The Feel of Totality

A total eclipse of the Sun has to be one of the most dramatic and awe-inspiring events of the natural world.

My first total eclipse - the one that got me hooked

My first total eclipse – the one that got me hooked. © 1999 Libor Šmíd, © 2004 Miloslav Druckmüller

A total eclipse allows you to experience the three-dimensional nature of the universe –  the Sun, the Moon, and Earth are all in perfect alignment, and you are standing in the shadow of our magnificent Moon.

The scale is unimaginable, yet here it is happening right on top of you and around you.  It is real.  You can literally feel the ominous shadow before it arrives.  The temperature drops.  The wind picks up speed.  The sunlight slowly dims, bathing the surroundings in an eerie twilight that produces colours with shades rarely seen in the natural world.  Then it is time.

Moments before totality a wall of darkness comes creeping towards you at speeds of up to 5,000 miles per hour – this is the full shadow of the Moon.  You feel alive.  You feel in awe.  You feel a primitive fear.  Then – totality.  In this moment there is just you and the Universe.

After what seems like a brief moment of eternity, the Moon continues on its journey and the shadow races away, marking the return of the light.  The whole event is eerie, unnatural even, and stunningly beautiful.

Pictures do not convey the experience of totality.  Nothing you read, see, or hear can prepare you for the spine-tingling, goosebump-inducing experience of the total eclipse.   The eerie twilight that confuses birds and other animals and, at times, humans, is like no other experience you have ever had.   It is impossible to be a passive observer.  You do not simply see a total eclipse.  You experience it.  You are immersed in it.  You are completely overwhelmed by it.   Many people say that the experience of totality changes their lives.

It’s very hard to capture the feel of an eclipse, but here is one of my eclipse chasing colleagues – David Makepeace – filming the 2010 Total Eclipse from Patagonia.  This clip gives you a ‘feel’ for totality.

Here’s the thing – you MUST be within the path of totality to experience these things.  Only in totality – when the Sun is 100% covered by the Moon – will the full effect be felt.  If you are outside of this path, you will experience a partial eclipse.  Even a partial eclipse where the Sun is 99% covered will NOT give you the full effect.  99.9% covered – still no good.  You must be fully within the path.

To view a solar eclipse safely, you also need to use solar filters to ensure the Sun does not cause damage to your eyes.  When you are in the path of totality, the moment when the Moon is completely covering the Sun it is perfectly safe to remove your solar filters.  If you do not, you will not see anything at all and you will miss all the above.  If you do – you may just experience one of the most intense moments of your life.