Solar eclipse

Total eclipse spells day of darkness for US

Americans whipped into frenzy over first such event to cross country from coast to coast in 99 years

Image of the eclipse from Oregon
Image of the eclipse from OregonNASA / REUTERS

The United States hummed with excitement on Monday as a lunar shadow crossed the country, traveling from coast to coast in 92 minutes. It was the first total eclipse of the sun to affect the whole country for 99 years, providing a magical spectacle that attracted an audience of millions.

On the Isle of Palms, a coastal city in Charleston county, South Carolina, hundreds of people gathered on the beach to watch the astral phenomenon. For almost an hour and a half the sun did a gradual disappearing act, culminating in two minutes and one second of nighttime at 2.46pm as the moon obscured the sun completely. After the darkness, the sun gradually reappeared and the eclipse headed out into the Atlantic.

Like a science fiction movie, an eerie gray light infused the beach and birds seemed to fly in slow motion

“It was very short but I enjoyed the feeling of community,” said 51-year-old Frenchman Alex Fuchs who made the 15-hour car journey from New York with his family to catch the once-in-a-lifetime spectacle.

As people waited, the sun created a golden crest on the west side of the moon. Then, fifteen minutes before the moon aligned with the sun, the temperature dropped sharply and a strong wind began to blow. Like a science fiction movie, an eerie gray light infused the beach and birds seemed to fly in slow motion before finding somewhere to land.

The two minutes and one second of darkness were fleeting, but for a moment the world appeared to come to a standstill.. After hours of anticipation, the moon obscured all but a dazzling halo-like solar corona. Some shouted euphorically while others absorbed the event in awed silence.

The darkness, when it came, was not complete. A gray hue remained while an orange glow lit up the horizon. Once the eclipse was over, a golden half-moon crest appeared on the east side of the moon until the sun came out completely and the light returned to normal, almost as if nothing had happened.

Some families traveled 15 hours from New York to the Isle of Palms, South Carolina, to watch the eclipse.
Some families traveled 15 hours from New York to the Isle of Palms, South Carolina, to watch the eclipse.JOAN FAUS

However brief, the eclipse was a moment Steve Spronk, 39, had been waiting for since 1994. “Finally!” he cried as he watched alongside his wife and four small children who had come with him from Philadelphia by car to see it. Twenty-three years ago, Spronk saw a partial eclipse from Illinois and the experience had made him passionate about astronomy. Naturally, the total eclipse of August 21 2017 went into his diary.

When the day came, he was anxious that clouds or rain might spoil the spectacle, but fortunately, the day cleared enough for observers to appreciate its magic.

“It makes you realize how insignificant your own problems are,” says Spronk. “It gives you perspective. It’s a way of honoring God. You look at the sky and you can feel that the creator is there behind the scenes. It’s inspiring.”

Watching the eclipse, it was indeed impossible to ignore the feeling that humanity is of little consequence in the universal scheme of things. The moon is 400 times smaller than the sun and being able to watch it block out our source of light and warmth is a truly awe-inspiring experience.

It makes you realize how insignificant your own problems are Astronomy fan  Steve Spronk

Total eclipses are, however, not unusual. They happen somewhere on the planet every 18 months, albeit in remote areas, making them hard to catch, particularly in a vast country such as the United States which has only 300 million inhabitants. The next total eclipse will be in January 2019, with Argentina and Chile offering the best views: the United States will not see another until April 2024.

Robert Rosario, 40, and his wife Ana Quiroz, 45, decided to take the day off work and make the long journey to the beach in Charleston. “I wanted to watch it with my 13-year-old daughter,” Robert said. “It’s my only chance. She might live to see another total eclipse, but I won’t.”

Meanwhile, Dan Sherlock, 17, who had traveled from Pennsylvania with family and friends wearing an Eclipse 2017 T-shirt, was finding it hard to conceal his excitement. “The day has come,” he pronounced. “It’s a real privilege.”

Drinks in the darkness

“Tell your boss it’ll be another 99 years before you turn up late for work again,” joked a waiter in the Luke pizzeria, on the beach in Isle of Palms. The restaurant spent the day serving cocktails inspired by the phenomenon and people wished each other a happy eclipse. Scientific matters were the focus of the banter among the Luke’s customers who were also watching it on TV. But shortly before the real event, the Luke shut so that everyone would go outside and turn their attention skyward.

US President Donald Trump watches the eclipse without eye protection.
US President Donald Trump watches the eclipse without eye protection.Andrew Harnik / AP

English version by Heather Galloway.

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