HAMILTON — At the beginning of 2017, few people uttered the phrase “Path of Totality.” But by August, not only did everyone know what it meant, but millions of people were making arrangements to be in it for the first total solar eclipse to cross the United States since 1918.
The path for the total eclipse on Aug. 21 stretched from Lincoln City, Oregon, to Charleston, South Carolina, and the event itself lasted about 90 minutes. But the hype surrounding the eclipse went on for much longer, and for good reason.
I had driven to Stanley, Idaho, and hiked deep into the Sawtooth Wilderness Area with some friends, thinking that we would view the event alone. Instead, we met people from all over the world who traveled to Idaho to be in the Path of Totality.
It was like that just about everywhere. In the town of Madras, Oregon, the number of people swelled from 6,200 to 100,000. In Hopkinsville, Wyoming, the town of 32,000 welcomed about 100,000 guests. And in South Carolina, about 1 million people were drawn into the path of totality.
Hotels sold out, and people camped in farmers’ fields to view the event. AAA warned drivers to pull over to watch the event, and warned against wearing eclipse glasses while behind the wheel. U.S. employers estimated they’d lose about $700 million in productivity.
About 800 people gathered at the Bitterroot College for a NASA-sanctioned viewing party, where telescopes and the special eclipse glasses were available for viewing. Children made marshmallow-toothpick constellations and decorated sugar cookies to look like the sun. People could make star charts of the night sky, and with “Star Wars” music blasting, they counted down to the full eclipse.
The actual event began slowly, as people donned their solar glasses to look toward the sun. About half an hour into the eclipse, a stillness filled the air and birds were silent. The sky took on a new hue, with shades of blue and orange floating across the horizon, and an odd electricity filled the air as the temperature dropped at least 10 degrees.
Suddenly, on that mountaintop in Idaho, Venus shown as brightly at noon as it does on a cloudless night. We ripped off our glasses as the corona occurred, with the moon completely blocking the sun, and the world slowed to a crawl. It was breathtaking.
The next total solar eclipse in the U.S. will be in 2024, but a coast-to-coast eclipse won’t happen until 2045.