The idiom “once in a blue moon”, which is used to describe an extremely rare event, is clearly outdated. For me, today was without a doubt, a once-in-a-total-eclipse experience, as I was lucky enough to witness a total solar eclipse in Nashville, in the US. Dubbed the “Great American Eclipse”, the last time that a solar eclipse was visible across the whole of the United States was 99 years ago; chances are, the country won’t see another one crossing the country from coast to coast for another 300 years.
As you may already know, a solar eclipse happens “when the moon passes between Earth and the sun”. What I find the most interesting and mesmerizing about an eclipse is that, while the mechanism behind it could be easily understood by preschool kids, it is so insanely beautiful, something that could only have been created by Mother Nature.
When I told my friends that I was going to fly to a city in the United States just to watch the eclipse for two minutes, all of them stared at me in disbelief and asked me the exact same question: Is it really worth it? Frankly, I spent a lot of time asking myself the same thing. Thanks to Instagram, and Nasa's enormous database, I always thought I knew a) exactly how an eclipse works b) exactly what it looks like and c) that watching one on TV would probably even be a better experience than standing in the sun for three hours and desperately trying to find this dark spot in the clouds. But boy, was I wrong about that.
When August 21, the day that has long been marked on my calendar, finally arrived, my family and I drove to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. We chose this venue because of its unique tradition of country music, which perfectly complements the viewing experience. I put on my viewing glasses and a solar filter over my camera lens, as everyone around me caught eclipse fever, fuelled by access to Nasa staff members' passionate lectures and live TV footage.
At 11:58am, I noticed the first signs of an eclipse - the corner had been chipped away just a tiny bit. A while later, it turned into a half-eaten cookie. Without a telephoto lens or a proper solar viewing filter, I frantically started maneuvering my lens' manual focus and adjusting the distance between the filter sheet and my lens. Finally, in a split second, the crescent-shaped sun was in focus.
Next came totality - the breathtaking scene that I don't think I'll ever be able to get enough of. At 1.27:21pm sharp, a well-known phenomenon called Baily's Beads, also known as "Diamond ring" effect, flashed before our eyes. According to Nasa, this is caused by "sunlight passing through the canyons around the limb of the moon", in which the moon essentially shows its true colours by putting its jagged edges consisting of craters on display.
While the first couple hours of partial eclipse seemed to pass in slow-motion, the ring effect happened within a matter of seconds, as the moon moved swiftly into its setting mark and the sun, moon and Earth were in an impeccable straight line.
What followed was nothing short of spectacular, as I took off my glasses and went into a complete state of shock. I started questioning my own eyesight, as somehow the world around me dimmed so rapidly, and I looked through my sunglasses and saw ... Wait a second ... Except that I wasn't wearing them anymore. I looked up, and there it was, the ring of perfection. A thin ring of light (the sun's corona) surrounding the smooth, raven-black shadow of the moon. Daylight turned into night, and everything, including animals and trees, held their breath during the 1m55s of totality - the whole world just came to a stop.
Even though I was "tipped off" by the weather forecast, as well as Nasa's site, it was the "feeling" of witnessing it in person that truly caught me by surprise. A good, far-smaller-scale analogy would be going to an Imax cinema as opposed to watching a movie at home. In my mind, I always saw these scientific events as numbers or simply answers to a series of complex equations solved by scientists, and forgot that most of the natural phenomenons cannot and should not be quantified - the only way of understanding the whole package is to experience it in person.
This "feeling" was the complete opposite of getting my hands on the latest generation iPhone or staying at an extravagant 5-star hotel - it shook me to my core and reminded me how incredibly lucky I am just to be alive and be a part of this truly amazing, amazing world.