Watching 2020’s Eclipse Via Live Stream

I should have been there, but it went off without a hitch

The diamond ring effect. Photo by Jongsun Lee on Unsplash

July of 2019 seems like a lifetime ago.

One summer morning that month I lay in bed and emailed an eclipse tour guide company out of the UK. In less than 17 months I’d be in South America chasing the eclipse. Since I knew I’d be traveling alone, I figured it would be more fun with a bunch of eclipse groupies. I inquired about their December 2020 eclipse packages.

Within hours, I had booked myself a spot and made a downpayment on a ten-day trip to Argentina, Chile, and the Patagonia Islands. The highlight of the adventure would be the total eclipse of the sun, viewed from somewhere in the Andes mountains.

The summer before that, I had started taking Spanish lessons, in preparation for my trip. It’s been a long time coming.

Instead, I watched it on YouTube

This morning I watched the solar eclipse from one Argentinian YouTuber’s camera-telescope on my TV. It was awesome… even though I wasn’t there in person.

His dog was crooning with worry in the background, the way of creatures who can’t make sense out of the sky going dark at entirely the wrong time of day. The swell of voices from the surrounding crowd of people could be heard as the sliver of orange glinted its last to black. Our two cats paced back and forth at the sound, ignoring the visuals on the big screen.

When the light from the sun splashed from behind the darkness of our moon’s shadow, I gasped. The same way I did when I beheld my first eclipse in Jackson Hole in August of 2017. I held my breath as the diamond ring effect surged, then calmed to a perfect black hole in the sky. I exhaled.

A regular, awesome experience

Celestial orbs follow their pre-ordained path since the dawning of our galaxy. Possessors of an unalterable dance card, they know the way. It doesn’t matter what happens to us mere mortals in the meantime.

We track the movement of our moon and sun from various places on the planet. We look up to the sky when special stars and planets come closer or further away, or line up just so in a spectacle that was incomprehensible a mere millennium ago. We travel to places on the planet where the view is good. We photograph it. Our minor human job is to witness the wonder.

Regarding a total solar eclipse, scientists measure and test their theories under an astronomical opportunity that occurs once every 18 months or so, and then only under a specific path. While it’s a glorious, once-in-a-lifetime experience for many, you can also set your watch by it.

“You had to be there”

Describing an eclipse doesn’t come near to doing it justice. If you’ve seen one you know.

Sometimes when I mention the total eclipse of the sun, which changed my life after first seeing the phenomenon, people say they’ve seen it too. Sometimes people say, “Oh, yeah, I saw the eclipse… I think… That was, well, when exactly was that?” That’s when I know they did not see a total solar eclipse. You’d know it if you saw it because you can actually feel a change on Earth beneath the path of totality.

I read an astrologer’s analysis of the eclipse this morning and she said she thinks eclipses are over-rated. I can tell she hasn’t witnessed one in real life.

A partial eclipse doesn’t count. I saw one once. I was working as a bank teller. We took turns stepping out of the teller line to run outside and look at the little half-moons on the sidewalk. Then we went back to work.

If you’ve only seen a partial eclipse, you didn’t see the breathtaking hush of daylight over four directions of the landscape, as if the sun were setting in 360 degrees. You didn’t experience sunset on all sides. The pink line along the horizon to the north, south, east, and west; and the stars emerging in the middle of the day. You didn’t hear the birds go wild, chirping and flapping; or the hum of insects.

During a solar eclipse, the twisting of daylight is hard and palpable as a sickle’s glinting edge. If you’ve seen that, you’d remember.

I hope you get to see one someday.

Also, you wouldn’t believe the amount of energy the sun gives off!

The sun’s light is ridiculously… huge. I don’t know how else to say this. Even when the moon’s shadow falls over 99.9% of the sun, the light it generates is still more than enough to go about your business. As the moon travels ever closer, completing her coverage, the diminishment of the sun’s light is distracting, but not phenomenal.

When the sun is blocked completely, though, you still see the rays shooting out from behind the moon’s dark disc, and you’re awestruck by the sight. But it’s dark as night. And the air around you suddenly turns very cold. It’s the most unreal sensation.

Human plans fail, but the stars never do

After seeing the Great Eclipse of North America on August 21, 2017, I decided I would try to see every dazzling solar eclipse that my time, travel, and finances allowed. I’d planned on South America because the allure of that continent has me in its grips — and probably will until I finally get there.

Over the past three years, I’ve been watching films with Spanish subtitles and the Magical Andes series on Netflix. I’ve followed Pinterest boards and listed all the foods I might try; attempted a rudimentary appreciation of the Tango; researched the flora and fauna on remote Patagonian islands. I worked up an appetite for the trip, relishing the unknown. But the pièce de résistance was the eclipse.

At one time I wanted to take my children, but their enthusiasm was lower than that of the astrologer's blog post. “Meh,” they said. “Can we ski?” they said. I explained that south of the equator it’s summer in December. They yawned, deflating my spirit with their lack of imagination. Only one of my kids wanted to go. I couldn’t very well take just that one; that would be wrong.

A solo venture it would be, then. I would take a trip with each of them individually at some point. The eclipse trip I would do on my own.

This spring, as COVID’s long arm swept everyone’s best-laid plans off the table, I canceled my trip with the tour group. I left a non-refundable deposit on the books and never looked back. Although I was sad, it was nothing compared to what we’d already been through. My one child who had an interest in the eclipse would be the one who’d never see one. Ever.

After our personal tragedy, I couldn’t risk being disappointed by fate. If I couldn’t control it, I wasn’t willing to risk losing more than I already had.

The world would keep on turning. I would catch the live stream.

The Solace in Astronomy

It’s soothing to watch our solar system’s objects line up in good faith, after so much that has disappointed us all this year. Even though I had to withdraw my travel plans, it was still magnificent to see our star’s life-giving light from behind our little moon. And us on its dark side for a change.

I’ve calculated that if I live to be a hundred years old, there are 32 more chances to view a total solar eclipse, although many of them involve travel to one of the poles or to the middle of an ocean. I’m not sure traveling as an elder will be that much fun. So if I remove half of those total eclipses, I still come up with 16 opportunities. We’ll see.

Even though our way of life is forever altered and some people we held dear just last year are gone today — the stars and planets still know what to do. This Christmas season, call me a pagan, but that’s the true meaning of comfort and joy for me.

The people living in darkness have seen a great light. And we can calculate when that will happen again. We are small and full of wonder, indeed.

Written by

Curious mom, writer, & lymphatic massage therapist. I teach a persuasive writing course, too. Start here: https://www.jenmcgahan.com/power-words

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