The Path of Totality

by Dr. Jorge

It has been said that astronomy is a humble and character building experience—Carl Sagan reminded us on his Pale Blue Dot speech. It is also one we all partake in, at least once, when, as little and curious children, we first look up at the night sky. We all share a feeling of wonderment that first time, a feeling that stays with some of us for the rest of our lives.

On Monday, August 21 the path of a total solar eclipse crossed 14 states, from Oregon to South Carolina, traveling from coast to coast for the first time in 99 years. While Miami, where I live, fell just outside of the path of totality, the magic city was able to witness a partial solar eclipse. People showed up in record breaking numbers at Frost Science to witness, at its peak, an impressive 80% of the sun shadowed by the moon, and for a few minutes, we all put everything aside to come together and look up at the sky with awe.

 Image by Aubrey Gemignani/NASA

These past couple of weeks, it has been refreshing to witness South Floridians of all backgrounds and ages genuinely interested in the eclipse, and inquiring at the museum, and elsewhere, about its nature and the science behind it. Frost Science, like many other science and technology centers, is committed to answer those questions and to keep playing an important role when opening wondrous windows to all aspects of science for everyone.

I had witnessed a partial solar eclipse before, but never a total solar eclipse. Thus, ahead of the Great American Eclipse, I grabbed my backpack and journeyed to the path of totality in Oregon via San Francisco, where I was picked up by couple of astronomy friends. Partial eclipses are one of the finest celestial events one can witness, so are annular eclipses. I can now say that total solar eclipses are nothing like I had experienced before. The difference between a total solar eclipse and a 99% partial one is, literally and metaphorically, night and day.

During the, give or take, two minutes of totality, we dove into twilight, just a couple of hours after sunrise. We even caught a glimpse of an irregular and big corona with several prominences emanating from the edges of the obscured sun. Furthermore, Venus and Regulus were visible to the naked eye. Temperatures dropped significantly, and light faded gradually in a way I could only describe as soothing. At a point, it was like a nonpareil and flawless Instagram filter had been applied everywhere in our already alluring surroundings, offering an unprecedented view.

I could try to keep quantifying the total solar eclipse with graceful metaphors and high resolution images, but none of those are capable to encapsulate an immersive experience like no other on earth. In a way, I once again felt like that little and curious child looking up at the sky for the first time; and I can tell everyone around me—the youngest, the young and the not so young—was feeling the same way. I encourage every single one of you to add it to your bucket list. You will not regret it.

The next total solar eclipse over North America will visit Mexico, the United States, and Canada on April 8, 2024. I look also forward to the one in Spain on August 12, 2026. We will have to wait until August 12, 2045 for another one to cross the continental United States. Frost Science will then take the pilot seat, as South Florida will be under the path of totality.

Keep looking up!