The author Bob Ryan was a broadcast meteorologist for 45 years, including 33 in Washington. He is now a consulting meteorologist and honorary member of the American Meteorological Society.
If you were a young professional living around Boston in the 1960s, chances are you didn’t set your alarm for 5 a.m. on a Saturday unless it was for something special. For me it was not only special, but it was and still is — wonderful.
I had a moonlighting job as a broadcast meteorologist on the 10 p.m. news on UHF Channel 56 in March 1970 and had talked about a partial eclipse of the sun, visible in Boston, earlier that week. But in Nantucket, it would be a total eclipse of the sun.
I had seen pictures in magazines and on TV of what a total eclipse looked like (remember this was 25 years BI … before the Internet) and I forecast a rare early March clear skies over Boston. So I decided to set my alarm and head to Nantucket.
My girlfriend, now wife, knew I was nuts. She had put up with me trying to catch snowflakes in plastic on our second date. But getting up at 5 a.m. on a Saturday morning?
“No thanks, tell me about it,” she said.
I told her — and we’ve shared four eclipses since and a fifth coming Aug. 21.
Nantucket, March 1970
The morning of March 7, 1970, I drove to Hyannis and bought a round trip ticket to Nantucket. I think it was a morning flight on Cape and Islands air. I was one of maybe six passengers. No pre-booking, no Internet, no TSA, no cellphone, no selfie.
We landed 30 minutes later in Nantucket joining passengers from one other flight. There were maybe 10-15 of us there. “Okay, where do we go?” I wondered.
Off we walked from the “airport” to a beach facing the open Atlantic. By about 11 a.m. there we were, on a sunny March day, light breeze on Nantucket, waiting for something none of us had seen. Bring it on!
At 12:31 p.m., it started. Special eclipse glasses? Hey, it’s 1970 — I think I had sunglasses! Cameras clicking away? I don’t remember a single one.
More of the sun disappeared as the moon passed between Nantucket and daylight, and then at 1:45:42 p.m., it happened. The dark shadow of the moon raced across the ocean and engulfed our band of eclipse seekers. And magic: totality.
Few experiences in life are indescribable; experiencing a total eclipse of the sun is one.
When folks tell me: “I’ve seen an eclipse of the sun,” I ask: “Was it total?” If they don’t remember, it wasn’t. Ninety-nine percent doesn’t count in very few things in life. Seeing an eclipse of the sun? Ninety-nine percent doesn’t count.
There were oohs and aahs that day 37 years ago, but not much cheering, no yelling, no telescopes, or furious clicking of big cameras. There was a wondrous, almost spiritual silence.
In two minutes, that seemed like two seconds, it was over. The sun burst through the craters of the moon and was back. We all caught our breath for a couple of seconds and then burst into spontaneous applause. Wow, God, that was neat.
Almost immediately, there was that voice in my brain that said, “Ryan that was more than neat, I want to see that again.” And we have seen it again and will see it again Aug. 21.
Germany, August 1999
The next time, my ex-girlfriend also wanted to see it so we went on a vacation to Europe in August 1999. Some relatives in Germany had been hearing about the “Totale Sonnenfinsternis” event for months.
The great European Eclipse of 1999 was the darkest eclipse of the sun I, or probably anyone has ever seen. It rained!!! We spent hours driving over much of Germany searching not just for the sun, but any bright spot in the clouds. In the end, we were like thousands of others, having to settle for a rainy night at noon in Europe. My brain was yelling, “Well that was interesting but I don’t need to see that again.”
Libya, March 2006
The no-show in Germany led us to Libya in March 2006. In the Sahara Desert, there was low probability of clouds and rain.
Unlike the handful of spectators in Nantucket, thousands spread across this temporary desert camp.
As totality approached, hundreds of telescopes were in position, cameras clicked away, and there was lots of cheering and yelling. No selfie — the iPhone was still a year away! Nevertheless, we shared another magical few minutes.
Right after, our brains said, “We want to see that again.” And, we did.
Russia in August, 2008, and Tahiti in July, 2010
Following our journey to the Sahara, we traveled to Novosibirsk, Russia to view an eclipse in 2008 and to Tahiti 2010.
I have some pictures …
Next up? Someplace in America in August. Pictures to come.
Millions of you will join me, perhaps seeing your first total eclipse of the sun.
* Please wherever you are, NO FLASH! You will not be able to light up the dark side of the moon during a total eclipse.
* If you spend all your time trying to take pictures, you will miss the eclipse. You will not be able to take a photograph like the one below — it requires special expertise.
* Dump the drones. Does anyone want to hear your drone buzzing around during the coming eclipse? NO!
My best advice: simply enjoy.
If you get stuck in a traffic jam near the centerline of totality, don’t worry, seeing totality for even 30 seconds is a lifetime experience. (And, if you miss this one, total eclipses of the sun really aren’t that rare. Just plan ahead for the next one.)
For those of you witnessing your first eclipse on Aug. 21, don’t be surprised if an inner voice says, “I want to see that again.” You might be an eclipse chaser.