By Mark Anderson
You may have heard something about a Total Solar Eclipse last week. Since we were only about a 3-hour drive from the path of totality, we took the rare opportunity to see it in person. We chose to head into western Nebraska, figuring it might be slightly less congested than Wyoming. We drove up Sunday night and camped in the Pawnee National Grasslands right on the Colorado border, and immediately below a massive array of wind turbines.
The next morning we woke up just before dawn and continued north. We didn’t have an exact destination in mind, but aimed for the general vicinity of Scottsbluff, a small town about 15 miles east of the Wyoming border and ~50 miles north of the Colorado border. The town is so-named for a large rock tower (Scott’s Bluff), that was a major landmark on the Oregon Trail. In the end we wound up parking and observing the eclipse right along the original Oregon Trail. It was serendipitous for someone who 1) grew up in Oregon and 2) considers himself to be a member and strong proponent of the “Oregon Trail Generation” — wedged tightly between Gen X and Millennial (if you played the Oregon Trail computer game as a kid, you too might be a member of the Oregon Trail Generation).
By the time we arrived and located the perfect viewing spot we still had about 3 hours to kill before anything interesting happened (reports of Carmageddon-style traffic were greatly exaggerated in our experience). We took the opportunity to educate the kids about the pioneers with lots of help from the Scott’s Bluff National Monument Visitor’s Center. The kids really enjoyed checking out the covered wagons and climbing on the life-size Oxen statues.
Before we knew it, the partial eclipse was underway. Without eclipse glasses most of the partial eclipse would be hard to notice. However, once the sun was obscured to a small sliver the temperature and light dropped noticeably. I spent most of the hour-long partial eclipse attempting to get a few halfway presentable photos with my point-and-shoot camera (which I did by precariously hovering one lens of my eclipse glasses over the camera shutter).
After an endless wait, finally the total eclipse arrived. It was incredible! The atmosphere was electric and otherworldly. The sky was nearly dark, like late twilight, and a few bright stars were visible. The highlight was observing the ring of light emanating from behind the moon. The light was brilliant white; dazzling and spectacular in every respect. The first stage of the total eclipse begins with a “Diamond Ring”, in which the sun is almost totally obscured, you can see a thin white line around most of the moon’s circumference, and a brilliant, blinding light on one side. This was incredible and my favor part of the eclipse.
Once the sun’s disk is completely obscured the Corona becomes visible as smokey rays of light emanating from behind the moon. At this point you can also see “Baily’s Beads”, which are more distinct balls of bright, crisp, white light dancing along the inner ring of the Corona. If you’re lucky, you can also see “prominence”, which are red arcs or tails shooting out from the disk (these are plumes of hot gas ejected from the sun).
The spectacle ends with another diamond ring, and then in the blink of an eye it’s all over. It was the fastest minute of my life, but one of the most memorable—well worth trip! If you missed this years’ event I highly recommend another one in the future. The next total solar eclipse in North America (in 2024) is supposed to be even better, since the moon will be closer to earth, making the path of totality much wider.
Here’s a brief video of the latter half of the Totality with some funny commentary that parents will appreciate: