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“You Don’t Just See a Total Solar Eclipse. You Feel It Completely.”

Submitted by jreid on

As our week began with an amazing celestial event, I thought I would take time to write about it in this blog! I borrowed my title from an article I read in the New York Times earlier this week in anticipation of the eclipse. The article, written by Dr. Ryan Milligan, a senior lecturer in astrophysics at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, described the full-body experience one undergoes when witnessing first-hand, from within the path of totality, a total solar eclipse.

Dr. Milligan is a self-proclaimed eclipse chaser, and the eclipse on Monday was to be his 11th to witness in person. Not only is he motivated through his academic and professional interests to seek out eclipses, he continues to be drawn to the phenomena because of the feelings it elicits. Dr. Milligan writes about the temperature and lighting change before and after totality, the silence of animals and birds, the visceral feeling one experiences when they see the sun’s corona peeking out from behind the moon’s shadow, and then the fleeting nature of the entirety of the event coupled with the immediate anticipation for the next one. In his opinion, the effort to travel to watch a total eclipse is worth every moment.

From my vantage point in Boulden House, I was not able to witness the full effects of the eclipse. There was significant cloud cover that made it impossible for me to see with my own eyes (while wearing eclipse glasses, mind you!). Even our own TCS telescope within the Anne Currie Observatory could not find the sun as it remained hidden beneath the clouds. As such, it was not able to calibrate and connect with our closest star and therefore could not transmit the anticipated livestream viewing that we had so valiantly hoped to offer.

Nevertheless, there was an experience – I felt it. Did you? To witness the darkness come and go, to sense the change in temperature and the quieting of my surroundings, to know that millions of people along the path of totality were sharing in this same experience as me – cloud cover or not. It was certainly an experience I will always remember.

How was your experience? Were you able to take it in with your family? Did you see the corona and/or witness the other eclipse effects? Were you affected emotionally (perhaps by sitting in excitement or even disappointment)? Would you seek out another opportunity to view a total solar eclipse and, as Dr. Milligan has done, commit to traveling to them as a future passion project?

Whatever your experience – corona or not – I hope you and your child were able to come away with at least three things: the knowledge that you were part of something big and connecting for humankind; that you experienced something so rare that you may never again have the opportunity to experience in your lifetime; and that your curiosity is piqued to learn more about the world around you. It is this lifelong desire to learn about our world, its people and the space beyond it that truly connects us all. And should you feel inclined to chase a future eclipse, for those in Canada, I would consider marking August 23, 2044 down into your calendar for the next total solar eclipse that will be viewable in western Canada (Alberta and Saskatchewan). Perhaps I will see you there!