Jon Webb's Blog

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The eclipse

My son Peter and I had slept, uncomfortably, in the back of my Prius at a rest stop outside Indianapolis. The next morning, at dawn, after breakfast at Waffle House, we set off towards St. Louis, where I figured the weather would be best. The weather maps kept changing and seemed to be pinching the good weather south of St Louis. There was no completely clear weather anywhere along the eclipse path in the eastern United States; there was always a chance that a cloud would block totality.

Peter and me at the Waffle House
The weather map. We were aiming a bit south of St Louis until I got the text from Paul
In Terre Haute we stopped for coffee and I got a text from my friend Paul, who was to the east, that Paducah, KY looked clear. I checked the weather map and there was a hole in the clouds there. So we headed down that way. Traffic was pretty heavy on the Interstate and got heavier as we approached the KY border. Peter kept checking the cities we were passing on a list of cities where totality would occur. After we'd been in the totality zone for a while I got tired of the traffic and pulled off in Merion, IL, which was on Peter's list, and where we saw a bunch of people lined up in the grass next to a Gander Mountain Sports parking lot waiting under tents and umbrellas.
Eclipse watchers at Gander Mountain
This was about 11:30. The eclipse started at 11:54. It was very hot. After getting some lunch we went to the parking lot and waited in the car with the air conditioning running. It was way too hot to be comfortable walking around the lot.
In the back of the Prius, watching the sun disappear
As the partial eclipse started we saw the edge of the sun being eaten away, and as it progressed it looked more and more like a crescent moon in our eclipse glasses. Half moon, quarter. It got cool enough to feel comfortable walking around the parking lot, talking to people. It's amazing how much of the heat, on a hot day, comes from the sun, not the weather. As say a quarter of the sun was left the clouds started to look low contrast. The light was funny.
Cool enough to watch outside the car
Sun shadows. The round sun images get replaced by C's
When the last eighth of the sun was visible you could see the illuminated sign of the Philips 66. Streetlights came on. As the last sliver disappeared someone pointed out the crickets were chirping. We were standing on a slight rise because someone had said you could see the shadow of the moon sweeping across the country. I looked and the horizon to the west was purple and dark, while the east was still light. Then I looked up and saw totality.
In place of the sun there was a perfect ring of silver, rimmed by a glowing cloud, with a perfect black disk cut out of it, like a hole in the sky. It was incredibly beautiful. I hadn't expected the surprise of it, how there was this completely new astronomical object. People started shouting and cheering.
The sky was about as dark as dusk. All around us, on the horizon, was sunset. I could see a star or a planet to the right. I tried to take a picture but it must still have been too bright for the camera because all I could get was a blur, no ring.
As soon as the sun came back I wanted to see it again. It is really an amazing thing, that this happens. We live in the only place in the solar system where it's possible, because the apparent size of the moon almost exactly matches the apparent size of the sun.


  • Barry asked me how it was possible that the apparent size of the moon matched the apparent size of the sun, and thanks to your post, Jon, I know understand that this wasn't just a matter of perspective, it is a glorious accident. Right?

    By Blogger Cynthia, at 7:15 PM  

  • If my text helped you find a good viewpoint then I'm happy about that. I was listening to the radio as I drove west from Knoxville, TN toward Nashville, and heard somebody say that the weather was good for eclipse-watching in Paducah, closer to you, so I sent the text. If you had gone there and encountered clouds then I would have felt guilty!

    I was in Fall Creek Falls State Park, east of you. Ten minutes before totality, the sun was behind a cloud, and I hopped in my car, but before I got far, the cloud had drifted out of the way, so I returned to the large crowds on the lawns in the park, and we saw totality without clouds obscuring it.

    Yes, the partial eclipse is about 3 hours long with gradual darkening and cooling, then when you get to totality it's a sudden change and you look up, you can stare at the sun without the eclipse glasses, and it has a black center - quite sudden and very surreal!

    By Anonymous Paul Heckbert, at 10:05 AM  

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