Bad Astronomy | Standing under the shadow of the Moon: Thoughts on totality

On August 21, 2017, I experienced something I have never in my life seen before: a total eclipse of the Sun.

I haven’t had much chance to write about it in the time since it happened; I was on travel to see it, and pretty busy. But I’ve had some time now, and I have thoughts.

Yesterday, I posted some lovely photos and videos from the eclipse. As an aside, I tweeted about the post, and the replies it’s getting are loaded with more imagery and videos, too (as well as a followup tweet I posted).

I did not take any photos during totality, because I knew people along the path of totality would take zillions of photos that would reflect my own view. But the real reason is that not worrying over taking photos meant I was free to experience the eclipse. I still had much to do in those two minutes and nine seconds — I had a group of about 30 people with me as part of Science Getaways, a science vacation company my wife and I run. We were at a guest ranch near Dubois, Wyoming, and I had enough on my mind without fretting over getting good pictures!


Mind you, after a lifetime of astronomy, 5+ decades of looking up at the sky whenever I get a chance, this was my very first total solar eclipse. Oh, I’ve seen plenty of partial ones from various locations, but the difference between partial and total is, well, night and day.

And now that I’ve, myself, stood under totality, I find it revelatory to find that the moments leading up to it were just as exciting as the eclipse itself! Of course, we were all excited — all of us were science enthusiasts at the least, and for nearly everyone there this was their first time — but there was more to it than that.

The first thing we all noticed was the air cooling, sometime after the Sun was 50% covered. Wyoming is dry, and the air cools immediately when the Sun is blocked (either by clouds, as it’s setting, or — duh — during an eclipse). Then, some minutes later,the light became … odd. The Sun is a…

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