Last week, millions of Americans turned to the sky to view the first transcontinental total solar eclipse in 1918 years. Science teacher Laura Swessel knew the total eclipse would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so last year she planned a field trip to Gallatin, Tenn., for prime viewing of the celestial event.
More than 40 students and several chaperones traveled by bus to see the eclipse, and their experience, well, eclipsed what everyone outside of the totality zone saw. Junior Adriel Nacpil was one of those students. He went on the trip, he said because he knew it was something he didn’t want to miss and he looked forward to seeing it with his friends. The group’s experience was much like that of Providence students on campus (except for the food trucks and musical artists performing) until the moment when the moon completely blocked the sun.
Juniors Alec Burns, Ross Reyes, Adriel Nacpil, and Griffin Rogers watch the progression of the eclipse during a field trip to The Gallatin TN Eclipse Encounter in Gallatin, Tenn.
“The most memorable part was when totality hit, and I was able to take my [solar] glasses off,” he said. “It was just a great atmosphere with the darkness, the cool air, and the crickets chirping that made the moment very special.”
The opportunity to see the sun’s corona around the moon without pain was surreal, he said. “And all I could think was ‘Wow.’ The eclipse just looked so beautiful, something that cannot be captured in a picture.”
Senior Emma Dayvault agrees.
“I was in awe for several moments before, during, and after totality,” she said. “I chose to leave my phone on the bus during totality to focus on my surroundings instead of being distracted by my phone, and I’m so glad I did. After totality ended — which was the most interesting thing I’ve ever watched — I contacted several friends and family members who watched the eclipse from Southern Indiana. By doing so, my choice in going to Gallatin was completely affirmed. I think that there is something so uniquely spectacular about the eclipse when viewing from a totality zone.”
Mrs. Amelia Goffinet, study hall monitor, was one of the chaperones on the trip and was just as amazed as the students.
“I now understand what people mean when they say, ‘Words just can’t describe it,'” Mrs. Goffinet said. “For almost an hour we watched the moon encompass the sun. At first it was anticlimactic with no noticeable changes in the air or the brightness. … As the light began to change to a yellowish hue and the temperature started to drop, … the students were on their feet and donning their nifty solar glasses, looking to the sky.
“Just when the moon made its move to totally cover the sun, the cheers rang out over the park and someone set off fireworks,” she said. “Our kids were in total awe of why we made the trip to Gallatin, Tennessee. Watching them watch this moment of the eclipse was worth the trip for me.”
Mrs. Swessel also enjoyed seeing the eclipse through her students’ and their parents’ eyes. She had seen a partial solar eclipse in 1994 and had seen many presentations on a total eclipse, but experiencing it in person was beyond her expectations.
“[Last] Monday was one of the most amazing events in my life,” Mrs. Swessel said. “Pictures do not do the experience justice. Besides the ability to see the corona without eye protection, … it was wonderful being part of a collective worldwide event.”
A map full of push pins allowed the group to see the places from around the world from which people had traveled to be there: Germany, India, Austria, China, Ireland, and more. She also appreciated the natural phenomena that occurred – “the shadow of the moon as it approached from the west and then as it receded after totality; it was like having the sun rise in the west,” she said.
The temperature dropped noticeably, and the wind picked up before and after totality.
“The trees acted as diffraction grates — a physics term for a device that changes the patterns of light waves,” she said. “The light shining through the openings in the leaves left behind shadows on the ground shaped like miniature partial eclipses. It was really cool.”
As totality approached, the light had a strange cast, then “just before totality, everything looked as if the colors were dampened, and right after totality, everything seemed so bright because our pupils were completely dilated from the near darkness,” Mrs. Swessel said. They also noticed that the crickets and frogs started chirping and croaking “as if it was dusk, then darkness, then dawn.”
Experiencing all the phenomena in person and seeing her students also awed by them was delightful.
“I’m so glad I was able to share this experience with some of my students and their parents,” Mrs. Swessel said. “This is something they will never forget.”
Returning from the trip took more than double the time of the bus ride there, with the group stuck in traffic for more than six hours. But the long ride could not dampen their enthusiasm.
“It ultimately changed my perspective about the way our earth is so amazingly incredible, and I can honestly say that I would wait on a bus again for 8 hours — or longer — if I could view it again some time soon,” Emma said.
Different experience for students viewing partial eclipse
Students lie back on the football field to watch the progression of the eclipse.
Students, faculty and staff who witnessed the partial eclipse at school realized the enormous difference between 96 percent coverage and totality. Reactions were mixed regarding the partial eclipse. Some students, like juniors Emma Rauck and Kaden Williams, were disappointed the sky didn’t actually darken.
“I thought it was going to be completely dark out,” Emma said.
“I wanted it to be dark,” Kaden agreed.
Others were impressed with the greyness, observing that it looked like dusk, even though it was the middle of the afternoon. Several exclaimed, “Oh cool, look how dark it is,” as they experienced the odd greyness around them. It was almost shady but still oddly bright, “like looking through a dark lens,” one student said. Some students used their cellphones and solar eclipse glasses to take photos of the eclipse using the selfie feature.
Mr. Jeff Purichia, science teacher, enjoys the eclipse with his wife, substitute teacher and coach Terri (Blunk) Purichia ’90, and their daughter sophomore Maggie Purichia.
Science teacher Jeff Purichia commented on how much cooler it felt outside than the actual temperature reading. The heat index was still reading 100, “but it does not feel like 100 out here,” he said. “It’s amazing how much cooler it feels with just that amount of sun gone.”
Others, like juniors Vincent Benningfield and Zach Zelli, were impressed with the momentousness and singularity of the event.
“I’m glad I can see it,” Zach said. “It’s cool because I won’t be able to see it again for a long time.”
Vincent appreciated the scientific phenomena.
“It’s pretty impressive how all this happened in such a short time,” Vincent said, noting how the crescent of the sun moved as the moon approached the sun and then to the other side as it moved away – and how that affected the greying of the sky and lowering temperature. “It’s pretty crazy how such a small thing can affect so much.”