My wife and I viewed the March 20, 2015 total eclipse of the sun from Vagar in the Faroe Islands. We chose the venue first, in conjunction with a bonus week in Iceland, checking off bucket list items galore. The Faroes have been a destination wish since reading William Trotter’s “Warrener’s Beastie” and Simon Winchester’s “Atlantic”. A desire to visit Iceland goes back much further since seeing the 1959 version of “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”. When we discovered an eclipse might be visible from admittedly an often-overcast bucketlist location, we were in.
Unlike many of our fellow pilgrims, we were total eclipse virgins. I’ve done many partials over the years, even as a kid staring through doubled-up exposed film negatives (127 – mother’s box camera), and later pinhole projections for my kids and office mates. The trip and location were so fantastic that even had we not seen totality, there would have been no disappointment. The weather on the Faroes leading up to March 20 was variable: rain, cloud, fog. First contact was due at 08:38. It was raining while we had breakfast then donned our gear to venture outside next to the airport. 8000 eclipse chasers had descended on the 49000 residents leading up to the day but our viewing area consisted only of our TravelQuest group. We huddled and clutched equipment, watching the skies break and close. Then, first contact was visible. More cloud. A break opened at around half coverage, the moon’s disc invading the sun’s glow. A crescent sun but shaped unlike the crescent moon, I could imagine the moon between earth and sun, not just a flat image. As totality neared, the light became silvery grey around us, shadows sharpened to knife-edge clarity (the sun no longer being an illuminating disc), the temperature dropped, cheers and awe greeted the diamond ring, Baily’s beads, and suddenly: totality. The eclipse glasses came off so we could view the corona through binoculars, telescopes, cameras and the naked eye. The next two minutes felt like six seconds, but seconds I will never forget.
As one of our tour astronomers put it, “the total eclipse experience cannot be reproduced by technology”. It has to be witnessed firsthand. I fully appreciate the passion of those who have travelled around the globe to see them. And more importantly, to share this ‘sense of wonder’ with others. I wasn’t merely sharing it with the others standing in awe around us, but with our ancestors: the ‘primitives’ who invented math and science to explain the world of natural phenomena; the calendar-makers who sought to predict not just seasons so critical to survival, but planetary and other cosmological events; and the story-tellers who created legends to explain the occasions in their gods’ terms. The lineage of ‘those who look up’ joins us in recognizing that in these times of continuous technological wonders, nature will always impress more.
We are no longer newbies to the club. We’ve seen one spectacular total eclipse, it won’t be our last. I understand the addiction. I understand the connections. And it was really neat.