August 21, 2017—the day the entire country had been anxiously awaiting. Called "The Great American Eclipse", this spectacular natural event captured the attention of people from Oregon to South Carolina along the path of totality and many others. As one of the "others" not along the path of totality, I decided to take an adventure to find this mysterious total solar eclipse. So with a group of fellow grad students from the Climate and Space department at Michigan, we set off to Cookeville, Tennessee, home of Tennessee Tech.
The Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) chapter at Tennessee Tech hosted a weekend-long event for students in anticipation of the eclipse. We tried out solar telescopes for the first time and marveled at the sunspots right in the center of the sun. For a time where we are heading into solar minimum, we were lucky to have some active regions on the sun, both on the surface, and along the edge, just in time for the eclipse. An astronomy professor and a NASA heliophysicist from Marshall spoke to us about the features we might see during the eclipse, including Baily's Beads and the diamond ring effect, caused by the uneven surface of the moon. During totality, we might even glimpse the chromosphere, as determined by a faint pink color around the rim due to helium. Of course, with a large group of space students, we had fun with traditional activities such as watching Apollo 13 and experimenting with rocket powered Tinkertoy cars.
The morning of August 21 dawned clear and bright, with only a few scattered clouds—perfect eclipse viewing skies! After watching the launch of the SEDS weather balloon, we sat and waited anxiously for first contact of the moon to the rim of the sun. Finally, around 12:00 PM CDT, a yell went up, "It's started!" We all rushed out, shoved our eclipse glasses on our noses, and gazed up. Over the next hour, we watched the sun slowly disappear. Around 1:00, the light started looking odd, with a blue-gray tint. We didn't need our sunglasses for seeing things (excluding the sun) anymore. The temperature had also noticeably cooled. Our excitement grew, and our whoops and hollers did as well, possibly to the chagrin of our neighboring viewers. Suddenly, at 1:29, the light dimmed and the moon completely covered the sun. Many joyful exclamations ensued, most along the lines of "it's so beautiful" and "AWESOME". Glancing around, it appeared as if sunset had occurred all around us. We were able to see the faint pink of the chromosphere with the naked eye. It looked like a hole had been ripped into the sky. After a scant two and a half minutes, we hurried to put our eclipse glasses on again to see the sun emerge from the shadow of the moon. The sight was more exhilarating than I thought, and the features were so new, even though I thought I knew what to expect. Needless to say, I am looking forward to the next total solar eclipse in 2024!