The total solar eclipse of Monday, August 21, 2017, was the first seen in the continental United States in 38 years. While one might think that a partial eclipse, with perhaps 99 percent of the Sun covered, would be 99 percent as good, that just isn’t how light works. One hundredth, or even a thousandth, of the Sun’s light is still broad daylight – only by travelling to the path of totality can one see the Solar corona appear as the sky darkens and stars come out during the day.
Dylan and I were the only two students at Techie-for-Life to make the trip to see the total eclipse. As the Moon passes in front of the Sun, its shadow traces a path of totality on the Earth’s surface from west to east; this time the path made landfall in Oregon and traced its way through fourteen states until it again took to sea from the Atlantic coast of South Carolina. The two of us planned our trip to Rexburg, Idaho, taking the St. George Shuttles from St. George to the Salt Lake City Airport, and thence to the BYU Idaho campus in Rexburg. The trip northward was uneventful after our departure at 6:30 on Sunday morning. While newscasters had predicted huge crowds, traffic was not thick enough to cause any trouble.
We arrived at Rexburg late in the afternoon, and were taken in my relatives of a friend of Wesley’s, who were also hosting cousins from American Fork, Utah. After two meals and a night with this family, we headed over to the verdant and well-kept Temple grounds to see the eclipse itself. Many people had gathered at that spot; most, like ourselves, came only as spectators with no instruments beyond eclipse glasses and smartphone cameras, but some were equipped with professional-quality telescopes and cameras.
From first contact, when the Moon began to take a bite out of the Sun, until totality was about an hour. During this time, the sunlight grew weaker and the temperature dropped as the Sun shrank to a crescent, but with one’s eyes alone it was hard to tell that anything was amiss, for the Sun was still too bright to look at. With a few minutes to go until the moment of totality at 11:33, things began to speed up.
Sensing the dimness of evening, the Temple floodlights flashed to life. Crescents of sunlight sparkled like gems in the shadows of trees, and we could see darkness approaching on the horizon. With its last flash of light, the Sun disappeared beneath the shadow and the sky faded to a deep blue twilight. Bright stars were visible, and the Sun’s corona shown brilliantly over the illuminated Temple. Totality lasted a little longer than two minutes, for Rexburg was near the center of the path. The Sun’s return came with dawn on every horizon, as the edges of the shadow closed in on us until the Sun reemerged and the world was plunged back into day. The crescents one again glimmered in the shadows, until they two had vanished, and the only trace of the eclipse was the bitten shape of the Sun when viewed through shades, and the strangely weak feel of its light on one’s face. The Moon took another hour to completely uncover the Sun.
After this, we were back on the road. But unlike the drive northwards, this would be no smooth ride. While spectators had come to Idaho over the course of several days, once the eclipse was over it was just an ordinary Monday, and all rushed to return to work or school. The drive from Rexburg to Salt Lake, supposed to take four hours, instead lasted twelve. We arrived after midnight, rescheduling our connection to St. George for the coming morning. After spending the night in the baggage claim, we boarded the shuttle and returned to Saint George, arriving nearly three days after we had first taken to the road. Our final thoughts? Total worth it. —Wesley