This is more of a journal entry than a blog post.
The solar eclipse was days away, drawing nearer and more intimidating. The Physics department was on edge since I’d arrived at the school, with a new issue seemingly arising every day. The morning after my bus into Orangeburg arrived, Wednesday morning, I was briefed on the state of the campus. It was August 16, 2017. I was tasked with developing a healthy store of information on the sun, sunspots, and eclipses in general by the 21st. I was going to be an Eclipse Ambassador for the event we’d be having in the stadium. I spent the next few days pining over resources on the internet, mixed into my study time for other classes. I refreshed my memory on the differences between a lunar and solar eclipse, improved my understanding of what sunspots are and how they fluctuate, I learned what the material our protective glasses were made out of, among other things.
Two days before the event, my advisor, Dr. Cash, met with myself and the students that would be helping host the event. They’d be spread out throughout the crowd, helping with glasses, safety, and general eclipse information. She went over the things we’d need to know to better serve our guests.
On the eve of the event, I was asked to assist with moving some equipment to the stadium early in the morning. University of Alabama was launching a weather balloon with our aide from on top of the stadium to monitor weather effects during a total solar eclipse. South Carolina State University would also be spearheading in South Carolina and recording the eclipse for the Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse (CATE) project. On my way to the cafeteria for breakfast, I had gotten word that my advisor’s, whom at this point in my matriculation I see as a second mother, progress through her list of tasks had been impeded. None of the students that had promised to help her had shown up. I took a detour to her office; breakfast could wait. The workload ended up being much less stressful when there was more than one person working on it. We gathered some things for the event onto a cart to be taken down to the first floor and she drove them to the stadium where there were people waiting to help unload. I went up to get the final load. Everything was completed in time.
A few hours later, I arrived to help host the eclipse viewing at the stadium. There were booths set up all underneath the stands to avoid the sweltering heat. Mine would be two tables that each had two of the same type solar scopes on them. Solar scopes are devices that take in sunlight, focus it with lenses, then reflect it onto a white surface so we can safely view the sun and even see sunspots and clouds passing in front of it. One type was wooden and a dozen or so people could view the sun from the sides. The other was cardboard, and only a couple people could look into them at a time. Due to the nature of the booth I would be overseeing, it was in direct sunlight. We were expecting four more students to show up to help me run the station. Four students that never came. A friend of mine, Robert Blue, had been watching me explain how the solar scopes worked and began helping me out. He made signs instructing people on how to use them, since telling them not to touch the interesting instruments was futile. He also helped explain what they did to the curious and steadily growing crowds around the station. There were a few times when there were over 30 people in our vicinity, so his help was much appreciated. I had even gotten approached by what I believe were flat-earthers or climate change deniers. It was pretty interesting since it was the first time I’ve ever been challenged by their type outside of the internet. I gave them all the information a physicist could give, cautioning them of my ignorance when they strayed too far into climate science. We eventually got help with the crowds from two other students, though I’m not quite sure where they came from. I was just happy to have the help.
A few of our friends had come over to join us as the eclipse was beginning. The crowds were waning, as most people had seen the solar scopes by now. It was a good time. I’ll never forget how the sun looked as a piece of it went missing. Of course I knew where it was and what was going on, but the idea that this monolith that was worshipped as a god by ancient peoples could just so simply be eaten away put a perplexing sense of fear inside of me for what might have happened in the past. I’ll also never forget how the sky had darkened as the first moment of totality drew within minutes, how the sun had totally disappeared, and the cheers erupting from the stadium. It was a treat I’ll never forget and that I’m fortunate to have been a part of.