It happened to me again today. I met someone for the first time and told them that I was working to help the City of Gatesville prepare for the eclipse. This initiated a chuckle from my new friend who said “Oh, I’ve been hearing about that! I can’t imagine all those crazy people traveling all this way to see this thing. I probably won’t even leave my house that day.” The meeting we were attending was starting so I just smiled and nodded and didn’t bother to try to explain why people travel to experience an eclipse. As I sat there and pondered her comment, I was a little sad for this person and hoped that she would learn more and decide to see for herself what the excitement is all about.
If you, like my new friend, don’t understand what the fuss is about, maybe this quote will interest you:
“And there, along this line, was this thing, this glorious bewildering thing. It looked like a wreath woven from silvery thread, and it just hung out there in space, shimmering. That was the sun’s outer atmosphere, the solar corona. And pictures just don’t do it justice. It’s not just a ring or halo around the sun: it’s finely textured, like it’s made out of strands of silk…And though it looked nothing like our sun, I knew, of course that’s what it was…It’s like I had left our universe and was standing on some alien world, looking back at creation. And for the first time in my life, I just felt viscerally connected to the universe in all of its immensity. Time stopped, or it just kind of felt nonexistent, and what I beheld with my eyes – I didn’t just see it, it felt like a vision.” David Baron, author of American Eclipse
The emotion of that quote gives me chill bumps, but if you are more practical than poetic, you may appreciate a more scientific description: A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and Earth, casting its shadow on our planet. In most cases, only a portion of the sun's disk is obscured, resulting in a partial solar eclipse. However, when the moon's shadow aligns perfectly with Earth, the sun is completely blocked out, creating a total solar eclipse. Total solar eclipses occur somewhere on earth once every 18 months or so. When they do, the path of totality is typically only around a hundred miles wide. Only those in that band will experience the eclipse in its totality, and the closer to the center of that band, the longer totality will last.
If you are lucky enough to be in the path of totality, you will notice the gradual dimming of sunlight as the moon begins to encroach on the sun, signaling the first phase of the eclipse. In Gatesville, this phase will start around 12:19pm. You will need eclipse glasses to look at the sun during this phase. As totality approaches at 1:36pm, the sun's remaining sliver will disappear behind the moon, and the sky will darken rapidly. The sun's corona, a wispy halo of light, will become visible. It is at this point that it is safe to remove your eclipse glasses. The stars and planets will appear in the darkened sky, and it will look as though there is a 360-degree sunset. A noticeable drop in temperature will occur.
In Gatesville, totality will last for 4 minutes, 23.9 seconds. Then, a tiny sliver of sunlight will appear, marking the end of totality. The sky will gradually brighten, the stars will fade, and the world will return to its normal state. At 2:59pm the very last of the shadow of the moon will disappear from the face of the sun and it will be over. For many of us, it will be the first and last time that we experience a total solar eclipse.
I hope that these descriptions, both poetic and practical, have given you a better understanding of what to expect on April 8, 2024 and have generated some excitement about the eclipse. And, if you happen to be my new, skeptical friend, I hope you are reading this.