Solar eclipse image, 2017 (via Unsplash)

Witnessing the Eclipse

Traveling from Baltimore, Giuliana and Massimo reflect on their experience of the 2024 total solar eclipse.

We started our eight-hour drive as a little expedition, adventuring on the I-70 from Baltimore to the “far West”. With little traffic, listening to good music and with a quiet sense of expectation, we crossed Maryland, reaching the Cumberland and the Appalachian mountains. Touching West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, we finally arrived in Cincinnati, on the border of Kentucky and Indiana. Our friends in the CL community had organized a nice dinner, welcoming us and others who had driven from even further away for the event we all eagerly anticipated: the 2024 GREAT SOLAR ECLIPSE! At the long dinner table, both the adults and the many children kept asking what to expect, what to look at, why it was so special. Soon the conversation moved to even greater questions about the universe and us. We went to bed with gratitude for our new friends and hope for clear skies.

And the sky was actually clear the next day. We joined the party organized at a barn northwest of Dayton, which felt like the middle of nowhere for people like us, used to the busy East Coast. At that location, with a perfectly flat horizon, we had the guarantee of 3 minutes and 40 seconds of totality, which is an eternity in terms of eclipse duration. A couple of telescopes had been deployed and we took turns looking at the Sun, its sunspots and the chromosphere alive with protuberances. Those views were like magnets — between a bite of a cheeseburger and a sip of beer we kept getting back in line to look again and again at those beautiful things. You wonder why we never think about that while the Sun is up there for us every day!

Then the eclipse started, at first a hint of a dent in the Sun’s disk that forced us to put on the dark glasses. As the profile of the dark Moon became more clear, the whole world began to change. First a light cold breeze, then the birds stopped singing, then the temperature started to drop and the light became dimmer; but instead of becoming red as it is normal at twilight, it was a surreal bluish. Minute after minute, we became more silent. Slowly, the disk of the sun became a crescent and shadows started to change. Kids with a colander were having fun finding that the illuminated holes projected an array of little crescents. And all shadows – our shadows – had perfectly sharp edges. In the last few seconds we turned to the west and the view was apocalyptic: the night was incumbent, high above and rushing toward us, eating everything as an impenetrable dark cloud. Then the last ray of sun light went off and we could see the eclipsed Sun: a glorious vision. The Sun disk was pitch black, encircled by a thin necklace of bright pearls and rubies; one could see the white streams of the corona with its long filaments. Further out, Venus and Jupiter shone in the dark sky. Looking down at the distant horizon, the gold orange or an impossible twilight encircled us in all directions. Time seemed to stop while we in awe contemplated something that surpassed all our expectations. It seemed to last forever, but just in the time of whispering “Glory... ” a violent beam of light suddenly reached our dark adapted eyes. We rushed to put back the thick glasses to look up again: totality was over. At that point we knew that what was coming was the rewind of what we had seen minutes earlier. Soon the air started warming up again, light and colors came back and slowly we also went back to our normal life: a last cookie, some cleanup, a hug to those leaving for a long drive back home. But our voices were less loud, our gestures had become more gentle, having in our eyes the wonder of something exceptional that will be impressed forever in our memory. Walking back to our car we repeated to each other the words that Fr. Giussani heard from his mother as she walked with him to mass on a crisp March morning: “How beautiful is the world, and how great is God”.

Massimo and Giuliana, Baltimore, MD