Years ago my husband and I said to each other that we would go to see the total eclipse of the sun on 21st August 2017 in the USA. There were several good reasons.
- We wanted to go to the USA anyway to visit family. Having a date to aim for helped us to save up to see them.
- We had seen a total eclipse in France in 1999 and knew that it was worth showing this sight to our children.
- Total eclipses over populated land are so rare that most people never see one, but once in the USA, it would be easy to access a viewing spot as it ran from coast to coast.
- Unusually for an eclipse, this one co-incided with the school holidays.
We chose Nebraska because of the availability of flights, hotels and good weather reports. We flew into Minneapolis, and drove the six hours south to Lincoln, Nebraska. Before the eclipse we had a full day to get our bearings but unfortunately my 12 year old daughter was unwell with some kind of sore throat and virus. She slept most of that day whilst we swam in the hotel pool and worried about her and the forecast for a cloudy eclipse day.
In our eclipse Facebook groups there was a lot of chatter about the cloud coming our way. I was reassured by locals who said clear mornings are common in the region. Totality was due around 1pm. People also said that the towns a couple of hours west were far less likely to have cloud. I know from experience that light cloud can easily dissipate just before totality, but would the cloud cover be too thick? Although NASA were holding a big eclipse event to the south of Lincoln near Beatrice, we decided to head west instead.
Illness and Aurora
In the end our planning was also influenced by our poorly youngest daughter. If she had been well we would have driven several hours west to get out from under the cloud. I knew there would be horrible traffic jams to endure on the return so it would be a long day in the car. Instead we opted for Aurora, a small town just one hour away. I discovered the town using Xavier Jubier’s interactive eclipse map, then I searched “Aurora eclipse” and sure enough they had a website. I could see that the town had plenty of parking and facilities all set for eclipse day. The town name is perfect as Aurora means ” light”!
The field at Aurora was ideal. We parked next to a shady tree and a picnic bench, close to the refreshments stall and other facilities. There was a lot of space and I think they were only at about one third capacity. I suspect many people will have driven further west but at first the cloud above us was thin. My poorly daughter slept most of the way and woke up feeling brighter.
Camera Calamity Again
Eight years ago when we visited California, my camera broke down and I struggled to get good shots of Yosemite. After that holiday it was mended and all my cameras and lenses have been fine since then. But guess what? On this trip to the USA, my DSLR camera broke down. Can you even believe the bad luck?! The errors and funny motor noises had started while we were in New York. We didn’t try using it for the eclipse. Instead my husband put his Pentax bridge camera on the tripod, and as we had spare eclipse glasses and tape, he ripped some up to make a solar filter for the lens and took some shots of the partial eclipse.
I took a few shots on my small Sony Rx100III and my phone. Neither have a decent zoom so I took pictures of us, our picnic spot and the light through our colander, which we used to look at the semi-circles of light from the partial eclipse.
Settling in for the Event
The locals were so friendly. We bought a commemorative T-shirt and got a postcard of Aurora. From them we learned that Nebraska sits atop one of the worlds most vast aquifers and that’s why the state is full of irrigators. This circular crop machinery pumps water up from below. If you look at satellite views of the area you can see circles all around made by the rotating irrigators. We showed them the crescent light circles from the partial eclipse through our colander, and they were wowed by it. We had a lot of fun with that.
The Sun Disappearing
As the moment of totality drew nearer, the cloud thickened. We could see clear blue sky not far to the west but the sun was slightly east. Using a cloud radar report we found we would have to drive another hour to get out from under the cloud. We couldn’t risk putting our poorly girl through a long extra drive. So we stayed put. It seemed we wouldn’t be seeing totality. With about thirty minutes to go, I went to sit quietly in the car; I just needed a bit of time to myself. My main concern was for the others, but what a thing to come all this way and not see it! I didn’t think about photos any more, I felt they were not possible. I thought it was all over and felt really low.
Seven minutes before totality, the call came that the cloud had cleared. I got out of the car and took in my surroundings, I could hardly believe it. The sky was dark blue, the light was low but the colours of the world around us were still unnaturally vibrant. The shadows were soft and the dappled light under the tree showed slivers of crescent moons. The clouds to the southwest turned orange and pink like a sunset. Those last seven minutes went in a flash and the sun was finally swallowed up. Shouts of astonishment from far and around came to our ears as people removed their eclipse glasses and saw totality.
“Totality” is such a perfect name for this sight. It is all-consuming, emotionally shattering and unnatural. It’s worth mentioning that in 1999 in France, totality was monochrome, otherworldly and shocking. This time it was achingly pretty. The corona was pink and orange in places, the sky was blue, purple and blush. The clouds made a dappled canvas for this extraordinary focal point of the covered sun. We had the best of it in Aurora I think as we could see the circle of the moon’s shadow move across the sky because it was cast upon the cloud cover. Without these thin clouds none of this colour and shade would have been visible.
Eclipse Photography – NOT!
I spent those two and a half minutes taking all the wrong photos, badly, with automatic focus accidentally switched off on the Sony RX100III. The phones struggled with focus too in the half light. I had given up on both hope and photography in the minutes beforehand. In truth I was fairly unprepared, and if it wasn’t for all my friends asking to see photos then I just would not have cared because I was so relieved that we were seeing it AT ALL! Thankfully my husband had his camera under control on a tripod and got some great photos.
I wanted shots of our surroundings during totality. I thought I’d missed these shots but when I got home I found that I’d taken more photos than I’d realised. My plans for eclipse photography went mainly out of the window but at least we saw it; hooray!
As expected, driving back to Lincoln the traffic was very heavy. Everyone set off home at the same time. It took over 90 minutes to get back in stop-start traffic. The interstate looked like an evacuation with almost all the traffic going in one direction. I think the jams took the edge of the exhilaration but I felt so relieved we had seen totality.
My children were both really impressed by the total eclipse and want to see another but they are both keen to point out that the best part of the trip was visiting family. I’m glad the eclipse was a pretty sight and less alarming than last time.
Take a look at these Facebook groups and pages for some even better photos.
Future Eclipses – My Picks
The USA is lucky enough to get another total eclipse on 8th April 2024 lasting around 4 minutes and occurring near the middle of the day. It runs south to north-east and takes in Mexico and Niagara Falls. If you’re based in Europe and fancy making a long-term plan to see a total eclipse, then 12th August 2026 in Spain looks like a good option. The sun will be quite low around 7.30pm in the evening so the ideal location is surely the coastline west of Palma, on the island of Mallorca. Totality will last about 96 seconds, so it’s quite short.
Sydney Australia will get 3 minutes and 45 seconds of total eclipse on July 22nd 2028 but as it’s winter, will it be overcast? Durban in South Africa will have a dawn eclipse on 25th November 2030 which could be misty. Beijing and Japan north of Tokyo are good destinations for 2nd September 2035. The next total eclipse to pass over the UK will be when my daughter is 90 years old, so I am glad we didn’t make her wait!
Here are my husbands fantastic photos shot on the Lumix.
With thanks to ThreeUK who loaned me the iPhone 7+ with USA roaming for promotional purposes.