likened the black disk and corona to the eye of God.
GREAT AMERICAN ECLIPSE: August 21, 2017
A total eclipse of the sun occurs during new moon. New moon is when the moon moves between the earth and the sun. The night side of the moon faces us, and the moon is invisible. When the sun, moon & earth form a straight line, there is a total solar eclipse somewhere on the planet. An eclipse does not occur every new moon because the moon's orbit is inclined to the ecliptic by 5 degrees. Generally, the moon passes above or below the sun. During a total solar eclipse, the moon covers the sun, plunging us into darkness. Eclipses vary in duration depending on the moon's distance from Earth. It is a perfect fit, the only 2 discs in our sky, one on top of the other like a quarter on top of a quarter.
The sun's diameter is 400 times larger than the moon's. The sun is also 400 times farther away. These facts make total solar eclipses possible. The sun is about 93 million miles from us. The moon is about 240 thousand miles. Divide 240,000 into 93,000,000, and you get 388. Close enough! The moon was created when a planet-size object collided with the early earth, sending debris into orbit. The debris coalesced over time to form the moon. The moon was once much closer. It is slowly drifting away, and there will come a time when it will not appear large enough to cover the sun. The age of total solar eclipses will be over.
The Great American Eclipse began in the Pacific Ocean. The moon's shadow touched land in Oregon and cut a diagonal path across the United States. Lebanon, Tennessee, 30 miles east of Nashville, was the ideal place for me. I lived in Lebanon in the 1970s and 80s and knew the town. There were 2 minutes, 35 seconds of totality. From Tennessee, the moon's shadow crossed Charleston, South Carolina, and moved into the Atlantic Ocean.
The partial phase began just before noon. Totality occurred at 1:28pm. The eclipse ended at 3pm. I had eclipse glasses for the partial phases. Only during totality could the eclipse be viewed without glasses. The corona was visible at that time. The corona is the sun's atmosphere and made of plasma, the 4th state of matter. It is hot, delicate & pearly white. The moon was a black disc covering the sun with the corona around it.
Before and after totality, Baily's Beads and the Diamond Rings were seen. Baily's Beads are the sun's rays passing through mountains and valleys on the moon. The Diamond Rings are the last bead before totality and the first Bead after totality. From beginning to end, the eclipse lasted 3 hours.
All solar eclipses are different. The path of the Great American Eclipse was 70 miles wide. It was a ribbon stretching across the United States, and people wanted to be as close to the center of that ribbon as possible. The shadow came from the west.
My cousin and I rode out to Lebanon, Tennessee, from Nashville the morning of August 21. We went to the Cedars of Lebanon State Park, where a group of eclipse chasers had gathered. It looked like big fluffy clouds would interfere but by eclipse time, the sky was clear. It was hot! The eclipse began around noon and looking through my glasses, it looked as if a bite had been taken out of the sun's western edge. It was the night side of the moon encroaching on the sun. As the bite got bigger, I thought it looked like a vinyl record next to a banana. The crescent sun continued to shrink as the moon moved across it. It got smaller and smaller until totality occurred at 1:28pm. It was noticeably cooler, and the sky had darkened, although it never got pitch black. I saw the white corona. It looked like a paper mache flower. I spotted Venus. For some reason, I never noticed Baily's Beads or the Diamond Rings. We left after totality as the reverse partial phase began. Totality passed quickly! Maybe I had seen too many pictures and had high expectations. What I was seeing in my mind and what I saw with my eyes were 2 different things. Still, it was a great experience and one I would not have missed. We saw shadow bands through tree leaves as we returned to the car.