By Tyler Parker
For the first time in almost one hundred years, a total solar eclipse was visible from a very large portion of the United States. The eclipse, which occurred on Monday, August 21st, 2017, marked an extremely rare event for the entire country, and for some, a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness an incredible scientific event.
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon travels between the earth and the sun, blocking out some—or in a few places—all of the sun’s light. For this period of a few hours, thousands of Americans were gazing up at the sky wearing special solar filter glasses or viewers. These glasses use a special filter to block out almost all light, helping spectators observe the eclipse without damaging their eyes. Although the sun is not any less bright or harmful during the eclipse, it seems dimmer due to being blocked out, prompting people to stare at it for long periods of time, thus potentially causing permanent damage to their eyes.
Even though the eclipse only lasted for a short period of time, cities that experienced totality received major boosts in tourism. Thousands of people trekked across the country to cities like Greenville, South Carolina, and Nashville, Tennessee, to see a total eclipse. In these cities, one was able to witness the complete transition from light to dark as the sun was fully overtaken by Earth’s moon. As the Earth is 400 times smaller than the sun—and yet 400 times closer to the moon than the sun—it creates strange patterns of light called a corona. “Everything took on a green glow and then went into darkness. It was as dark as night, and you could see the stars and the moon,” science teacher Jerry Carawan said. Carawan took two days off from school to witness the total eclipse in South Carolina.
The eclipse was visible in a good portion of the United States, but cities like Charleston, South Carolina, where the sun was fully covered, received visits from people who had been waiting years to see it. “Everything was booked up. I had been planning it for a year and my daughter asked if I wanted a room, so I got one at her house,” Carawan said.
Although eyewitnesses now see eclipses as an exciting and rare opportunity, some historically thought of them as the coming of the apocalypse. In Ancient Greece, many saw eclipses as punishments from Zeus, while the Vikings thought that gigantic sky wolves were eating the sun. It is thought that people did not start to understand eclipses until around the 17th century, and even now some religious groups still see them as signs of a coming apocalypse.
The total solar eclipse was truly an incredible and rare scientific event that some will never be able to see again. Whether seen as a strange scientific phenomenon or simply as an opportunity to experience night during the day, eclipses will never cease to amaze.