The above image was taken on August 21st, 2017, from Jefferson City, Missouri, using a smartphone camera pressed against the eyepiece of my (properly filtered) 60mm Stellarvue refractor with a 9mm Televue Nagler eyepiece, just moments before totality. As stunning as this image is, it was NOTHING compared to the awe and wonder of totality. I had never seen anything like it, and the truly unbelievable sight of that jet black disk, looking like nothing so much as a hole in the universe, surrounded by the solar corona like a halo, was burned into my mind forever.
In the days and weeks following the eclipse, the internet was inundated by truly countless people expressing how they experienced an overwhelming sense of Oneness with the Universe, how they could feel the Earth, the Moon, planets, and the Sun spinning and moving through space in a Great Dance. More than one likened it to actually, physically hearing the Music of the Spheres.
And perhaps they were. For myself, my own feelings were mainly that I had not anticipated the beauty of the event. I had (mostly) anticipated the awe and wonder, but that it would be a Work of Art took me by surprise.
The "Belt of Venus"
Photo taken by my brother, Andrew Prokop, at sunset from the shore of Lake Superior.
The dark band just above the horizon is the Earth's shadow, just coming into view.
The Apollo astronauts marveled at finding "space" to be not cold and dark, as we are apt to think of it, but rather basking in an eternal noon. Michael Collins, Apollo 11 Command Module Pilot, perhaps expressed this feeling the best (in his memoirs, Carrying the Fire):
"As the radio commercial describes sunset: "When the sun just goes away from the sky..." Baloney. The sun doesn't rise or fall: it doesn't move, it just sits there, and we rotate in front of it. Dawn means we are rotating around into sight of it, while dusk means that we have turned another 180 degrees and are being carried into the shadow zone. The sun never "goes away from the sky." It's still there sharing the same sky with us; it's simply that there's a chunk of opaque earth between us and the sun which prevents our seeing it. Everyone knows that, but I really see it now. No longer do I drive down a highway and wish the blinding sun would set; instead I wish we could speed up our rotation a bit and swing around into the shadows more quickly."
A similar sentiment was expressed as far back as 1938, in C.S. Lewis' science fiction novel, Out of the Silent Planet. The novel's hero, Dr. Ransom, has been kidnapped by the evil scientist Dr. Weston, and carried off against his will in a spacecraft to an unknown celestial destination. Shortly after waking up aboard the ship, Ransom wonders aloud about how bright it is outside the window:
And so we have the opportunity, without having to fly to the Moon, to viscerally experience our motion through space every single day. For me, the Earth's motion is most evident in the last minutes just prior to sunset, sitting on my back patio in shadow, while the tops of the trees in my neighbor's yard are still in bright sunshine. I realize that I am poised on the knife's edge of daylight. From space, from an observer on the Moon, I would be smack on the terminator, moving at approximately 700 mph into the Earth's night side."I had always thought space was dark and cold," [Ransom] remarked vaguely."Forgotten the sun?" said Weston contemptuously.Ransom went on eating for some time. The he began, "If it's like this in the early morning," and stopped, warned by the expression on Weston's face. Awe fell on him: there were no mornings here, no evenings, and no night - nothing but the changeless noon which had filled for centuries beyond history so many millions of cubic miles.
I believe it is important to not just intellectually understand our place in the universe, but to feel it in our bones. I don't often manage to do this. I know I've succeeded when at a star party, the stars no longer seem to be above me, but rather in front of me. Try it sometime. Word of warning however - it can make you dizzy.