March 14, 2024

Being there: 2017 Total Solar Eclipse

Katie and Gene Hamilton

Bring Binocular News

Viewing at Roper Mountain Science Center, Greenville SC

It was a very hot and humid August 21st 2017 when we attended our first total solar eclipse at the Roper Mountain Science Center in Greenville, South Carolina.  It was a long  575-mile trek from Maryland, but we knew it would be worth it. Fortunately, we had planned ahead and had tickets for the event, so  we had a place to park and experience our first eclipse. Although the skies were cloudy and overcast, the forecast predicted a clearing, a wish the other thousands of solar eclipse watchers were hoping for.

Entering the center we were part of a long line of cars and happy to see shuttle buses lined up to take all participants to one of the five viewing areas. We soon learned the benefit of attending a science center. In each area an astronomer announced details about the upcoming eclipse, which most of us probably didn’t know. That voice of authority gave us minute-to-minute information about what was happening and what to expect. It was a lot like a sports event with the astronomer giving a play-by-play narrative as the time clicked down in anticipation.    

We were in a viewing area near the Hall of Natural Science with exhibits to see, washrooms and a pleasant air conditioned reprieve from the steamy August weather.

You could feel the anticipation in the crowd as the countdown for the eclipse began. Everyone settled on their lawn chairs and blankets. Some set up telescopes, most everyone sported binoculars with solar eclipse filters or glasses tucked in their pockets.   

All day It was overcast but by afternoon the clouds began to clear. Of course as the sun came out the temperature began to rise, so we looked for some shade. We found a spot behind a small tree and some bushes. This location turned out to be ideal.

When the eclipse began as the moon began to cover the sun it was interesting how the birds began to react to the dimming sun. All of a sudden there was almost total silence, no birds flying, no chirping, not a sound. We also noticed that the crowd around us began to talk to one another in hushed voices.

As the moon began to cover more of the sun you could actually feel the temperature drop a bit. We saw the shadow of the ellipse shown through the bush next to us as hundreds of tiny images of the eclipse appeared on the sidewalk. The sun filtered through the tiny spaces between the leaver creates a pinhole camera effect displaying hundreds of images of the moon blocking the sun.

The eclipse was magical and felt almost religious. We were part of a group of total strangers with a kindred spirit hushed in silence and awe, all of us gazing at the sky with a sense of wonder.

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Gene and Katie Hamilton are amateur astronomers who follow the stars and write about their dark sky adventures. They are members of the Outdoor Writers Association of America.

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