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The Great American Solar Eclipse

The Great American Solar Eclipse, taken near Glendo, Wyoming

The Great American Solar Eclipse, taken near Glendo, Wyoming

The total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, was a magnificent and awe-inspiring experience, especially for those who were privileged to witness it in person. The experience was shared by millions of Americans who lived in or traveled to the path of totality, the 70-mile-wide, 2,500-mile long strip of land stretching from Oregon to South Carolina where the moon completely covered the disc of the sun for 2 ½ fleeting minutes. It had been 38 years since the last time the path of totality touched the United States, and 99 years since the path of totality crossed the entire country from east to west. Many hotels in popular destinations booked up a year or more in advance. On the morning of the eclipse, my wife Cora and my daughters Emily and Audrey and I got up at 1 a.m. and were on the road 40 minutes later. Traffic was still flowing at highway speeds, and we reached Thomas Memorial Airport, just north of Glendo, Wyoming, in a little over three hours.

At 10:24 a.m. the eclipse began. Through our eclipse glasses, we watched, fascinated, as the moon slowly crept over the sun. Every 15 minutes, I shot images of the sun through a 20-stop Lee solar filter. A few minutes before totality, the air grew cool and the light dimmed. Darkness fell instantly when totality began. The sun’s ethereal corona, hidden from view right up to the beginning of totality by the sun’s intense glare, was suddenly revealed. Venus appeared in the deep blue sky to the west of the sun. Audible gasps and cheers rose from the crowd of onlookers. I removed the solar filter and shot heavily bracketed sequences, trying to capture every detail in the delicate filaments of the corona, where temperatures reach over 1,000,000 degrees Kelvin. Though I couldn’t see it with my unaided eyes, my camera captured Mercury below the sun to the left. In what seemed like seconds, the limb of the sun reappeared. The dazzling brightness caught me by surprise. I placed the solar filter over the lens again and photographed every 15 minutes until the eclipse ended. We started driving home and immediately realized just how many eclipse-chasers had traveled to the path of totality. Traffic slowed to a crawl, then stopped completely. It took five hours to reach I-25, which was just one mile away. At 1 a.m., 11 ½ hours after starting the drive home and 24 hours after our alarms had jarred us awake, we finally pulled into our driveway. The next day my sister texted me, “Was it worth it?” I replied, “Yes!”

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