On August 21, the “Great American Eclipse” swept across the United States from coast-to-coast, creating what is for many a once-in-a-lifetime event: darkness at midday, when the moon blocks out the sun.
But you can’t see totality everywhere – the only place you could catch it in Illinois was south, near Carbondale.
Not wanting to miss the show, the Naperville Astronomical Association started planning early.
“We started about 18 months ago,” said Eric Claeys, Media Relations Officer of the NAA. “We had a group of six people, looked at the TV on Google Maps, looked where the eclipse was going, and zoomed in on anything green that we thought we might be able to stay at.”
They pre-booked 100 hotel rooms for their members in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, and rented three viewing sites along the path of totality in Boonville, Missouri, White House, Tennessee, and Goreville, Illinois.
Each site was within a 4-hour drive of the hotels so that members could pick and choose a location that had a good weather forecast for the day.
The night before, the club gathered at a restaurant in Mt. Vernon – where you could feel the anticipation in the air.
“This morning, when my wife and I hit the road and I was thinking, ‘this is happening. This is actually going to happen,’” said Steve Miller, an NAA member on the night before the eclipse.
I joined the club in the morning in Goreville, Illinois. Even though first contact of the eclipse didn’t start until 11:53 a.m., most members arrived before eight to ensure they would have a place to park, set up their chairs, and set up their gear – ranging from cameras and telescopes to binoculars and solar projectors.
As the eclipse approached totality, crescents of light danced on the ground, mimicking the shape of the sun – and the hot summer day got cooler as the sun’s light got dimmer until suddenly, it was out.
It felt like the sun had set. The landscape was bathed in darkness, an orange sky hung over the horizon, and the temperature dropped several degrees. In the sky, you could see the sun’s dazzling corona. For two minutes and forty seconds, NAA members and the thousands of other spectators gathered in Goreville enjoyed the view, until the “diamond ring” effect signaled the end of totality.
“My favorite effect was the diamond ring,” said NAA member Mike Wilson. “Just before it goes into totality and just after totality, a sliver of light goes through a low spot on the moon, creating this bright light.”
“I’m speechless,” said Cynthia George, trying to explain how she felt. “The environment here was awesome, from the beginning to the end. It was just mind-blowing, It was amazing. Pictures can’t describe it, you have to see it for yourself, I can’t even speak.”
“My favorite part was not during totality but actually when the sun came back, it felt so clear and it made the light feel really cool,” said Genevieve Cary, an 11 year-old eclipse viewer.
For both casual viewers and long-time astronomy buffs, totality is an experience that will never be forgotten.
“Sheer awesomeness is the best way to describe it. This was my first total solar eclipse, and it was well beyond my wildest dreams,” said Miller.
If you weren’t able to see totality this time around, you have another chance on April 8, 2024, when another total solar eclipse will sweep across the United States.
Naperville News 17’s Blane Erwin reports
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