Reporting from Sun Valley, Idaho—On the Path of Totality
“The most amazing thing I had ever seen!” said our 16-year-old daughter, Stav. She even thanked us for taking her along. It is quite rare, as you know, for teenagers to admit their parents did anything right. Nine months ago, when the American Astronomical Society announced it would hold its High-Energy Astrophysics Division meeting during the week of August 21, 2017, the date of the full solar eclipse, and inside the path of totality (where the moon covers the sun entirely), we started making travel plans that would take us from our home in Israel to Sun Valley, Idaho.
The eclipse proved to be perfectly timed, as we were just notified that our collaborative project to study cosmic explosions with NASA, through an experiment on the space station, was selected for a concept study out of dozens of submitted proposals. In the spirit of the event, I submitted my talk for the Sun Valley conference on eclipses of quasars.
On Sunday evening as my wife Shlomit and I, along with our two daughters, arrived in Sun Valley to experience the eclipse the following day, I noticed some clouds. But on Monday morning we woke up to a crystal clear sunny day. We were armed with our special glasses — the only safe way to observe the moon slowly covering the sun.
Our eyes have a non-linear response to light. So without the glasses, even with more than half of the sun covered, you would have thought it was just another sunny day. That is until, all of a sudden, the light dimmed and the temperature dropped dramatically. It was as if the sun had decided to set in the middle of the day, revealing a beautiful night-like sky with stars (see the bright planet Venus in the movie).
During the total eclipse, the sun was completely covered by the moon and all one could see was its stunning corona with its marvelous ray structure peeking out over the limb. At Sun Valley, the crowd was ecstatic, screaming from excitement as they stared at the hypnotic sight. Many people took off their special glasses and photographed like crazy. With so many flashes going off in the dark, it was kind of like being in a basketball arena when the lights are off before the game starts and the players are introduced.
A few moments later, the sun revealed itself on the other side of the moon, and the hot sunny day came back to life as if there was never an eclipse … twilight, nighttime, and dawn, all within minutes.
“Amazing” was the only word that could describe the full solar eclipse we had just witnessed. We all agreed it was worth the long trip. We will never forget this incredible experience and are already looking forward to the next full solar eclipse in South America in 2019!!
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