“Once upon a time, there was light in my life…”: Witnessing the Total Solar Eclipse

“Once upon a time, there was light in my life...”: Witnessing the Total Solar Eclipse

Autumn Lee, Journalist

On August 21, 2017, the first total solar eclipse to pass from coast to coast across the U.S. in 99 years graced our skies.  A solar eclipse happens when the new moon passes between Earth and the sun.  In some locations, you will only be able to view a partial eclipse. However, wherever there is a point on Earth where the eclipse is total, it is recorded as a “total solar eclipse,” even if it is seen as partial in some places.

During a total solar eclipse, you can witness many scientific phenomena. You may be able to see shadow bands along plain surfaces on the ground. These are wavy lines of light and darkness that are caused by irregularities in the Earth’s atmosphere. Also, you can witness the Diamond Ring effect, which is seen 10 to 15 seconds after totality.  This occurs when, in addition to the thin line of light is seen around the moon, a singular bright spot of light is seen as the result of the moon’s rough topography allowing light to break through. You are able to safely view the sun’s corona as well.  Although the total solar eclipse cannot be viewed everywhere, it is an amazing phenomenon that many witness only once, if ever, in their lifetime.

To view the eclipse, I visited Spring City, Tennessee—a rural town about 2.5 hours’ drive southeast of Nashville, and in the path of totality.  We left Memphis on Sunday morning to beat traffic and were able to visit a family friend’s farm to view the eclipse.  On Monday afternoon at about 2:30 pm, the eclipse began.  First, it started getting cooler.  Then, shadow bands appeared on the ground. The sky grew as dark as night and stars were visible. The Diamond Ring effect appeared. Complete totality lasted for 2 minutes and 39 seconds.  When the sunlight began to reappear, a rooster crowed.  (Although we were on a farm, that is the only unusual animal behavior we observed.)

Viewing the eclipse in its totality was a remarkable experience that I will never forget.  The next total solar eclipse that will be visible from locations in the United States will occur on April 8, 2024.  If you did not have the opportunity to view last week’s eclipse in its path of totality, I would recommend traveling to view the next one.