Join my family and I in Nebraska for this video of Monday’s total solar eclipse in real time from just before to just after totality. Credit: Bob King
Honestly, I’m already thinking about going to Chile in July 2019 to see the next eclipse. That’s how inspiring Monday’s eclipse was. I have a hunch a few of you are contemplating future totalities, too. Outside of being so excited that I forgot to remove the solar filter on my telescope — yes, the one taking closeups of the sun’s corona — my eclipse experience was one of the best of the (now) four totals I’ve witnessed.
I got to be with my family in a spectacular setting in the Sand Hills of northwestern Nebraska. A cool breeze blew across the big field we observed from, and a million-mile view to the northwest made for perfect viewing of the oncoming moon’s shadow. Recalling the scene with the corona blazing so beautifully in the deep blue bowl of the moon’s shadow makes me want to tear up. This eclipse was by far the most emotional of any I’d seen.
Clouds came out of nowhere just before totality, adding an element of tension which dissolved into euphoria a minute later as they quickly passed by, leaving the black ball of the moon and pearly corona in the clear. Even before the moon quenched the last beads of sunlight along the left side of the sun, the inner corona showed through the clouds. But viewing the corona with both naked eye and binoculars was the best part for me.
How strange to see the sun’s atmosphere and source of the solar wind, that blizzard of particles that streams away from the sun every second. Some days, it possesses the strength and orientation to lock into Earth’s magnetic field and spark the auroras we so love. And there it was, right before our eyes.
What the heck is the corona anyway? What were we looking at? Like the rest of the sun, the corona is made of mostly hydrogen and helium, but it also contains other elements like carbon and iron. The temperature there is several millions of degrees Fahrenheit, several hundred times hotter than the surface of the sun. That’s hot enough to strip the atoms of their orbiting electrons and turn the atmosphere into what physicists call a plasma or ionized gas.
All these zillions of free electrons align with the sun’s magnetic field much like iron filings do around the magnetic field of a bar magnet to create the delicate and richly detailed arcs, plumes, streamers and needle-like rays we saw during totality. Sunlight scattering off the electrons makes these structures visible to the eye.
We actually saw two coronas during the eclipse, the inner, structured part made of electrons called the K-corona. Beyond that, the F-corona or dust corona begins. Here, sunlight scatters off comet and asteroid dust that lies in the plane of the solar system. The F-corona expands into the zodiacal light — a glowing, thumb-shaped wedge of hazy light — that we see every fall before dawn in the east or in the west on spring evenings.
A total solar eclipse knits all these elements into a cosmic quilt of understanding. Looking up at that terrifying but life-giving star at the center of the solar system, we see with our own eyes how the sun’s magnetism provokes structures of great beauty from the tiniest of particles, how tendrils of solar wind paint auroras and how the absence of the sun — even for a few minutes — can change both temperature and behavior.
Crazy, isn’t it, that witnessing the disappearance of the sun makes our connection to it that much more intimate.
One of the biggest surprises for me was sensing the dimming of daylight much earlier than expected. It first became obvious when just under 75-80% of the sun was covered. By 90%, you could feel it evaporate steadily right before your eyes. While I have no T-shirts or other souvenirs from the event, I think I’ll be OK.
Thanks Dan, Sally, Linda, Katherine, Maria, Nova, Ian, Roy and Olivia for a great time!
Very nice total eclipse time-lapse from Gary Johnson who watched and photographed the eclipse from Carbondale, Illinois