A “Ring of Fire” annular solar eclipse dropped jaws of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people this past Sunday, wowing people from China and Japan across the Pacific to the western half of North America, with the western United States being in dead center of the eclipse path. I, on assignment for AmericaSpace and ARES Institute, traveled to the small town of Kanarraville, Utah to watch as the Moon covered the sun in the first solar eclipse over the U.S. in almost two decades.
The eclipse began at approximately 5:30 p.m. PDT, racing across the Pacific Ocean at 1,000 mph and making landfall over the California / Oregon border. For us in Kanarraville, “first contact” began at 6:30pm (mountain time). The small town of less than 300 people had close to 5,000 folks from all around the world visit to witness the event; an estimated 15,000 people crowded roadways and small towns from St. George, Utah to Cedar City, Utah. NASA declared Kanarraville as being dead center on the eclipse track, and Utah has a reputation for fantastic weather at this time of year, so naturally I chose this location to cover the event, and I could not have picked a better place.
I chose to hike up a mountain on the edge of town to be on high ground to cover the event, and several locals had the same idea. Local townspeople rode around non-stop on ATV’s hauling coolers full of ice cold water bottles, selling to thirsty eclipse chasers for $1.00 each. Locals also sold eclipse T-shirts and other memorabilia.
First contact, the point where the moon begins to cover the sun, occurred just before 6:30pm mountain time for us. The weather could not have been more perfect, clear blue skies and 80 degrees. Lots of clapping and cheers could be heard echoing off the mountains from people who opted to stay in town to watch the eclipse. As the eclipse progressed, the sky became noticeably darker, shadows took on an odd gray tone and even sunlight itself became something more like what someone would see at sunset, a very dim light, almost like a mix of sunlight and shadow.
Annularity, the point where the eclipse reaches its maximum, occurred at 7:30pm and lasted over four minutes. The skies grew dark and the only light that remained from the Sun was a thin ring that encircled the dark silhouette of the Moon, sending the landscape into a low light – dogs could be heard howling and hawks could be heard calling from the mountains behind us.
It was another hour before the eclipse ended, 8:30p.m., when the sun set behind the mountains to the west of Kanarraville. The next solar eclipse for the United States will be in 2017, a total solar eclipse where the moon covers 100% of the sun and can be viewed safely without eclipse glasses or other eye protection. Another annular solar eclipse will not touch U.S. soil again until 2023.