Column: How to totally enjoy the coming total eclipse

Ella Dahlstrom,8, of Hartford, Vt., and Becca Girrell, of Lebanon, N.H. view the solar eclispe at the Montshire Museum of Science, in Norwich, Vt., on Aug. 21, 2017. About 1,300 people came to the museum to see the eclispe. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Ella Dahlstrom,8, of Hartford, Vt., and Becca Girrell, of Lebanon, N.H. view the solar eclispe at the Montshire Museum of Science, in Norwich, Vt., on Aug. 21, 2017. About 1,300 people came to the museum to see the eclispe. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Using a piece of pegboard the lunar eclipse is projected on pieces of paper at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, Vt., on Aug. 21, 2017. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Using a piece of pegboard the lunar eclipse is projected on pieces of paper at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, Vt., on Aug. 21, 2017. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

Grace Pease, of Tunbridge, and Dominick Small, of South Royalton look skyward from the green in South Royalton, Vt., as the moon obscures just over 60 percent of the sun in a solar eclipse Monday afternoon, August 21, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Grace Pease, of Tunbridge, and Dominick Small, of South Royalton look skyward from the green in South Royalton, Vt., as the moon obscures just over 60 percent of the sun in a solar eclipse Monday afternoon, August 21, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

By F. X. FLINN

For the Valley News

Published: 02-16-2024 7:46 PM

In August 2017, on a South Carolina beach with my mom, two aunts, two uncles, and another 40 adults who were either siblings, first cousins, spouses or children of same, I witnessed totality for the first time.

My primary takeaway: I had never seen a photograph or video that captured what I saw during the two and a half minutes the moon totally blocked the sun. In the years since, I still have not found one. Totality is an experience that resists replication, that disappears when mediated through a smartphone or a camera, no matter how fancy.

So I say to you: when the April 8 total eclipse crosses our region, get yourself in the path of totality, and don’t bother worrying about capturing it with a device. That’s not what totality is all about.

Totality is about witnessing the blackest of black circles in the sky the size of the moon or sun. You will never see such an absence of light surrounded by the light of the stars, and, most spectacularly, the soft, filamentaceous, wavy, moving streamers of the sun’s corona.

Totality is something you, a human being, cannot know unless you are able to experience it for yourself. Totality is the only time you can look up without having to have your eclipse glasses on. It’s you, the moon totally blocking the sun, the planets, and the stars.

So let’s come up with a plan for witnessing totality!

The basic limitation is that totality doesn’t last long. In Vermont, for example, it all happens between 3:26 pm and 3:31 pm, but in any one spot for a maximum of 3 minutes and 26 seconds. The nearer you are to the centerline of the path of totality, the longer it lasts. You need to be in position and comfortably able to view the southwestern sky. You can plan this in advance by using an interactive map of the April 8 eclipse that allows you to check out different options for places to be. The Eclipse2024.org map is one such tool.

For example, nobody in the Upper Valley is in the path of totality. For those along I-89, the nearest place with plenty of parking is the Berlin Mall and other store complexes off Exit 7 in Barre. The eclipse there will last 1 minute 11 seconds. The map will let you discover that driving up to St. Albans will get you to places where it will last 3 minutes, 36 seconds. You should allow for heavy traffic northbound that day. For example, allocate 3 hours to get to St Albans instead of an hour and a half. Similarly, those nearer I-91 will find that minute-plus at Exit 20 in St. Johnsbury, but you’ll have to drive up into Canada to get to the centerline.

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In any event, the sun will be high enough in the sky that you will be able to find a spot, even if it’s along a local road, to witness totality. Download the SolarEclipseTimer app to help be certain when totality begins and it’s safe to look up without the eclipse glasses you’ll be able to obtain readily either online or at local stores.

For a more detailed version of how to use these tools, check out my article on MoonOverVT.com, and for the best general material on the eclipse, the space.com website is hard to beat.

F. X. Flinn is currently chairman of the East Central VT Telecommunications District, the local government that owns ECFiber. He lives in Quechee.