“And the sun became as black as sackcloth…”
Sometime when I was a kid, I saw a partial solar eclipse. I don’t really remember much about it besides that we went out to see it during school and we had to wear special glasses. It didn’t impress me too much. Cut to: 2017. I know that there’s an eclipse coming up, and that it’s a big deal, because it’s the first total solar eclipse to be visible in the United States since before I was born, and the first to cut a path of totality across the entire continent in almost a hundred years. What I don’t realize, until I hear people talking about it on the radio, is what the difference between totality and not is.
Olathe, where I live, is going to get something like 99.7% of the eclipse, so I figure, that’s enough, right? But I hear the people on the radio explaining the immense difference between, say, that 99.7% and 100%. Apparently, even 0.1% of the sun is still 1000 times brighter than the full moon. At 100% all sorts of weird things happen. It gets dark as night in the middle of the day, there’s a “sunset” on every horizon, the temperature drops considerably, and so on. So we decide that we want to see totality, which can be accomplished just a short drive away.
Luckily for us, one of our friends has already picked out a spot that’s having a special “eclipse brunch” up north of Atchison, pretty much smack dab in the middle of the totality. So we drive up there super early to avoid traffic, and wait around keeping a wary eye on the clouds in the hopes that we’ll get to see the eclipse. Spoiler: We are not disappointed.
So, prior to actually experiencing the totality, I was pretty keen to see the “day-to-night” effect, but, remembering (or mostly not remembering, as the case may be) my prior experience with (partial) eclipses, I was prepared to be underwhelmed. I wasn’t.
I had heard people talk about what being in the path of totality was like in almost religious terms, and I assumed it was overstatement, but it wasn’t. I have never had another experience quite like it. Watching the light drop away was literally like watching someone turn a dimmer switch on the planet. I can understand why people would go so far out of their way to experience this, and why even a few more precious seconds of totality would be worth an awful lot of extra effort. (We were lucky and got more than two minutes.)
Sadly, the eclipse doesn’t seem to have automatically knocked us back into the prime timeline yet, but on the other side of it, at least for today, it really does feel a little bit more like magic is possible in this world.