‘Awesome’ Is as Equally Beautiful as Terrifying

Jon Jivan, senior coordinator of videography, shares his 2017 eclipse experience

It’s a bit hard to explain to someone who hasn’t witnessed it before. With a total solar eclipse coming to our backyards on April 8, I’ve been surprised by the reaction of many who will be in or near the path. “What’s the big deal,” they sometimes say. “Overhyped” is a word I often read in the comments of local eclipse news stories.

I get it. I’ve always been a bit of a nerd to all things space. I understand why most people didn’t share my excitement when SpaceX became the first in history to land an orbital class rocket booster in 2015, or when NASA showed us the first images from the $10 billion James Webb Space telescope in 2022. These, after all, are human achievements that may not sound all that impressive to someone vaguely familiar with the Space Shuttle and Hubble Space Telescope programs, despite being significant milestone moments for those deep into the world of modern space exploration.

An eclipse isn’t in the same ballpark. Great as those achievements were, few things have quite the same impact on a human being as day turning to night within seconds.

Baby in a stroller with "My First Eclipse" shirt 2017

On Aug. 21, 2017, another total eclipse crossed the continental United States. Despite my obsession with all things space, I didn’t really give much thought about it until a few months prior when my dad asked if I was going to travel to see it. We checked hotels and discovered most of them had been booked for over a year. We ultimately reserved a location a little over an hour outside of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, the point of greatest eclipse.

This term “point of greatest eclipse” is given to the spot where a specific total eclipse will last the longest – 2 minutes and 40 seconds in the case of the 2017 eclipse.

My wife and our two young kids, parents, sister’s family, uncle and cousin all joined us, and we met in a park in Hopkinsville to watch the eclipse. It was a very hot day in Kentucky, sunny and humid with a high near 90 degrees. The park, which had been assigned by the town of Hopkinsville as the official watch location, had a bit of a party atmosphere with hundreds of people waiting around for the eclipse. Some brought telescopes, big cameras, and binoculars. There was excitement in the air as the moon began its trek across the sun.

Jon Jivan's Family Celebrating the Solar Eclipse 2017

It’s definitely a slow burn at first. This year at Kent State, the moon will begin eclipsing the sun at 1:59 pm on April 8. We will witness varying versions of a partial solar eclipse for the next 75 minutes. Though interesting, especially if you have a pair of solar eclipse glasses to look directly at the sun safely, this is probably something many of us have experienced before. You could certainly go about your day up until totality and not notice anything different than “those shadows under the tree look kind of weird.”

Back in 2017, as the moon covered the sun more and more, the light level certainly changed if you measured it, but oddly, my eyes treated it as a sunny day even up to moments before totality. What was most noticeable at that point was not the dimness of the sun, but the fact that an uncomfortable 90-degree day turned to a quite comfortable 75 degrees over the course of an hour.

Jon Jivan's photos of the solar eclipse

Then Baily’s Beads appeared. The last glimmer of sunlight immediately before an eclipse is broken up by the mountains on the edge of the moon. These shine as bright beads of light, resulting in some pretty epic photographs if you are quick enough to catch the moment with an unfiltered zoom lens. Seconds later: darkness.

I’ve heard secular people describe it as the closest thing to a religious experience they’ve ever felt. For me, it was both definitions of “awesome,” as equally beautiful as it was terrifying. It’s immediately apparent why more primitive societies were once frightened by total eclipses. In 585 BC, a surprise total eclipse interrupted a battle between warring parties in ancient Turkey, resulting in a truce and an end to a six-year war.

Jon Jivan's camera filter for the 2017 Eclipse

Little, including photos, can prepare one for the sight. It’s otherworldly, relatable more with science fiction than fact. The moon/sun combination hangs in the sky as if it is a black hole ready to swallow you. The sun’s white corona shines on display in surprising detail and texture, finally uninhibited by the blinding surface of our star. Small bits of red poke out of the sides of the circle as giant, earth-swallowing solar flares are on display.

The initial shock, which compelled most people in the crowd to erupt in cheers, was followed by only the sounds of cicadas. Everyone was captivated by the breathtaking display. I did my best to capture a few photos, and then sat with my family enjoying the sight.

2017 Solar Eclipse

A few minutes later, it was over. The sunlight returned just as quickly as it left.

In the words of my then two-year-old: “[It was] night time! That was so cool!”

He gets it.

Jon Jivan is the senior coordinator, videography, in the Division of University Communications and Marketing.

POSTED: Thursday, February 29, 2024 01:30 PM
Updated: Monday, March 18, 2024 03:43 PM
Jon Jivan
Jon Jivan