Watching the sun disappear during daylight, feeling the temperature drop suddenly, being surrounded by a 360-degree midday sunset, and marveling at God’s creations were some of the experiences millions had – as well as members of the BYU-Hawaii ohana - as a total solar eclipse swept across America on Aug. 21.
It was, by all accounts, the most-observed and most-photographed eclipse in history, documented by satellites and high-altitude balloons and watched on Earth through telescopes, cameras and cardboard-frame protective eyeglasses. NASA reported 4.4 million people were watching its TV coverage midway through the eclipse, the biggest livestream event in the space agency’s history.
BYUH Religion Professors Keith and Jennifer Lane traveled to Wyoming during their summer vacation to see the rare eclipse.
Keith Lane says in a Facebook post he and his wife “plunked ourselves down in Moneta, Wyoming (a place, not a town) for the eclipse” to get away from the crowds, and in the silence, hear how the birds and insects reacted to the phenomenon. He says it was a “truly amazing experience. So much happens, and each aspect is intriguing, but probably my favorite thing was the 360-degree sunset effect.”
About 7,000 people also streamed into the Nashville Zoo, reported AP, just to see the animals’ reaction and noticed how they got noisier as it got darker. The giraffes started running around crazily in circles when darkness fell, and the flamingos huddled together, though zookeepers said it wasn’t clear whether it was the eclipse or the noisy, cheering crowd that spooked them.
“I didn’t expect to get so emotionally caught up with it. I literally had chill bumps,” said zoo volunteer Stephan Foust.
It took 90 minutes for the shadow of the moon to travel across the country, reported AP. Along that path, the moon blotted out the sun for about two wondrous minutes at any one place, eliciting oohs, aahs, whoops and shouts from people gathered in stadiums, parks and backyards.
BYUH alumnus Dustin Geddes rode his bike 30 miles from his home to the St. Paul, Oregon area where a total eclipse of the sun was visible. “The ride was spectacular and the eclipse exceeded all expectations,” he says on his Facebook post where he added a video he made of the moment totality hit and he and those around him can be heard audibly reacting to the what people call a life-changing experience.
“It went dark enough that you could see a few stars, could stare directly at the sun, which had this crazy white light behind the moon and all these solar flares,” Geddes says. “The animals were wiggin’ leading up to it. I saw a cat just staring at the sky, and someone at the LDS Home Storage Center I stumbled upon got stung by a bee during totality. There were crazy shadows everywhere, and the temperature dropped significantly. Security lights came on thinking it was night. The whole thing was like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my life.”
Video posted online of the Rexburg LDS Temple shows as the sun disappeared behind the moon the lights of the temple and the town came on and then turned off as the sun reappeared.
With 200 million people within a day’s drive of the path of totality, reported AP, towns and parks braced for monumental crowds. BYUH alumna Grace Lee drove from her home in Utah up north to see the eclipse. She said in her Facebook post, “The total eclipse was amazing. God’s creations are amazing.” A friend commented back that she was surprised she drove all that way just to see the eclipse, and Lee replied, “My dad drove. It was worth it!”
BYUH alumna Sharon Ting said on Facebook she was “lucky enough to witness a total solar eclipse back in 1995 when it happened in Malaysia. I was 10 then.” Now 21 years later, she and her family also drove from Utah to Idaho to watch the eclipse. “I guess I am pretty lucky,” she added.
Passengers aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean watched the eclipse unfold as Bonnie Tyler sang her 1983 hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” reported AP. Several minor-league baseball teams — one of them, the Columbia Fireflies, outfitted for the day in glow-in-the-dark jerseys — briefly suspended play. At the White House, despite all the warnings from experts about the risk of eye damage, President Donald Trump took off his eclipse glasses and looked directly at the sun.
The path of totality, where the sun was 100 percent obscured by the moon, was just 60 to 70 miles wide, said AP. But the rest of North America was treated to a partial eclipse, as were Central America and the upper reaches of South America. The eclipse was visible in Hawaii around sunrise but was obscured by clouds.
BYUH alumnus and local resident Richie Norton posted on Facebook he saw people with eclipse glasses on while he was driving his son to seminary that morning, but he said “it was rainy and cloudy.”
English Language Teaching BYUH Professor Perry Christensen said on Facebook “the eclipse was awesome,” and that it was “a good thing there were clouds or I would have gone blind staring at the sun. Lucky, I live in Hawaii. I saw a rainbow shortly after this. No one ever went blind from looking at a rainbow.”
The next solar eclipse visible on the U.S. mainland will be on April 8, 2024, according to cnet.com, and will cross up through Mexico and Texas and then across to New York. The longest totality will last more than 4 minutes in Nazas, Durango, Mexico, and the longest in the U.S. mainland will be in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, for nearly three minutes.
Some other U.S. cities along the total solar eclipse path include: Waco and Dallas, Texas; Poplar Bluff, Missouri; Mount Vernon, Illinois; Indianapolis and Bloomington, Indiana; Kenton and Cleveland, Ohio; Erie, Pennsylvania; and Buffalo and Rochester, New York.
NOTE: This article's online publication was delayed because it was featured in the Sept. 2017 print issue.