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Dr. May’s Experience with the Solar Eclipse

August 21, 2017

So when my wife and I heard about the total solar eclipse earlier in the year, we decided we wanted to make it a priority to see it with our children (ages 0-13).  We homeschool our six children and thought it would be a great chance to have a learning experience about the sun and moon.  So we started planning to take a day-trip down to South Carolina to see it.  My wife purchased some solar eclipse glasses sometime in June (being sure that they met the ISO 12132-2 requirements!) and also a colorful map of the United States showing the path of the eclipse, which we hung up in our kitchen.  These items sparked many discussions about the upcoming eclipse and really helped our children get excited about this.  We also stressed many times how rare this event is!

As the eclipse got nearer, excitement started growing in the area and around the country, which made us realize how many people were planning to go be in the path of totality.  I had only planned to be off of work for one day, so making this a 2-3 day trip became impossible as accommodations filled up and warnings of terrible traffic started circulating.  But we were committed: we were going no matter what!

On the day of the eclipse, we set our alarms for 3:00 am.  We were able to get everyone loaded up in our van and out of the door by 4:00 am, starting the journey down to Clemson, SC.  Because of our super-early start, we hoped we wouldn’t encounter any serious traffic and get there mid-morning to find a place to watch.  We weren’t disappointed, and we made it to Clemson by 9:45 am.  We found a spot in one of the Clemson University parking lots where there was a good area of grass to set up chairs and blankets.

At 1:07, the eclipse began.  With our glasses, we could see a small sliver of the sun missing as the moon began to come in front of it.

We kept watching on and off over the next 90 minutes as we waited for the total eclipse.  We packed a lot of food (including Moon Pies and Sun Chips) to snack on.  Clouds started rolling in, which was a bit worrying…  But they didn’t last long, and the eclipse continued.

The total eclipse was scheduled to start at 2:33 and last for a little over two minutes.  We continued to watch as this got closer.  Finally, there was just a tiny sliver of sun.

Now we were glued to the sky as the sliver got thinner and thinner.  There were a lot of people around us, and the excitement was palpable.  Finally, the total eclipse of the sun happened!

It is hard to describe how incredible it was to see this.  Once the total eclipse happened, we were able to remove our glasses and look at it naturally.  The sky had been darkening over the previous 5-10 minutes.  The temperature also had fallen maybe 10 degrees.  And for those two and a half minutes of totality, it felt surreal.  Several stars were visible (most notably Venus off to the right of the eclipsed sun).  It went by too quickly!!

And so then the sun started peeking out again on the right side (you can barely see this in the above photo).  We put our glasses on and watched as the sun came back out.  The lights came back on and the temperature started going back up.  We were amazed at the number of people in our full parking lot that jumped in their cars within five minutes.  We just kept watching off and on and enjoying the moment.  We also watched as one truck spent 45 minutes going about 10 feet in the parking lot.

It took another ninety minutes or so for the sun to come completely back out.  We started packing up while taking looks here and there.  The kids were euphoric.  We all felt so excited to have been able to witness something so unique and exciting.  We immediately googled information about the next total eclipse in the USA (in 2024) and made plans to go to that one too!  Finally, the last sliver of moon disappeared and the eclipse was over.

By the time the eclipse had ended at 4:07 pm, the parking lot was manageable and we started driving home.  I wish the highways were as emptied out as the parking lot, but unfortunately it was some of the worst traffic I’ve experienced.  It felt like every 18-wheeler in the country was on I-85 N (all vying to get in front of each other too).  But we were so happy with the experience that we had that it seemed a good sacrifice to make.  We finally pulled into our driveway at 1:35 am (over nine hours after leaving Clemson)!  Tired, but thrilled!!

P.S. – Our pictures didn’t turn out this amazing. Thanks to Dean Furr for sharing his photos.

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