On August 21, 2017, while everyone else in North America was busy adjusting their cardboard viewing glasses and cursing at fog or clouds, a dedicated Google Street View driver just kept cruising through the town of Maryland Heights, Missouri; thus capturing for posterity what it looked like to experience the 2017 Great American Solar Eclipse from the path of totality.
The public tip-off to Google’s serendipitous astronomical photography came from eclipse-chaser Michael Kentrianakis, who told Space.com how to view the images at last week’s 2018 Northeast Astronomy Forum after being informed himself by online sources.
“I guess those Google vans photographing every road on the planet don't stop for nothing. Not even during the night of a total solar eclipse,” Kentrianakis wrote on Facebook.
“Drive on this Google Map right into the darkness of the eclipse or look up in the sky and see the Sun blocked by the Moon in what was a prolonged Diamond Ring just outside the limit of totality near St. Louis. Pretty darn neat.”
To take a look yourself – without risking permanent retinal burns from eschewing protective eyewear – simply cruise the route between 2000 and 2048 on McKelvey Hill Drive, area code 63043. Along the way, you toggle to the side to see transfixed locals or even pan upward to see the obscured Sun (though sadly, the glowing halo is too overexposed to make out clearly).
Officially declared by NASA to be the most viewed solar eclipse in history, last summer’s event was the first total eclipse to pass over the US since 1978, and the first to cross the entirety of the 48 contiguous states since 1918. Those fortunate enough to live within a narrow band that swept diagonally across the country were treated to the sight of the Moon perfectly positioned in front of the Sun for just under three minutes, though people in other regions could still enjoy a thrilling, yet slightly off-center blocking.
And before you start to worry too much about how the driver missed an experience of a lifetime, take a close look at the images taken as you advance up the road to the north toward higher address numbers. At 2046 McKelvey Hill Drive, the sky is still dark, with the eclipse in full swing, yet just one “click” forward to 2048 reveals a bright, normal-looking sunny day – promising evidence that whoever was behind the wheel pulled over for a few minutes.