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Some Durangoans trekking to Texas to witness total eclipse

Next similar celestial event won’t occur until 2044
The moon covers the sun during a total solar eclipse Aug. 21, 2017, in Cerulean, Kentucky Some Durangoans are traveling to Texas for prime viewing of the total eclipse that will occur on Monday. (Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press file)

Durango is not in the direct path of the total solar eclipse that will crawl across a portion of the United States on Monday, but some residents are trekking eastward to look up in awe at what for many is a-once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The last total solar eclipse that graced North America was on Aug. 21, 2017, but the next total eclipse after Monday’s celestial event won’t occur until Aug. 23, 2044, according to NASA.

NASA describes a total solar eclipse as a “dazzling display” caused by the moon passing directly between the sun and the earth, blocking the sun from view but making its shimmering corona, the upper layer of the sun’s atmosphere, visible.

Durango mystery and thriller author Terry Bacon and his wife Debra, a photographer, are joining two friends from Montana in Uvalde, Texas, to witness Monday’s total eclipse.

Bacon said he became fascinated with astronomy at a young age, spending nights gazing up at the dark star-specked skies above rural Iowa. He and his wife witnessed the “ring of fire” partial eclipse in Durango on Oct. 14, 2023.

He said the partial eclipse last year was cool, but the impending total eclipse is his only chance to see the sun’s corona with his own eyes.

He expects to be totally awed, and the only thing that could make the experience even better would be if a solar flare happens to erupt in the approximately four minutes the moon blocks out the sun.

Terry and Debra Bacon are traveling to Uvalde, Texas, this weekend to catch the total eclipse that is forecast for Monday. Terry Bacon said he’s been fascinated by astronomy since he was young, and this may be his only chance to see the sun’s corona, it’s upper atmosphere, with his own eyes. (Courtesy of Terry Bacon)

When a total eclipse reaches totality, day abruptly turns into night.

American author Annie Dillard said in her 1982 nonfiction essay “Total Eclipse” there was no warning or “starting gun” during the total eclipse she witnessed in Washington on Feb. 26, 1979.

“At once, this disk of sky slid over the sun like a lid. The sky snapped over the sun like a lens cover. The hatch in the brain slammed. Abruptly, it was dark night on the land and in the sky,” she wrote.

Charlie Hakes, Fort Lewis College senior lecturer of physics and engineering, said he is traveling with his wife and son to Texas over the weekend to a place a little north of Dallas to view the total eclipse on Monday. But he might change course if skies are clearer at another point along the eclipse’s path of totality.

“If you have ever seen one, you wouldn’t have to ask” why he is looking forward to it, he said.

He said accounts of wildlife responding to the sudden shift from day to night as the moon drifts between the sun and the earth are true. Nocturnal insects driven by instinct snap into action with their nighttime choruses.

He witnessed the 2017 total eclipse from a U.S. Army base in Wyoming, surrounded by NASA-funded Colorado Space Grant Consortium folks.

“It's not just the sun, it’s everything,” he said of the total eclipse. “It suddenly gets dark and cold. It’s totally different than the annular eclipse that we just had where 99% of the sun was blocked out last October.”

Besides the eclipse itself, the thing that stuck out to Hakes in 2017 was the amount of traffic on the roads after the eclipse ended. He said he’s trying to plan his trip a little better this time around. Once he settles on a viewing place, he’s staying put until the traffic has cleared out.

Bacon said in addition to day turning to night, a total eclipse “casts incredible shadows on the ground and that's also a fascinating thing to witness.”

He said the forecast in Uvalde is cloudy, but he and his group will drive out of town to find clearer skies to see the total eclipse if they have to.

Despite never having really been a religious man, he is fascinated by stars and constellations, and his fascination made him want to understand the workings of the universe, he said.

“We are a tiny speck,” he said. “In the vast cosmos, there are (200 to) 300 million stars in the Milky Way. … There's billions and billions of other galaxies like the Milky Way. We're a very small part of what exists, but we're an important part.

““Because we are the universe made conscious,” he said. “And that is a special place for us in the cosmos, because we can observe this and wonder about it and we can ask questions and we can draw conclusions based on what we observe and try to understand the nature of reality. And I think that's an exquisite place for us to find ourselves where we can ask those kinds of questions and observe and realize what is real and what's not.”

NASA says it is safe to look at the total eclipse when it is completely blocking the sun, but the agency warns it is not safe to look at the sun without specialized eye protection during a partial eclipse – which means for the duration of the eclipse Monday in Durango.

The moon’s partial coverage of the sun will peak at 62.8% totality at 12:32 p.m. in Durango.

Dennis Phillips, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said Monday’s forecast is partly to mostly cloudy skies.

He said a weather system is dropping through the Great Basin past the Four Corners. Although it is not likely to deliver much, if any, precipitation to Durango, it will carry clouds that are likely to obscure one’s view of the moon eclipsing the sun.

He said temperatures will likely be a little below average for early April, settling around a high temperature in the low 50s.

Colorado Public Radio reported in March that Texas is “expecting apocalyptic traffic.”

Over 30 million people are in the path of Monday’s total eclipse, meaning one in 10 Americans will be able to see the eclipse from home, according to CPR.


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