Chasing the Total Solar Eclipse 2017

[Clemson, South Carolina USA]

Eclipse Over Clemson

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I began thinking about experiencing the Great American Eclipse at least a year ago with tentative plans to witness the celestial event in Idaho. As early as March, I began looking for solar glasses though they hadn’t even landed yet in specialty retail.

Fast forward to July, as I was contemplating my eclipse plans, a fantastic opportunity for travel to Vietnam presented itself, and I could not say no! After all, I would still have two (2) weeks left before the Total Eclipse. However, upon my return from the month long Vietnam visit, I found myself sick with the flu. Though I tend to be healthy, the flu is my kryptonite, and I can take weeks to recover.

With luck or other cosmic forces at work, I began to improve before the first flu week was over and scrambled to develop an alternative plan for Total Solar Eclipse success. After benign neglect, I raced to find solar eclipse glasses and decided to over gear by purchasing both solar binoculars and, on backorder, solar glasses. I apologize for the plug, however, B&H Photo Video came through and shipped the items separately, and the solar glasses arrived overnight four (4) days before the event.

Meanwhile, I was scouring the maps at the NASA Total Eclipse website looking for the best viewing locations along the path of totality within a day or two drive from New Jersey. Though I first focused on Kentucky and Tennessee, my interest turned to South Carolina as I discovered Charlotte, North Carolina, was a reasonable travel gateway near totality but not within the path. At the time, I did not realize South Carolina had the largest U.S. population closest to the path of totality: some 94,800,000 million people with as many as 2,188,000 million estimated visitors!

After selecting potential viewing locations, my attention turned to the weather forecasts in the days before the Monday, August 21, 2017, event. The South Carolina forecasts were in constant flux around the time of the eclipse, but patterns emerged on Friday and Saturday before my Sunday dash to Charlotte. Eastern South Carolina, Charleston in particular, looked very unfavorable for eclipse viewing with clouds and possible thundershowers. As I looked west, Clemson, Anderson, and Greenwood had sunny mornings with afternoon clouds or thunderstorms possible later in the day, forecasts pleasing to an optimist. As a backup, I could instead drive to the western edge of North Carolina, also in the totality path.

Execution is everything, and a key eclipse theme emerged before Sunday noon driving down to Charlotte: horrendous traffic! While I departed before dawn, I began to encounter severe traffic west of Washington, DC, along Interstate 66. Whether summer, weekend, campus, eclipse traffic, or all combined, the nominal nine (9) hour drive extended to over twelve (12) hours using a route I thought would be less popular. Taking the day’s travails to heart, I decided to begin travel on eclipse Monday at 4:00am and settled on Clemson University as my goal after yet another weather review.

Bleary eyed, I started even earlier and arrived in Clemson, South Carolina, by 6:00am with minimal traffic. Following invigorating coffee and breakfast, I headed to Clemson University to access the parking situation. Clemson University was a NASA Official Event Location for the eclipse smack on the line of maximum totality. Whether good old southern hospitality or honed experience from years of Tigers football, “Eclipse Over Clemson” day visitors were welcomed as promised with free parking, free admission, and free eclipse glasses not to mention a number of free commemorative T-shirts all on the orientation day for the Clemson Class of 2021.

The star of the day, our Sun, rose just before 7:00am in clear skies promising an excellent event day. With six (6) hours to kill before the eclipse began, I did eventually land on the edge of the south lawn in the main viewing area. Passing cumulus clouds obscured the Sun on occasion until the eclipse began at 1:08pm. As others claimed to see the first edge of the moon partial eclipsing the Sun with solar glasses, I had to resort to solar binoculars to observe the same. As the eclipse advanced, I alternated between the solar glasses and binoculars to observe the progress. Using a spare set of solar glasses as a filter, I tried to take photos with my iPhone and Canon G7 X. Unprompted, a Good Samaritan offered to loan me a spare camera filter for eclipse photography. Thank you! However, while I desired a keepsake photo, I was immersed in the firsthand total eclipse experience.

Occasional clouds blocked the Sun as the eclipse progressed to totality. I did manage to get some decent shots of the progress. The almost 1.5 hours from the start of the eclipse until totality seemed to take a while and pass quickly at the same time; I stood through the duration without noticing. As totality approached at 2:37pm, the surroundings became perceptibly darker. As I saw the final thin crescent of the Sun, I missed the trick to cover the Sun with a thumb and remove the solar glasses (see The Solar Eclipse Experience) and did not observe the Emerging Corona or the Diamond Ring. In fact, as totality began, I could not even see the corona until I removed my solar glasses. At this point, I took a few photos sans filter and was lucky to snap the above image.

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At Clemson, the duration of totality was 2 minutes and 35 seconds, affording precious moments to look around and observe. During totality, the temperature cooled noticeably, welcome relief from a hot and humid day in South Carolina. Background noise, both from insects and animals along with humans, were quiet, quieter, or speechless. Per the inset photo, I saw the gorgeous 360° sunrise/sunset horizon glow without even knowing about it. I knew to look for bright planets and stars during totality, but only Venus was visible, perhaps because of the scattered clouds which blessed us by not interfering with the main event.

Near the end of totality, to my neighbors I said: “I hope the Sun comes back now.” They didn’t find this amusing; I suppose they though I was uneducated or a Flat Earther or something. I did have a real, nagging, primitive fear about this rather unrealistic possibility. As Totality’s Finale was imminent, I was anxious to replace my solar glasses, repeating my error and missing the Diamond Ring once again. With the passage of totality, most of the 20000 person crowd on Clemson University’s south lawn packed up and tried to beat the traffic back home. I returned the camera filter and stole glances of the returning Sun through solar glasses as I planned my own exit. I was mindful to take the below photo of the odd multi-shadows cast by tree leaves.

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I opted to wait a while, hoping the post-eclipse traffic would dissipate. It didn’t. The 143 mile drive back to Charlotte took over six (6) hours with Interstate 85 mimicking a parking lot. The post-eclipse traffic hangover extended to Tuesday as my journey home lasted over thirteen (13) hours. And yet, even with the Eclipocalypse traffic nightmare, the Total Solar Eclipse was a once in a lifetime, priceless experience. So much so, I plan to witness one again! While I hope to experience the next U.S. Total Solar Eclipse on April 8, 2024, the next Total Solar Eclipse is on July 2, 2019, and visible in parts of Chile and Argentina in South America. I think I’ve caught the Eclipse Chaser bug!

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