Why It's 'Totality or Bust' for Some Eclipse Viewers

Writer Joel Achenbach captures the magic that happens in the path of totality
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 7, 2024 5:03 AM CDT
Why It's 'Totality or Bust' for Some Eclipse Viewers
The moon covers the sun during a total solar eclipse in Cerulean, Kentucky.   (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

"Totality or bust," writes Joel Achenbach in an essay for the Washington Post. "That's the attitude of the serious eclipse aficionado." For the casual eclipse viewer outside the path of totality, Achenbach captures the "supernatural vibe" we'll be missing, which only occurs when the sun is completely obscured by the moon. In total darkness, several planets surrounding the sun will be visible this time around. "We can literally see our place in the universe," NASA astrophysicist Michael Kirk says. These snippets portray the intensity of the experience:

  • "When the moon fully blocks the sun, darkness descends with stunning swiftness. The air temperature plummets," Achenbach writes. "Birds and insects might start acting strangely. And in place of the normally incandescent sun, you see only a black disk surrounded by a glowing, shimmering, entrancing ring of light. It's the corona—the sun's atmosphere."
  • "Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him, or as flying in an airplane does to falling out of an airplane," writer Annie Dillard expounded in a 1982 essay for the Atlantic.
  • "At totality, when you look at the sun, you actually realize that it is a star," NASA's Nicola Fox told Achenbach. "It looks more like it's a living, breathing thing rather than just a bright light."

Now it might make sense why astrophiles have been planning to be in the path of totality well ahead of April 8. Per USA Today, some cities have been planning for years, many hotels are sold out, and different regions are working together to deal with the gridlock traffic before and after. "We're expecting thousands and thousands of visitors on the shores of Lake Erie—between 56,000 and 200,000 visitors—which is an unprecedented amount," said Robert Lee, a spokesman for the town of Erie, a region in Pennsylvania within the path. Meanwhile, Canada's Niagara region has called a state of emergency in advance of the traffic and crowds (it was named one of the top places to watch by National Geographic). No matter where you view the eclipse, check out this handy primer to prepare. (The total solar eclipse isn't the only rare cosmic event happening this year.)

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