BUCKHANNON — “We were all screaming and not a single one of us was drunk!” Dr. Tracey DeLaney exclaimed.
The pure joy of witnessing a total solar eclipse — that rare occurrence when the moon aligns directly with the sun, completely blocking its rays and turning day into night — united the people stationed in the parking lot of a youth baseball complex DeLaney had driven to in Niota, Tennessee at approximately 2:35 p.m. Monday.
Being in the path of totality — the area along which the moon completely blocks the sun— connected DeLaney, an astronomer and an assistant professor of physics and engineering at West Virginia Wesleyan College, to every single person standing around her in an era that’s becoming increasingly marked by political polarization, she said.
DeLaney had driven to Niota – a tiny town of about 1,000 people – so she could view the total eclipse at a point that lay in the path of totality. In West Virginia, viewers were only able to see a partial eclipse in which the moon covered about 88 percent of the sun. Niota is in the deep South, DeLaney said, and probably many people who she was conversing with while drinking ice-cold concession stand sodas, held markedly different political and religious views than her.
But at 2:35 p.m., none of that mattered.
“In that moment, all of those people were together in that parking lot, and we all screamed in joy together and that’s kind of an awesome thing,” DeLaney said. “We were all screaming and none of us was drunk! I was in the Deep South, and there were people of all kinds of different creeds and orientations and affiliations and beliefs – some I’m sure very different than mine – but we all came together as U.S. citizens screaming in unison.”
So, what did the world look like in the path of totality?
“Even before totality hit, the sky got noticeably darker; it was like twilight,” DeLaney said. “There was a sunset all 360 degrees around the horizon. The sky was dark enough to see Venus and Jupiter. Some people with better eyes could pick up Mars, and I was able to see Mercury through the binoculars I brought.”
The birds stopped chirping and retreated to their nests, while crickets and cicadas emerged and began making their sounds, DeLaney said.
“It was just as spectacular as I expected it to be,” she said. “It was amazing, and then it’s amazing how fast 2 ½ minutes goes.”
Back in Buckhannon, scads of Wesleyan students, faculty and staff gathered in the Wesley Chapel Oval to attend a solar eclipse watch party facilitated by student volunteers from the SPACE club, Physics club and Sigma Pi Sigma. The eclipse began at about 1:10 p.m., peaked at 2:37 p.m., and ended at 3:57 p.m.
Special solar filtered glasses were distributed, and students stared skyward in awe of the rare solar event.
Lea Kryvenchuk, a Wesleyan senior and self-described “science nerd,” arrived early to snag a set of glasses.
“I’ve been out here since this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Kryvenchuk said. “This is the first time in 99 years this is happening, and it’s really cool. Just look how crisp the edges (of the moon) are!”
Freshman Victorian Jackson and Tre Gulley came out to see what all the fuss was about.
“I just wanted to see what all the talk was about,” Gulley said. “It’s been all over the news, and I thought it’d be really neat to see for myself.”
Angela Meyer, a senior and president of the SPACE club, said the club were careful to ensure they had plenty of solar eclipse glasses on hand – slightly over 200.
“This doesn’t happen very often, and we wanted everyone to be able to safely enjoy this rare occurrence,” Meyer said. “We also have a telescope out here with a solar filter so people can look through it safely.”
Then, there were Blanche and Richard McDaniels, ages 75 and 77 respectively, who happened to see the solar eclipse watch party advertised in the Barbor Democrat and decided to make the short drive over to Upshur County to watch with a crowd.
Leaning against her husband, who was seated in a lawn chair, Blanche McDaniels explained the two had lived in New York for 36 years before moving to Philippi, West Virginia, in 1996.
“When we were in New York, there was a solar eclipse, but we were never able to see it there, so were are thrilled to get to be here and experience the whole thing,” she said. “I don’t see too many people our age here. We’re crazy that way.”
DeLaney said the next total solar eclipse during which West Virginia will be in the path of totality is predicted to occur in 2099. In 2024, West Virginians will witness another partial eclipse, with the path of totality cutting over the neighboring state of Ohio.
“That one will last longer,” said DeLaney, who hadn’t slept since prior to leaving for Tennessee at 6 p.m. Sunday. “About four minutes. Now, I’ve got to go catch up on sleep.”