What it’s like to see a total solar eclipse

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On August 21, people in the United States will get a chance to see something that most people never see: a total solar eclipse.

Throughout the day, across a thin swath of the United States from Oregon to South Carolina, the moon will completely block the sun for a minute or two.

A team of scientists and students from University of the Pacific will travel to Madras, Oregon to record and study the event. Two of those scientists, Assistant Professors Elisa Toloba and Guillermo Barro, have seen a total eclipse before, and they say it’s not to be missed.

Q – Where did you see the total eclipse?

Elisa – We went to China in 2008. It was in the summer right before the Olympic Games, actually. We saw it from the Gobi Desert. And it is an experience that you have to live it to really explain it. It is kind overwhelming in the sense that it gets dark during the day with all the implications that has. So, the temperature drops. The animal get crazy because they don’t know what it going on. All the animals are making loud sounds and running one way and the other. It’s very special. The light is not completely dark. The light is slightly different. I don’t know, like grayish. Nothing like you have seen before. It’s a real experience.

Q – Do you remember how you felt? Were you surprised at anything in particular?

Guillermo – It’s so overwhelming for a moment. Because you’re waiting. You’re there for a few hours, you see how the moon is covering the sun more and more, and all of sudden when you reach the totality, it’s a completely different feeling. The sun is so bright at even 10 percent or 5 percent, it’s enough to illuminate pretty much everything. But the moment it’s completely covered, the whole illumination changes because it’s fully dark, and then you start to see the atmosphere of the sun. It’s like flipping a switch. So it’s that moment when the totality starts that you feel something different. It’s like Elisa said, it’s the temperature — there’s some breeze because of the temperature change. So, yes, you feel different, and it lasts only a few minutes.

Elisa – People crying, people screaming, hugging people that you don’t even know — all those kinds of things happen.

Guillermo – For us, it was kind of stressful, because even though we were in the middle of the desert, there were some clouds. And in the few moments before the totality, there were clouds coming and people running around. It’s like, “Will I be able to see it?” And then people began running in one direction and then another direction because the clouds were kind of scattered. So people were really nervous about missing it because you’ve been traveling to get to the place and then there are some clouds and you see part of the eclipse, but you don’t really want to miss the totality.

Q – Tell me about the animals.

Elisa – We also saw an annular eclipse in Spain. Only a little bit of the sun is seen, so it’s pretty dark — not completely dark but pretty dark — and the dogs, for example, began barking and running, and they didn’t know where to go or what to do. The birds were so loud. The sound they made was super loud. So, the animals get crazy, basically. And we do, too. Everybody begins screaming. So, you don’t know how you’re going to react until you are there. It’s a very special event.

Q – When you were there before, were there a lot of people around?

Elisa – Oh, they called it Eclipse City. So, they made a humongous area in the Gobi Desert where they put up restrooms and things like that. There were people from so many countries coming to that point to watch it. There were several hundred people there.

Guillermo – Because along the totality line where you can see the total eclipse, there are places where the maximum lasts for 30 more seconds (than in other places), so there’s always a place where it’s the maximum, and I think (in 2008) that place was in China. So, a lot of people — and not only amateurs or people who just wanted to see it — professional journalists and a lot of other people were there.

 

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