Ezzy’s US eclipse: the buzz begins

BBC Sky at Night Magazine news editor Elizabeth Pearson continues her journey across the US to view the 21 August total solar eclipse.

Keep up to date with Ezzy's US eclipse exploits via her personal Twitter account and BBC Sky at Night Magazine's Twitter account.

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Eclipse chasers line up outside the Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake City, hoping to get their hands on a pair of eclipse glasses.
Credit: Elizabeth Pearson

 

Ezzy's US eclipse: Day 2

After months of planning, today was the day I finally got started on my road trip to the eclipse.

After landing in Salt Lake City I picked up my car, and began the frankly unnerving process of getting to grips with driving an unfamiliar, automatic car on the 'wrong' side of the road.

Fortunately, it was only a short drive to my first stop – the Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake City.

I had planned a short visit there to see how the planetarium was preparing for the eclipse, but I was given my answer as soon as I walked in the door.

Hundreds of people were queuing out onto the street as staff struggled to corral them all into line. At first I was astonished at the planetarium's popularity, but the true reason behind the crowds soon became apparent.

A few days previously a recall notice from a major online retailer had announced that some of its eclipse glasses weren't safe, and needed to be thrown away.

"A lot of those people who got those emails are coming to the Clark planetarium today because we have the real ones," says Seth Jarvis, the planetarium's director. "We weren't expecting to be the only game in town, but here we are!"

Salt Lake City will experience 91 per cent partiality, but even at maximum coverage the Sun will be bright enough to cause damage to the eyes of those watching. 

"Sunlight isn't any more dangerous during an eclipse than it is on any other day it's just that during an eclipse find themselves tempted to look at the sun," says Jarvis.

Even with a new shipment of 21,000 glasses and limiting the sales to five per person, the planetarium team are expecting to run out by Thursday.

The safety fears have caused some schools, many of which restart on the day of the eclipse, to cancel their eclipse watching events. 

"It bothers me that a lot of schools are thinking of keeping kids inside," says Jarvis. "That's the opposite of education. This is a rare event and there are ways of safely watching the eclipse even without glasses." (See here for some of our own methods of safe eclipse viewing - Ed).

However, for many the crisis over glasses has only served to help build excitement for the coming event. 

"The kids have been talking about this for a while," says Claudia Demordant, who was swept up in the excitement when visiting the planetarium.

"They've been begging me to take them to family in Idaho where they can see totality and after today, I'm really tempted. I'm a little worried about the traffic and whether I can make it home in time for school the next day. But whether it's here or there, we'll definitely be watching."

The expanse of America opens up, as the road trip begins.
Credit: Elizabeth Pearson

 

With the bedlam at the planetarium out the way, it was time to start the trip proper.

Fortunately, by now I had gotten over the initial fear of driving and was able to enjoy the scenery around me. 

As soon as I left the city, the landscape began to grow more untamed and the signs of humanity's presence dropped away.

By the time I rolled out of Utah into Wyoming, I was surrounded on both sides by mountains, ridges and rock formations.

It was fascinating to see the conflicting forces of nature in action – the harsh cliff edges where the movement of the Earth's crust had shoved huge slabs of stone into the air, only for weather to wear them smooth.

But no sooner had I become accustomed to the mountains then I would round the corner and be faced with a flat plain stretching away into the blue haze of the distance, confronting me with the sheer vastness of this planet.

The scenic route: passing through Flaming Gorge on the way to Rock Springs, Wyoming.
Credit: Elizabeth Pearson

 

I ended up having to stop myself pulling over at every layby in order to take photos, or else I'd never reach my destination of Rock Springs, though I did decide to take a long-cut and drive to my destination along the Flaming Gorge scenic by-pass.

Like most of the roads, it was without street lights and totally uninhabited for miles around. I found myself wishing for nightfall and my camera, to take advantage of what would surely be a fantastic dark sky framed against the imposing mountains. 

Fingers crossed, there will be other dark skies and clear nights further along in my trip. And at least one clear day, of course: 21 August.


 

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