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A First-Person Glimpse at a Total Eclipse

While+in+Portland%2C+Tennessee%2C+reporter+Ralph+Bernhardt+photographed+the+total+eclipse+with+his+iPhone.
While in Portland, Tennessee, reporter Ralph Bernhardt photographed the total eclipse with his iPhone.

While in Portland, Tennessee, reporter Ralph Bernhardt photographed the total eclipse with his iPhone.

While in Portland, Tennessee, reporter Ralph Bernhardt photographed the total eclipse with his iPhone.

Ralph Bernhardt, Reporter

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A total solar eclipse passed across North America on Aug. 21. Upon hearing that Tulsa would experience a 90 percent of the eclipse, I searched for places that would experience more coverage. Northern Kansas or Arkansas looked good – and the drive wasn’t too far.

Unfortunately, a few days before the eclipse occurred, most maps predicted that the Midwestern line of totality would be obscured by heavy cloud coverage. The relatively quick 4- to 5-hour drive to northeast Kansas then became a 10-hour drive to north-central Tennessee. Debating whether to risk it all (early thunderstorms were predicted as well) or spend two days driving to Tennessee and back, my family and I decided that it was worth it to take the long trip.

After all, Portland, Tennessee, would have the longest predicted eclipse in the entire United State – almost 3 minutes. The 24-hour roundtrip, with stops, would pass through seven different states.

Upon arriving in Portland, we slept in the car at a park. We asked for good places to watch the eclipse and we were directed to a different park, with a couple food trucks and a soccer field. It soon filled up with around 100 cars and many people ready to watch the eclipse. A lot of them had come from Ohio, Illinois and even Canada, but we were the only ones from Oklahoma.

As the sky began to dim, many people showed up to try and sell eclipse glasses. One woman gave them away for free, but they were cheap to buy as well, for a surprising $2.

As the sun went dark, the sky turned a dark orange, and the fields around us went dark. It was almost like the day skipped from noon to dusk within seconds. The cicadas in the trees around us went wild and chirped loudly. The corona was bright white, though not painful to look at. The sun itself was completely black; you couldn’t tell that it was two different celestial objects. It looked as though they had merged into a single brilliant white sun.

The park visitors cheered as the sun went black, and almost everyone tried to get a photo. It didn’t come up on our phone cameras at all, except for when it passed in front of the clouds. Interestingly, photographing the sun through the clouds causes the sky to turn completely black in the photo.

As the moon passed beyond the sun and the first rays of light blinded our eyes, a shriek of pain went out from the crowd. For most of the last few minutes, we hadn’t needed any protection to stare into the dark, abyssal sun. When the light began to shine through once again, it was as though it flickered from late at night to bright noon. As our eyes had adjusted to the dark, it was difficult to see.

I stood for a moment and wondered if it was worth it. If I were alone in the world and I had spent 20 hours in transit for this, I don’t think it would’ve been even remotely worth it. It was cool, but it only lasted 3 minutes.

However, the story is what makes it worthwhile. We won’t have another total eclipse for almost a decade, and not many people can say they’ve witnessed a totality. The value of the story is greater than the difficulty of getting there so quickly (just a few nights before school started), but if I had the chance to do it again, I probably wouldn’t.

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A First-Person Glimpse at a Total Eclipse