Columbia residents reflect on the solar eclipse

NASA Eclipse Map

Months after the August total solar eclipse, residents of Columbia, South Carolina, still share their experiences of being in the path of totality and their thoughts on the universe now.

By Anna Springs
Nov. 17, 2017

On Aug. 21, 2017, the nation experienced a total solar eclipse for the first time since 1979 and a coast-to-coast total solar eclipse for the first time since 1918.

For cities in the path of totality, this celestial event was particularly spectacular. The second-to-last city to experience the solar eclipse, Columbia was one of these lucky places. Still, some anticipated that the excitement leading up to the event might outweigh the experience.

Beth Powell, the administrative coordinator at the USC Department of Physics and Astronomy, said that there was so much hype built up around the total eclipse that she was actually a little worried about being disappointed when it occurred. However, like most others, Powell was captivated by the event.

“It really did turn out to be an amazing experience,” said Powell. “My only regret was that totality didn’t last longer. I would have liked a little more time to take it all in.”

Highway officials tried to prepare for the 1.6  million visitors who came to South Carolina to witness the eclipse. Photo credit: News 19 WLTX

According to an article in The State newspaper, the Aug. 21 eclipse was the largest tourism event that South Carolina has ever experienced, bringing in over 1.6 million visitors and pumping about $269 million into the economy. The Highway Patrol even closed rest stops in South Carolina on both Interstate 26 and Interstate 95 because they were so full. That experience seems to have had a lasting impact as more people declare an interest in the skies.

“I was really interested to see how many people would be coming to Columbia from all over the country just to witness those two and a half minutes,” said University of South Carolina senior Jenna Haynes of Columbia.

“The morning of the eclipse, business was really good and there was a ton of traffic,” said Mariel Razalan, one of the managers at Bohemian, a retail store in Five Points. “The weekend before was pretty slow though, it wasn’t quite what everyone hyped it up to be in terms of traffic.”

Razalan, who has worked at the clothing store for three years, agrees that she is much more interested in the universe now. “I honestly thought it was going to be pretty stupid, but it was actually very exciting.”

A girl checks out the sky in eclipse glasses. Photo credit: The State newspaper

The entire city, including the University of South Carolina, was invested in the event and all its excitement. The Melton Observatory, on USC’s historic Horseshoe, hosted a viewing of the sky during the solar eclipse.

“It was magnificent and really showcased the very best that USC has to offer from a campus perspective,” said Sam Beals, the administrative assistant at the USC Department of Physics and Astronomy. “Almost every entity at USC was involved in some form for this historic event.”

Martin Bowers, the observatory manager, says that since the eclipse visits to the observatory have increased. The observatory is open every Monday night at 9 p.m. for the public to examine the night sky. In September, attendance peaked at nearly 100 visitors on some Monday evenings.

The University of South Carolina Melton Observatory welcomes visitors each Monday night for a view of the skies. Photo credit: The University of South Carolina

“I actually didn’t realize that USC had a public observatory until after the eclipse,” said USC senior Margarette Snell of Columbia. “I’ve been twice since and it is honestly so cool to look and see the planets.”

Snell, who is a public relations major with a special interest in physics and astronomy, says that the experience, as well as her visits to the observatory, really grew her love for the universe.

Some people, including Haynes, were especially captivated by the event and researched different aspects of the phenomenon leading up to the experience.

“I did a lot of research,” said Haynes. “I researched the duration of the eclipse, where all it would be visible from, how long it would last, and basically what was supposed to happen.”

Haynes, who is majoring in global supply chain and operations management, says that she is definitely more interested in the universe and in science now. “It’s crazy how something so cool can happen in front of our eyes and it is just completely controlled by the world and not something that humans have control over.”

The solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017. Photo credit: Time Magazine

Still, those who didn’t do any extensive research were still equally fascinated by the event and have been impacted by the marvels of the universe.

“I love science and I have a secret love for the moon, so I was super excited about the eclipse,” said USC senior Hannah Vickman of Myrtle Beach. “I’m always looking into when the next harvest or new or crazy moon is going to be, so learning that I was going to get the opportunity to see the moon travel in front of the sun during the solar eclipse was really exciting.”

Vickman, who is an exercise science major, didn’t do much research leading up to the event, but says the event definitely sparked her interest and she’s done a lot of research since. “It definitely gets you thinking about the universe and all of the things that happen out there. It’s honestly very overwhelming!”

For many, the two and a half minutes of totality during the solar eclipse was literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“I probably won’t see another solar eclipse in totality like I did, so it’s cool to say that I got to see it,” said Vickman. “It was definitely one of my favorite life experiences.”


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