ASTROCON 2017 Keynote Lecture: Experiencing Totality

Fred Espenak

The total eclipse of 2017 is the first one visible from the contiguous United States in 38 years. It offers millions of Americans the opportunity to bask in the light of the solar corona for two minutes. The overwhelming majority of 2017 eclipse observers are "totality virgins", having never experienced a total eclipse before.

Just what is it like to stand in the Moon's shadow and watch daylight diminish to an eerie twilight? And what does the corona really look like? Has the total eclipse been completely over-hyped by the media or is it something even more?

There are few events in life that leave a permanent, indelible impression. A total eclipse of the Sun is just such an event. The simple act of recollection can quicken the pulse as vivid memories flood one’s mind. 

It all begins with such little fanfare — a tiny notch along one edge of the Sun. An hour passes as the Moon slowly creeps across the Sun’s disk. In the final minutes, daylight grows feeble. A dark curtain rises in the west as the Moon’s shadow races towards you at speeds exceeding a thousand miles per hour. Suddenly, the darkness sweeps over you as the Sun’s light flickers out and totality begins.

I will share some eclipse accounts of my own as well as those of others, illustrated with images and video captured around the world with the hope of preparing you for your own experience with totality on August 21.


Fred Espenak is a scientist emeritus at Goddard Space Flight Center and is NASA's expert on eclipses. He maintains NASA's official eclipse web site ( as well as his personal web site on eclipse photography ( Fred has published numerous books and articles of eclipse predictions and he is the co-author of the popular book "Totality - Eclipses of the Sun". His magnum opus, the "Five Millennium Canon of Solar Eclipses", includes a map of every solar eclipse occurring between 2000 BC and AD 3000. His interest in eclipses was first sparked after witnessing a total solar eclipse in 1970. Since then, he has participated in 34 eclipse expeditions around the world including Antarctica. Fred's eclipse photographs have appeared in both national and international publications, and he has lectured extensively on the Sun, eclipses and photography. In 2003, the International Astronomical Union honored him by naming an asteroid "Espenak" ( Now retired and living in rural Arizona, Fred spends most clear nights losing sleep and photographing the stars (
Fred Espenak


Saturday, August 19, 2017 - 20:00