By Willow Westervelt
Aug. 21 marked the first solar eclipse to travel coast to coast in the United States since 1918.
Senior psychology major Hanna Rosenzweig was one of those 2 to 7 million people who traveled to view what was dubbed “The Great American Eclipse.”
“It was the first eclipse in the continental U.S. in a while,” assistant professor of physics John Bochanski said. Because of its long path, it was “ideal for observing,” he added.
The eclipse passed through 14 states on a diagonal line, traveling from the Northwest to the Southeast. People in most states were able to see the eclipse, but only those located on the line of travel were able to see it in totality.
Rosenzweig traveled a whopping 1,000 miles from her home in West Hills, California, to witness the monumental moment. She embarked with her father and older sister to the Willamette Valley Vineyard in Turner, Oregon, to participate in what she described as “a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
They ultimately decided to fly into Seattle and then rent a car to drive to Salem, Oregon, which was only about 30 minutes from the vineyard, where an exclusive eclipse viewing party was being held.
When asked why the family chose Oregon, Rosenzweig said, “It was on a whim, so we didn’t want to go too far. Plus, we’ve never been to Oregon before. So we could see Seattle, too, while we’re there.”
As time progressed, Rosenzweig and her sister watched their father’s attitude transform before their eyes.
“When we first asked [him to go] we had to push him into agreeing, but by the time it was happening, he was so much more into it than we were,” she said. “He started buying all these cameras and equipment because he said, ‘If we are going then we have to do it right.’ He wanted to be able to cherish the moment forever.”
Their father purchased a Sony Nex Zoom Lens, a solar filter, a tripod and three pairs of eclipse viewing glasses.
The Rosenzweigs left their home around 4 a.m. on Aug. 17 to catch their flight to Seattle. Upon landing, Rosenzweig noted that “traffic was bumper-to-bumper almost the whole way up, even on the back roads. Everything was jammed.”
Traffic remained heavy for the duration of the trip to and from the vineyard. When they arrived to Willamette Valley, the Rosenzweigs were greeted with a “really nice, exclusive event,” which offered its own NASA-approved viewing glasses to all ticket holders. There was a group of scientists explaining what the viewers were seeing at all times and hundreds of other people with their own equipment for capturing the eclipse.
As the main event drew closer, Rosenzweig described the scene as being “total organized chaos.”
The moment when the eclipse hit, however, was marked by darkness and an overall temperature drop of 14 degrees. At that time, the announcers let everyone know they could safely take off their protective eyewear and look at the eclipse.
“During a total eclipse, while the sun is blocked, it is safe to view the eclipse without glasses because the harmful rays of the sun that are damaging to the retina are being blocked,” explained Rosenzweig.
“[The NASA-approved eyewear] is designed to reflect most of the sun’s light, only letting a millionth — one photon in a million — through,” according to Bochanski. “That way it keeps your eyes from getting injured, because we know you want to stare.”
The eclipse lasted approximately two minutes.
“Everyone went from talking to complete silence when the eclipse hit,” said Rosenzweig. “As soon as we reached totality, it just got quiet and everyone was like, ‘This is it. It’s happening,’ and they all started quietly rushing around trying to get pictures of the event.”
As soon as everyone was done taking pictures, the venue reached a state of tranquility in which everyone was captivated by the sight. “It was total silence for those two minutes,” Rosenzweig recalled. “We all waited an hour for two minutes of something amazing, and it was crazy.”
Once the sun began to peak out, the announcers told everyone to put their glasses back on.
“My sister and I realized our dad was still trying to take pictures, we were like, ‘Dad, you have to put your glasses back on. We need you to drive home,’” said Rosenzweig.
She described the time after totality as a “moment of unity for everyone there.”
“Everyone was just talking about what they just saw and how they felt,” she said.
The next eclipse that will be able to be seen in America is expected to originate in South America and travel into the U.S. Northeast on April 8, 2024.
“We should all plan to see the next U.S. eclipse in 2024, and enjoy it,” Bochanski said. “In 600 million years, there will be no more total solar eclipses because the moon is gradually drifting away from us.”
For Rosenzweig, seeing a total solar eclipse is an experience she would highly recommend traveling for.
“I would totally go to see another one,” she said. “It’s something everyone should try and do. You don’t really think it’s anything crazy, but it totally is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”