What I learned from my first total solar eclipse – Yahoo News

 In Science

I’ve always thought eclipse chasers—these people who spend thousands of dollars flying around the world to spend two minutes looking at a solar eclipse—were a little nutty. I mean, that’s a little extreme, right? If you want to see what a solar eclipse looks like, type solar eclipse into Google.

Of course, I get that an eclipse is supposed to be better experienced live, in the same way that seeing a band perform live is more exciting than listening to a recording. But the way these people talk? “Life-changing?” “Addicting?” “Spiritual?” That, I’ve always thought, was a little much.

A total eclipse of the sun is when the earth, moon, and sun are all lined up perfectly, so that the moon precisely blocks the sun for couple of minutes. (How come its silhouette is exactly the right size to block the more distant sun? Pure coincidence.)

Here’s the kind of eclipse photo we usually see. It’s not accurate. (nasa.gov)

Getting to see a total eclipse is relatively hard. There were just 62 total eclipses during the 20th century. Even then, the moon’s shadow carves out a narrow path, only 70 miles wide, where you can experience totality. (Outside that band, you see a partial eclipse, where you see the sun with a rounded bite taken out of it—kind of like the Apple logo.)

So to experience totality, you have to be in the right place in the right time—and have the right weather.

Experts were raving about how rare and special this week’s eclipse would be. They called it the “Great American Eclipse,” because (a) its path would cross the entire continental USA, for the first time in 99 years, and (b) the total eclipse would be visible only from this country. Totality would pass through 14 states, passing over the homes of 12.2 million Americans.

The “path of totality” during this week’s solar eclipse crossed the entire United States. (NASA.gov)

It would also fall during the final days of school summer vacation. In other words, all the planets were aligned for me to make my own first trip to see a total solar eclipse.

Not for my benefit. For my kids. Obviously.

Where to go

NASA’s interactive map made it clear that, for us, the closest spot would be South Carolina. So I booked a plane, a car, and a cheap hotel, and started getting my kids excited.

Three days before the eclipse, though, it became clear that South Carolina was not the place to be this time; almost the entire state would be covered by clouds on the big day!

Of course, a total solar eclipse is very cool even if it’s cloudy. You still feel a crazy rapid temperature drop, see the day rapidly turning into temporary night, and hear animals and bugs going crazy. But you miss the grand prize: Looking into the sky and seeing the eclipse itself.

Well, I’d come this far. I bit the bullet and canceled our reservations.

The next closest spot on the eclipse’s path of totality seemed to be Nashville, Tennessee—a great place for a family trip even without an eclipse. Better yet, the weather was supposed to be clear! Nashville was hosting all kinds of special events. At their science museum, for example, there would be talks and booths and exhibits. At the baseball stadium, the mayor was hosting a massive viewing party.

All the flights to Nashville were sold out. So we flew to Memphis instead, and drove the 3.5 hours to Nashville.

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