‘We are all just mind-boggled:’ scenes from the total solar eclipse of 2017

For one brief moment, day became night.

And the sun was replaced by a black circle — ringed on all sides with gleaming white fire.

As the Great American Eclipse made landfall in the tiny coastal town of Newport, Ore., the rowdy crowd that gathered on its beach was stunned by the sight into an eerie silence.

In Casper, Wyo., a man blew a shofar, as others rang bells and let loose whoops and roars erupted from the crowd. Birds, startled by the darkness, darted in every direction.

“You weren’t kidding about the goosebumps,” one man muttered to another.

Outside a church in Idaho Falls, parishioners screamed in excitement. “You see the stars!” said one. “I see Venus,” said another. “God is amazing,” yelled one woman in conclusion.

Just a few miles away, Jim Anderton in Idaho City, struggled to put the sight before him into words.

Visibly glowing in the darkness was the sun’s corona — a beautiful halo of writhing exceedingly hot gas — normally invisible, now suddenly and beautifully on display.

“It’s like someone just dipped the edge of the sun in flames,” Anderton said.

On Monday, life in America was put on hold –the nagging to do list, the deadlines at work, the political debates and divisions. Everything receded, overtaken by the celestial event of the century suddenly looming over America.

This eclipse felt different, more intimate somehow. It was the first total solar eclipse in a century to cross the continental United States, coast to coast, and the first since the founding of the republic that will pass directly over only this country.

At 10:15 a.m. Pacific Time, the total eclipse made landfall on the coast of Oregon. From there, it zipped East across America at the screaming speed of 2,100 mph. It traversed a 3,000-mile path, cutting through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, before finally disappearing off the coast of Charleston, S.C. at 2:49 p.m. Eastern time.

The whole thing — the wonder, beauty, craning of necks and searching of souls — was over from coast to coast in just 90 minutes.

Travel the path of the solar eclipse View Graphic Travel the path of the solar eclipse

Overcast weather in much of the country sent would-be watchers racing for clearer skies. There were clouds in the Southeast, especially around Charleston, and throughout the Midwest. The West fared much better, to the delight and relief of many eclipse chasers there.

On the coast of Oregon, it began with a little darkness, like someone had taken a tiny bite out of the sun.

Then, the shadow began to grow, inching its way across the sun’s surface beginning the tantalizing march toward a total eclipse.

But even as celestial bodies began aligning in the sky, terrestrial-bound bodies scurried in a mad last-minute scramble for the best vantage points to witness it.

“It’s starting! It’s starting!” someone shouted on a windy beach in Newport, Ore., as the Great American Eclipse first made landfall.

Photographers nearby began furiously snapping, adjusting, striving for the perfect shot.

But murmurs of worry circulated through the crowd. Would the white hazy fog ruin the eclipse?

The ocean hummed. A gust of wind blew. Then, it happened. The sky, in an instant, changed from hazy white to grey to — finally — blue.

Francis Kanach, 45, smiled as the sun broke through the haze just as the partial eclipse began in earnest. “We’re gonna see what we’re supposed to see,” he announced to his son Ziggy.

As the morning advanced, the country seemed to split into two camps: those infected with eclipse mania and those who seemingly immune to its charms.

For many the morning was marked by mad dashes from store to store in search of eclipse-safe glasses. For many scientists, it was an anxiety-filled day as they checked and rechecked their equipment at observatories and research airplanes, ahead of the big moment. And in many areas, authorities wrestled with massive traffic as hordes continued to converge along the 70-mile-wide path of the total eclipse.

At a Super 8 motel in Heyburn, Idaho, Pat Mooney — who had traveled all the way from Los Angeles to see the eclipse with his mother — said he was shocked to hear his own relatives living Heyburn would be missing the event.

“They have to work, which is the lamest excuse in the world,” said Mooney, 30, an Uber driver, as he peered at the motel’s waffle-maker to figure out how to make breakfast.

Roland and Leanna Good tried to interest others at the nondenominational church they founded in Eureka, Nevada, in making the trip to see this natural wonder. But they got no takers.

“One fella said he wouldn’t walk across the street to see it,” Roland said.

But to the Goods, who moved from the Shenandoah Valley out west to plant their church, it’s a can’t-miss display of God’s handiwork.

“The universe wants to be discovered,” Roland said, marveling that the sun and moon are just the right size and distance for Earthlings to get a solar eclipse. “Atheists, scientists call that a coincidence. Coincidence? … To me it just shows that there’s a creator. We’re not an accident.”

Then the couple bowed their heads to say grace over their biscuits and gravy.

On Monday morning in the tiny town of Lincoln Beach, Ore., the main parking lot was already full to overflowing by 7:30 am. People curled in their cars or under blankets. Some picked their way around the rocks, picking out viewing spots on the promontory itself. But others — spooked by the weather — seemed ready to bolt and head for clearer skies and higher round above the haze.

A few miles away, however, in Newport, Ore., perhaps deterred by the uncertain forecast, many of the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected by city leaders had yet to arrive.

“Where are our hordes? Where are the million extra people?” said Mayor Sandy Roumagoux.

For days now, headlines across Oregon had projected that a million extra people would come here to view the eclipse. The governor had authorized the national guard to aid overwhelmed areas. A state of emergency was declared in Lincoln County. Newspapers told readers to expect to sit idle on highways, to have extra water, extra food, extra medication, extra everything.

“We’re all just mind-boggled,” said Susan Armstrong, who runs three gift shops and a bar in Newport. Armstrong says she over-staffed for this weekend, bought an extra $12,000 worth of food and set up a beer garden to cater to the crowds. When asked how she’ll sell all that extra food, Armstrong wasn’t worried. “We’re gonna have a great neighborhood party,” she said.

The roads were packed in South Carolina. By noon on Monday, the state highway patrol there was closing rest areas on I-95 because they were past capacity, said spokesman Corp. Bill Rhyne. Roads were especially packed around the city of Clemson and in Greenville County.

The physics behind the eclipse are quite simple.

Today, following a course charted before the dawn of history, the moon passed between the sun and Earth and cast a shadow onto a wide swath of land.

At 10:15 a.m. Pacific time, the shadow of that total eclipse made its first landfall on the tiny town of Depoe Bay, Ore. (population 1,398). From there, at a

Even people not on that path, however, saw a partial eclipse of the sun — like a cookie with a bite taken out of it. The closer you are to the path of the total eclipse, the bigger that shadow will be.

Veteran eclipse-chasers — the same ones who have been nagging us for weeks to secure eclipse glasses (they have darker filters and are absolutely necessary to avoid eye damage) — describe the experience in almost apocalyptic, rapturelike terms.

Here’s every total solar eclipse happening in your lifetime. Is this year your best chance? View Graphic Here’s every total solar eclipse happening in your lifetime. Is this year your best chance?

For many Americans, this was their best shot at seeing a total solar eclipse in their lifetime. About 12 million people live along its path, and many millions more are flocking there. 

Many rural towns along that route have been preparing months, even years, to deal with the sudden crush of humanity.

In the little city of Casper, Wyo., officials set up first-aid stations throughout town and stocked up on blood donations and medical supplies. They made sure automatic lights in public parks and baseball fields wouldn’t turn on accidentally during the darkness and ruin viewers’ experiences.

They studied the airport protocols at Augusta, Ga., to figure out how the similarly small town manages jumps in air traffic and visitors during its golf tournament. More than 166 private jets were expected to stream into the airport on Monday morning before the eclipse. (The largest is a 737 and rumored to carry a Saudi prince.)

All weekend, roadside warning signs flashed the same message: “SOLAR ECLIPSE. AUGUST 21. PLAN AHEAD.”

In Bryson City, N.C., an Appalachian town with a Native American history that dates back more than 10,000 years, eclipse-minded tourists ambled down Main Street, some of them still looking for special protective glasses.

“Why? You need a pair?” the Dollar General store clerk replied when a customer asked if he had them in stock. Dollar General didn’t have them, but this particular clerk was in possession of four pairs and was willing to part with them.

“I heard there’s some kids selling them over at the brewery,” another customer said.

Savvy children.

On Monday morning, all along the eclipse’s path, businesses closed down. Schools sent their students home early — or asked them not to come in. Restaurants announced awkward closings between noon and 3 p.m. A billboard outside the Park Avenue Baptist Church in Paducah, Ky., asked: “We live on a planet that circles the sun and you don’t believe in miracles?”

Carbondale, Ill., had the feel of a carnival. Hotel rooms were booked solid, restaurants were packed, the line at the Dairy Queen extended far out the door. Laws banning open containers of alcohol had been temporarily suspended for an eight-block stretch of the main drag. Kids got their faces painted with pictures of the sun, then smeared the images by running through the cooling sprinklers set up all over town. The owners of the local tattoo parlor said they’d fielded 20 calls from people wanting to get an eclipse image inked into their skin.

In Nashville, locals compared the eclipse mania to a fever. It started almost imperceptibly — a date on the calendar, a one-minute preview on the nightly news. Then came the special sections of the newspaper, the cartons full of cardboard solar glasses in every storefront and posters of the sun in every window. The obsession grew and grew. Now the entire region was half-delirious. 

“I’ve heard some pretty apocalyptic sounding things,” Nashville resident Melanie Cochran said. “Cellphones dying. Power lines overloaded.”

All four nationwide carriers — ATT, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint — deployed portable cell towers to boost cellphone capacity in targeted areas along the eclipse path.

State highway authorities from 14 states carried out plans they had been coordinating for months in anticipation for what could be the largest traffic jam in U.S. history.

Among authorities’ biggest concerns: drivers stopping on the interstate or shoulder to see the eclipse, which in addition to being a safety hazard could cause widespread gridlock.

In Newport, Ore., on the town’s historic bayfront, the street was teeming with eclipse T-shirts, coffee mugs and postcards. One shop hawked “eclipse moon pie” scented candles. Another sold incense and Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon” shirts. A placard from a dog food store read: “Advice from a solar eclipse. Don’t be afraid of the dark.”

Even the local marijuana store was advertising “eclipse specials” on quarter-ounce containers of cannabis. The store, an employee said, had installed an extra ATM to accommodate the expected surge of eclipse watchers.

For many scientists, however, it was a day filled with anxiety.

A small team of researchers planned to fly aboard a Gulfstream V jet across Kentucky, racing to follow the eclipse as long as possible.

“We’re looking to identify emission lines in the corona in the near infrared region,” Edward E. DeLuca, a solar physicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, said in an interview earlier this month.

The scientists will have with them a spectrometer sealed inside a vacuum chamber and chilled with liquid nitrogen. Once they are above southern Kentucky, they will have only a four-minute window to get the data they need from the ghost of the missing sun.

In another experiment, dubbed EclipseMob, 150 crowdsourced citizen-scientists are operating custom-made radio receivers across the country. By recording changes in the radio signal, researchers said they hope to collect data on the ionosphere — the region of the atmosphere where, miles above Earth’s surface, cosmic and solar radiation bump electrons free from atoms.

Such experiments, scientists note, follow a long tradition of eclipse-aided breakthroughs.

During an 1868 eclipse, French astronomer Pierre Janssen discovered the element helium. A 1919 eclipse helped prove Einstein’s theory of general relativity, changing our understanding of the laws underpinning the universe.

But even among amateur eclipse watchers, there were hopes for new insight and discoveries of their own.

“This is one of those days to kind of sit back and humbly realize our place in the universe,” Anthony Sgro said. As head of a remote boarding school in Georgia smack-dab in the middle of the eclipse’s path, Sgro decided in recent weeks to delay the start of school year to encourage his students to go out and soak in the spectacle.

“There are bigger forces in our lives than just what we think of day to day,” said Sgro, head of the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School. “There’s something much bigger going on in the universe than me or my school, or our nation or our little world.”

The strangest, scariest eclipse myths throughout history View Graphic The strangest, scariest eclipse myths throughout history

Kaplan reported from Carbondale, Ill. Sottile reported from Newport, Ore. Sarah Gilman in Depoe Bay, Ore.; Joel Achenbach in Madras, Ore.; Carissa Wolf in Idaho City, Idaho; Julie Zauzmer in Idaho Falls, Idaho; Dustin Bleizeffer in Casper, Wyo.; Julie Vick in Glendo, Wyo.; Bart Schaneman in Alliance, Neb.; Brandon McDermott in Beatrice, Neb.; Sara Shipley Hiles in Columbia, Mo.; Terena Bell in Cerulean, Ky; Brandon Gee in Nashville, Tenn.; Jared Flesher in Gatlinburg, Tenn.; Angela Fritz in Bryson City, N.C.; Ben Guarino and Doug Wong in Charleston, S.C., contributed to this report.

Article source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/the-great-american-eclipse-is-finally-here/2017/08/20/5d243c32-8506-11e7-ab27-1a21a8e006ab_story.html

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