Friday, November 17, 2017

Magic in the Sky

I was in Allahabad at the time, and the moon decided to pass between the sun and the earth on that day, casting its shadow on northern India. What's more, Allahabad was one of those few lucky cities where the eclipse was total. The moon completely covered the face of the sun, enabling us to look at the duo with our naked eyes and see the solar corona. My father even took photos of the event. I remember everything about the day vividly: how the light decreased in jumps, how the panicked sparrows came back to the tree in our garden, how the circles of sunlight in the shadow of that tree turned to crescents. And I remembered the diamond ring. As the moon passed the face of the sun and the sun started to peek out from one of the sides, I saw light that was whiter than I could ever imagine. Naturally, I have wanted to see it again ever since.

So when I found out about the Great American Total Solar Eclipse (as the media keeps calling it) last year, I had decided I had to witness the event. What's more, the path of the total eclipse was passing through St. Louis, Missouri this time, and we have friends there. I ordered a solar filter sheet on Amazon before they went out of stock, and cut it out to create caps for my telephoto lens and Poulami's binoculars. The only thing that remained to be done now was to plan our road trip in such a way that our return journey took us through St. Louis on August 21.

So we decided to drive from Great Sand Dunes in Colorado to St. Louis, Missouri over two days. Most of this drive was through the agricultural lands of Kansas - a terribly straight road through a terribly flat land. Our car's AC started acting up on the first day of this trip and we got a feel of the 40-ish degree Celsius temperature outside. On the second day, the AC gave up completely and turned this into the most uncomfortable leg of our trip.

We spent the first night at a hotel in Hays, a city in Kansas. This place was chosen only because it was on our way and roughly the center point between Great Sand Dunes and St. Louis. We were so exhausted by our seven-hour drive that day that we didn't feel like leaving the hotel at all. We ordered Chinese food for dinner and ate in our room. Next morning, we hit the road again and reached St. Louis after driving for another eight hours. The city where our friends live isn't actually St. Louis but one of the southern suburbs called Fenton, and this was good because the moon's shadow would be passing just south of St. Louis. Staying in Fenton meant we could see the eclipse from the house. And that's what we did in the afternoon. Our friends were at work, but Poulami and I watched the eclipse from their deck. My father had to worry about running out of film in 1995, but I don't have to think of such matters anymore. I set up my digital SLR on my tripod and took photos to my heart's content.

It was strange how similar the experience was to the last time. The light going down by leaps and bounds, the crescent shaped patches of sunlight. The absence of sparrows, or any other birds for that matter, was conspicuous. But then, maybe the tree in their garden doesn't have birds. Once during the whole experience light clouds threatened to cover the face of the sun, but they went away quickly.

Crescent-shaped images of the sun
Here are the photos that I took that day. I think they would do a much better job of describing the celestial magic by which the sun and the moon appear exactly the same size during a total solar eclipse on the only planet that has observers to appreciate it.

Solar corona

Totality selfie

Diamond ring
Our road trip story ends here. Actually, truth be told, it should have ended here. I would have liked to write that we left Fenton that evening and made an uneventful five-hour drive back home, because any further experience wouldn't be able to top the solar eclipse. But I can't write that because that journey took nine hours and we reached home at 3:00 a.m. The highway was congested with traffic moving at a snail's pace. All this traffic was returning to the northern states of Illinois and Wisconsin and Minnesota after watching the total solar eclipse from Missouri. The traffic was so slow at points that people were literally getting out of their cars, grabbing drinks from their trunk and going back to their seat again. To add insult to injury, we were also hit by severe thunderstorms on the way.

After going to bed at 4:00 a.m., I also had to go attend a departmental meeting at 9:00 o'clock the next morning. That meeting kicked off the semester which has caused this inordinate amount of delay in writing about our road trip from August. Now that I'm done, I can go back to writing about other topics of a non-serial nature.

(The End)

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