Eclipse “Everest” Experience
By: Jim Virkler
What is the “Everest” event to which we refer? My wife and I experienced the “Great American (total solar) Eclipse of August 21, 2017 at Marion, Illinois. The town was a few miles from Carbondale which has achieved notoriety as the Great American Eclipse capitol. The low 90s summer day dawned essentially cloud free with only occasional passing cumulus and cirrus clouds. Natural air movements swept away the few clouds threatening our view of totality in plenty of time. Our eclipse viewing area was Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, an ideally serene venue. A company of perhaps 200 folks from several states, primarily Illinois, formed the compatible and friendly gathering in the area of the Refuge we claimed as our viewing area. Untold thousands of visitors had descended on this town as well as many hundreds of towns across the United States in the 70-mile strip of totality.
We add our personal impressions of the most observed, most studied, most photographed, and most viewed solar eclipse of all time. For many years we have been amazed at precision predictions concerning these events—when they occur, where they occur, how long they persist, and how earth dwellers are specifically impacted. Basic answers for these questions have been known for hundreds of years. In more recent years mathematicians have refined their knowledge to an astonishing degree of accuracy. Knowledge of physical processes impart a picture of an incredibly ordered world. Eclipse events produce reverential awe of cosmic orderliness.
Precisely at 11:52 A.M., fulfilling the long-standing prediction, our viewing devices, safety glasses and binoculars, revealed the moon’s initial contact with the sun. Safety glasses were effective, displaying the sun as an orange orb. In addition, binoculars pointed at the sun with eyepieces directed upon a nearby sheet of light paper produced a large, sharp solar image. (We never looked through the binoculars. This is merely a method of image projection.) Binoculars were more effective than the often recommended pinhole “cameras.” The next hour and twenty-eight minutes was an experience of patient anticipation. We sent periodic iPhone pictures of the progress of the eclipse to our children and other relatives. The Moon’s slow progress across the Sun’s face portrayed its actual revolution around Planet Earth.
Some eclipse events exceeded our expectations; only a few did not match the descriptions provided by previous total eclipse observers. However, all events were electric with excitement and provided reverent wonder. We viewed the eclipse experience as an unparalleled divine gift. No human words adequately capture our profound and powerful personal emotions.
As totality approached at 1:20 P.M., we prepared by getting ready to remove our safety glasses. At a precise instant, the Moon became a darkened sphere. At virtually the same moment the famous diamond ring effect flashed its dazzling glory for a few moments. This bright diamond ring visual experience exceeded anything I had expected. Immediately the corona appeared—larger and brighter than I had imagined. For over two minutes a dark Moon was surrounded by an unexpectedly brilliant corona. The two minute totality seemed to persist for a nearly timeless interval. I was not even tempted to count off the seconds!
The temperature had been around 90ºF. The temperature dropped slightly and the park became essentially silent as totality approached. At the sudden onset of totality and the flash of the diamond ring, the assemblage cheered, shouted, and applauded. We had been led to believe that the sky would rival the darkness of a moonless night. This expectation was not fulfilled, but not to my disappointment. There were too many other phenomena to enjoy. Perhaps the brighter than expected corona and a subdued glow from the horizon provided the unanticipated twilight-similar light. Bright Venus was clearly visible to the west of the Sun. I did not see any other planets or stars, perhaps a function of not observing intently enough.
At the conclusion of totality, the diamond ring flashed again. We observed one or two tiny spots of light at the edge of the Moon. These are called Baily’s Beads, formed by light passing through irregularities on the Moon surface. The diamond ring is also caused by a momentary passage of sunlight through these surface irregularities. Almost immediately a sliver of sunlight reappeared. The countryside was soon bathed in light again, subdued but slowly brightening. It is interesting that even a tiny sliver of sun surface provides so much light.
Most eclipse observers departed soon after totality concluded. It is likely that tens of thousands of eclipse enthusiasts had the identical idea at the same time: “Let’s get a head start and begin our trip home.” For many, the trip home was many hundreds of miles. Our trip from Marion, IL to extreme northwest Illinois should have consumed just over six hours. The journey actually took ten hours. But we were fortunate because many eclipse lovers were delayed much longer. Monumental traffic delays generated by people returning home were rampant all across our great land. On the positive side we were able to enjoy miles of lush corn and soybean fields and discover an intricate network of country roads. Had we not followed the GPS voice on our iPhone instructing us on many occasions that, “You can save 27 minutes (for example) by taking this alternate route…” our trip may have extended until daylight the following day.
Pantheism is an errant belief that the universe itself is a manifestation of God. In brief, pantheists believe “Nature is God.” In contrast, we believe nature displays God’s glory in manifold ways. The 2017 total solar eclipse gave glory to the God of Creation. Of all astronomical wonders, this event is superlative. The Creator is author of the order and beauty he permits man to recognize and enjoy. For this moment at the mountaintop we give glory and praise to God. We worship Him!
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Jim Virkler, a retired New Jersey public school science educator, now devotes his time investigating the harmony of scientific discoveries and Christian faith. He and his wife, Eleanor, now reside in the mid-west near their children and grandchildren.