Nebraskans spend a lot of time “plugged in.” We are often engaged on our smartphones, computers and televisions watching the news, reading text messages or looking at photos. Technology puts the world at our fingertips. But there are times when it’s appropriate, and even needed, to break away from it all and focus on the wonders of the natural world around us.
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view a solar eclipse is one such moment.
When the sun, moon and Earth all line up, a solar eclipse occurs. The moon, directly between the sun and Earth, casts a shadow over the planet. If you are situated in the dark part of that shadow, known as the umbra, you’ll see a total eclipse. If you are standing in the lighted part, called the penumbra, you only see a partial eclipse.
On Monday, Nebraska found itself in the path of the umbra. A total solar eclipse was visible in its totality within a 70-mile-wide strip that crossed the entirety of the United States. This was the first total solar eclipse visible in the continental United States in 38 years. According to NASA, the last time an eclipse stretched across the entire U.S. was nearly a century ago. The last time a total eclipse could be viewed in Lincoln was 1442.
This time, Nebraska was right in the middle of it all. Beatrice and nearby Homestead National Monument experienced the longest period of total eclipse in our state at 2 minutes, 35 seconds. Alliance came in second, with a totality lasting 2 minutes, 28 seconds. In Lincoln, where I watched the eclipse, the totality of the moon blocking the sun was 1 minute, 24 seconds long.
Tourism officials announced that a 74 percent probability of favorable viewing conditions combined with our big, open skies made Nebraska a fantastic destination for eclipse chasers. The numbers haven’t completely been counted, but it was estimated that hundreds of thousands of people came to Nebraska to witness the "path of totality," the strip of shadow where viewers could see the full solar eclipse.
Before the eclipse, the Great American Eclipse organization estimated between 166,000 and 416,000 travelers would come to our state. This gave Nebraskans the chance to do what we do best: offer a warm welcome to visitors from all across the world. We showed that no matter where you are from, Nebraskans know how to treat people with respect. We shared a slice of the “good life” with those who had never seen our open prairies or vast skies. We kindly greeted everyone who wanted to share our moment witnessing one of God’s beauties of nature with us.
Nebraska showed that we are a warm, open community, and we proved it with how we handled the influx of travelers who came to our state.
I hope everyone had a chance to watch the eclipse as it went over Nebraska. The next opportunity won’t be for quite some time: solar eclipses won’t be visible in Nebraska until May 3, 2106, and June 16, 2178.
These natural wonders don’t come often, but when they do they amaze us, inspire us and give us perspective. We shouldn’t miss out on them.