Roy Kaelin traveled to southern Illinois to observe the recent solar eclipse. Here’s his account.
On August 21, all things in the sky and on land were on the move. By news accounts, across the country people were getting into place to watch a celestial event not seen over the whole United States in nearly a century; in southern Illinois, thousands had already staked their spot amid the day’s heat and humidity for the chance to view a union of both sun and moon.
On this date, those with clear skies would observe a total eclipse of the sun, a spectacle of cosmic precision that occurs nowhere else in the solar system. With several friends, I had located my camera and telescope in the small town of West Frankfort, Illinois, far from the madding crowd, to take my chance at photographing the eclipse.
For the throngs which had flocked to that path to stand in the shadow of the moon, clouds bedeviled the crowds in some places; in other places, there was much to cheer where it was clear. I had the good fortune to have brilliant blue skies with only few storm clouds creeping along the tree line.
By astronomers’ accounts, during a solar eclipse that lunar shadow would speed along at more than a couple thousand miles per hour. Where the confluence of celestial motions would allow observers to view an exact alignment, one would have the chance to stand in awe of nature’s precision as that shadow would sweep by within a minute or two.
For those fortunate to have clear skies along the path of totality, nature’s precision did not disappoint. Within the approaching shadow of the Moon, the day’s heat dropped, the humidity lessened, and planets appeared; beyond that shadow and all around the horizon at tree line, distant storm clouds, once dark and bluish, now appeared subdued and yellowed.
At the moment of totality, as sun and moon exactly aligned, a black circle in the sky appeared, crowned by a dazzling white halo; the sky’s bright hue slid to a deep slate-blue and the clear sky dimmed to dark twilight. The blazing white of that halo, the solar corona, was the only light visible and glowed with the brilliance of lightning. Reflected from faces of those who witnessed it, that solar radiance appeared to give all faces much the same pallor; surely, a sight to make the moment all the more memorable.
For those faces gazing skyward at totality, we had the chance to pause in the moon’s shadow, at least for a minute or two, to put aside all humanly cares and ponder our singular place in the cosmos.