Homestead National Monument of America, west of Beatrice, Nebraska
Beginning of totality: 1:02pm (Central)
Duration of totality: 2 minutes, 35 seconds
Rain very nearly ruined the total solar eclipse for the thousands of people who had gathered in the fields surrounding Homestead National Monument of America, an hour’s drive south of Lincoln, Nebraska. Since early morning, the sky had been covered in cumulonimbus clouds that spritzed rain every hour. Much of the crowd remained optimistic. The National Weather Service radar, video feed, set up next to the Valentino’s Pizza food truck, predicted complete cloud cover for the totality. I asked the guest of honor, Bill Nye, aka the Science Guy and CEO of the Planetary Society, what he might tell disappointed spectators. “We unfortunately can’t control the clouds... yet,” he said. “But it will turn to night, in the middle of the day! Even with clouds, it will still be really weird.”
At 12:59pm, mere minutes before the the totality, a thin crescent sun began to peek from behind the clouds. The crowd -- in from as far away as Texas, England, and Australia -- began to stand up, gesturing wildly and exclaiming at the sky with a mixture of amazement, disbelief, and relief. The cool northerly wind picked up, and the sky above turned to dusk. The horizon, lined with low-lying storm clouds, lit up like a deep, orange ocean. The wind died. The crowd roared a countdown: 3, 2, 1. Whoops and screams filled the air. Safety glasses were off. A black orb hovered in the sky, edged by a pulsating ring of brilliant light. Our world was night, with the only light coming from far on the horizon and the occasional flash bursts of cameras and cell phones. More cheers went up when stars appeared in the southern sky.
Then, much too soon, another Nye countdown urged us to return to the safety of our viewing glasses. It was hard to heed, and many of us didn’t for as long as we could risk. The clouds had cleared further, and the first peek of sun, still muted by the partial moon cover, lit up the atmosphere around us in a way we hadn’t seen all morning. As the crescent sun reappeared, the excitement fled. Nye thanked the crowd and with a final cheer, the astronomers and families and school groups dispersed to their cars parked far away on the dirt roads and in the fields of rural Nebraska. -- Kevin Eisenmann