On the 20th of April 2023, I saw my first total solar eclipse.

Immediately after the end of totality, I started writing down my memories and feelings of the event. I’m posting an excerpt of what I wrote, both to record it for my own future reference, and in an attempt to convince whoever’s reading this to go see a total solar eclipse if you ever get a chance.

Here it is:

In the lead up the edges of shadows became hazy, like they were motion blurred even when still. Light became dimmer and redder as if there was smoke in the air. Like wearing sunglasses without sunglasses. A distinct coolness, and even though you’re not supposed to look at the sun, in the tiny glimpses when taking off my filter it was somehow less harsh.

During totality, the sky darkened past twilight, a deep purple-navy like the sky at the beach after sunset. Stars became visible. The moon was absolute black and the sun’s corona was absolute white, a hazy effervescence that drifted out like ink through water, but the absolute essence of brightness. Beads of diamond brilliance marked a few points around the corona, piercing and blooming through the star’s haze.

Transcendental. Cosmic beauty and brilliance. The total assertion in my mind was not of insignificance or of distance, but of beauty, the glory and wonder of the universe.

The end of totality was glorious as a point of pure light bloomed outwards into a crescent – and then its brightness was too much and a filter was required once more. If the beginning of totality was twilight, then the end was a second dawn – the horizon’s light shifted to the 5am blue of a misty beach before sunrise, and it is as if the sun rose again over the next few minutes.

This is probably the closest I’m going to get to the overview effect – why do people spend time fighting each other and working against each other when the universe contains such beauty?

All of existence is raw and quivering. I have not felt a glory like this since before I renounced religion.

I hope those words convey the magnitude of the experience. It can’t be communicated in pictures. The thing that struck me the most was that this was the opposite of the classic cosmic horror experience – it was cosmic wonder. The distances and scales involved didn’t matter in the slightest. All I could think about was how beautiful the universe is, and how lucky we are to be alive and able to witness it.

After this, it is of no surprise to me that people chase eclipses. Kiara and I are already looking at seeing another in a few years’ time, hopefully 2026. We spoke to one person who had seen 25(!) eclipses, though half of those were annular, not total. 100% totality is essential to the experience: without it, you don’t get the sky going dark, stars coming out and being able to look at the sun with the naked eye.

I’ve written before about my trip to NZ last year – there was a particular moment there that had this sort of incredible natural beauty to it. I consider that the absolute highlight of my 2022. This eclipse is probably going to be the equivalent for this year.

Whenever I experience something like this, for a brief time the purpose of travel becomes clear. It is to fully experience the natural wonders of the universe. Human ingenuity is a marvel in itself, but those things that we did not create have for me always dwarfed the work of our hands. Perhaps one day I will see something that upends this. That prospect is exciting too.

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