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Monday, August 28, 2017

What the 2017 Eclipse Was Like in the Totality Zone

I come from a small town in Idaho of little renown outside of the Latter-day Saint community, and even within it if you don't live in the West. But this year, it finally got some regard due to forces completely out of its control:

An amazing, nationwide, total solar eclipse.

My town was right exactly in the path of the eclipse's totality! This meant that it was one of the perfect places in the entire world to watch a total solar eclipse. People came from all over the world to see it, though not as many as Rexburg and the surrounding areas expected. All the stores embraced their one chance of tourism fame, selling everything from eclipse glasses to eclipse-themed items like Moon Pies and Sun Chips. State troopers were called from Montana and porta-potties were set up on the highways. It was almost a disaster alert situation—residents were advised to expect huge delays, run out of gas, run out of food in the stores, and even have the entire freeway blocked up by foreign motorists who didn't know American driving laws.

But it wasn't that bad. The traffic a couple days before and the night of the eclipse were bad (changing 4 hours into 9 or 10), but luckily, I didn't have to worry about that since we left the next day and only had 1 extra hour tacked on.

So the amazing experience of totality was completely worth it to me!

For those of you who saw a partial eclipse, even a 90% one, I pity you. It's true. With a grand, amazing celestial event like this, there is no "at least." "At least we got to see a 90% eclipse." No. There's a reason that such a bold word dripping with absoluteness is used to describe the event: "Totality." That's because it transcends anything else that you can possibly imagine. At the point of totality, it ceased becoming an eclipse and became something more—almost something utterly alien to this world or even to this dimension of mortality.

If you were one of the unlucky to miss totality, you should know I was like you, at first. When the sun began to be consumed by the moon and I could see it in my eclipse glasses, I was amazed. It was so interesting to see the perfect sphere of light being slowly transformed into a Pac-Man. But the eclipse really didn't change that much for the vast majority of its duration, did it? Even at about 80%, I couldn't tell any difference when looking around. It was an amazing testament to me as to how amazingly, inconceivably powerful the sun's rays are.

And then, at around 90%, things started to get weird. Even though the shadows were still late-morning length, the actual brightness of everything outside was disturbingly dim. It felt like my eyes were playing tricks on me, and like the world was losing its luster. I'd look around at the grass and even at my skin, and it felt like I wasn't looking at real things. The world wasn't ever this dark. Not when the sky was still blue. It was kind of as if a storm was coming... the temperature even dropped about 15 degrees.

And that's probably all you got to see if you weren't in totality. It got a bit weird and shady as the moon changed the sun into the hairliniest of crescents, and then things got back to normal.

Let me tell you what you missed, and again, I pity you, and I'm sorry that no known technology can replicate it. It's something you have to experience, and I am so glad that I was able to.

The moment the moon makes contact with the edge of the sun and starts to eclipse it is known as C1. C2 is the moment it covers the sun completely. A couple of minutes before C2, things got even weirder. We had a white sheet set out to see the "shadow bands." No one's quite sure what causes the shadow bands, but we definitely saw them in the moments before totality. Strange, wavy lines coarsed across the world, and looking at the bed sheet let us see them more clearly. It was like being in a car and driving throw some wispy trees—the shadows all pointed the same direction, like a bunch of fleeing snakes from the Shadowfell. We looked up one last time with our glasses to see the tiny hair of the sun disappear to black—And then, the moment finally happened.

I'm so sad that this is the best picture that can be taken of totality. Again, it's something that just has to be experienced to be truly appreciated. The way light works on cameras and then rebroadcasted from screens just isn't the same as what your eyes can see.

Totality was indescribable, but I'll do my best. In every direction was a 360-degree sunset; a few stars and planets came out in the dark sky; the birds went silent; the grass became wet with dew underfoot; and up in the sky was the best part: an enormous, resplendent silver ring. The corona of the sun shone behind the dark orb of the moon, hanging in space like a beautiful and terrible omen.

It blew my mind to see something so majestic and alien. I had heard that experiencing totality was a life-changing experience, but nothing could have prepared us for that incredible spectacle. It would've been worth a much longer trip to see it. I understood in that moment why so many had traveled so far just to experience two minutes of it.

The eclipse lasted two minutes, but it felt like 30 seconds. I began to see molten red beads forming around the edge of the moon, and though I wanted to keep watching, I knew it was over and looking any more may burn the sight into my retinas. So the moment ended, and I'm left now with only the memory of that indescribable majesty.

The time after the eclipse (from C3 to C4) seemed insignificant compared to those two minutes. I don't think I even really looked through the glasses again. As robins went about their confused morning routine looking for worms, I spent my time marveling at the absolute luck I had to experience something so grandiose. How in all of creation did I happen to be born during a time where the moon was the exact distance away from the earth to create such an effect? Eons ago, the moon was too big, and in eons to come, it will be too small to ever cause totality again. I happened to be born at the right time, and was lucky to be living near the right place, to experience something so unearthly and mind-boggling.

It was a spiritual experience, to be sure. I hate to sound flippant, but it was almost like God was performing a magic trick for all of humanity under the moon's shadow. It was something no one could fully understand, and it brought all of creation into perspective, at least for me. The cosmos is incomprehensibly vast, and to think that life could exist on a floating rock, and that the rock's orbiting moon and the solar system's star could combine in such a way to cause something like beauty and wonder was inspiring beyond anything I could have hoped for. Just like photos can't capture its beauty, media and journalism and written words can't capture the reality and presence of God.

I went to my home town that week expecting something amazing, but nothing can prepare you for the scope of how amazing it can possibly be. Just like the Holy Spirit or anything else truly sublime in this world, you have to experience it for yourself to appreciate it.

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