Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Eclipse 2017: Afterword

This is the fourth and final post in my series about the journey to the 2017 solar eclipse.

The other posts are:

Eclipse Day



What worked, what didn't?

Nearly everything about my eclipse observing plan worked well, with the exception of my binoculars.

The 6" scope (an f/10 Mak-Cass, with a star diagonal and a 31mm Nagler eyepiece) worked like gangbusters. The mount wasn't fancy, but it was sturdy enough to give a good steady view, and the solar tracking rate worked quite nicely. Getting it polar-aligned the night before was a godsend. Having a full-aperture filter made of Thousand Oaks Optical film worked great. I'm still amazed at how steady the seeing was, and how much detail I could see through the scope during totality. Seeing that oh-so-thin red arc of chromosphere for a few seconds after C2 made the scope totally worthwhile. And the views of the inner corona and prominences were amazing, capturing a lot of the detail seen in the video by Jun Ho Oh's group. I think my favorite thing about the telescope view - besides the intricate details in the prominences - was seeing the magnetic field lines in the inner corona forming loops around the prominences. That's a `Druckmuller image' type of detail, and seeing it was a huge win.

I gambled that my binoculars would work, and I lost. The 15x50 image-stabilized binoculars work great.. WHEN the stabilizer is working. I knew that if the stabilizer conked out, I would be unlikely to even find the Sun in the field of view, much less get a decent view OF the eclipsed Sun. And that's how it went. I don't know what makes the stabilizer come and go, but on eclipse day it went south. Bummer. Looking back on it, I feel like a complete goof for not bringing a small, lightweight pair of binoculars as backup. I think my folks even have some binos like that, and I could so easily have brought them. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. Come to that, I kind of wish I'd pulled the "buy" trigger on the smaller, lighter, less-powerful pair of I.S. binos I'd put on my Amazon shopping list. They'd have been spendy, but I'll bet the `overall view' of the corona would have been well worth it. Something for next time.

But - and I know I sound like a broken record here - the eclipse experience was SO great! The malfunctioning binos really don't mar the memory.

If I'm listing things that didn't work, I think the closest thing to a `big disappointment' is that I couldn't hold my welder's glass steady when the Sun was a thin crescent. If I could have seen the inner corona for at least a minute or so, on either side of totality, that would have been great.


I wish I'd had a hemispherical (or spherical) GoPro rig

During totality, and for several minutes before and after it, I had a GoPro Hero 4 Black pointed toward the Sun’s azimuth. It captured the Sun and the scenery in front of our camp, such as RVs that were parked Sun-ward of us. I’m pretty happy with what I captured, and I’ve watched it many times. A friend had another Hero 4 Black on top of the same van as mine, pointed at our group as we watched the eclipse. I’m really glad my friend recorded us, and I’m glad I had a camera pointed at the Sun, too. But, after the fact, I wish I could have recorded high-res, spherical footage. I put a grey card and a Gretag Macbeth color target on a piece of white foamcore board in front of my own GoPro, but it didn’t wind up in the frame. Might have caught some shadow bands if it had, and I might have seen some interesting color effects.

If I’d had more money for the trip, I kind of wish I could have had several Hero 4 Black cameras (or something like them), mounted in one of those rigs that points them in several directions at once. I’m not familiar with the processing software, but the computer I built earlier that summer (with awesome help from a very knowledgeable fellow who was in Smith’s Ferry with us) might be able to handle it. If nothing else, I’ll bet I could have taken the upper hemisphere of the footage, and projected it on our planetarium dome at school, using our Sky-Skan Definiti projectors. That would have been really cool.


Thoughts about the next 2-minute totality

Let’s imagine that a pile of money had fallen into my lap, and I was able to go to the 2019 and/or 2020 eclipses in South America. Both of those totalities will be like America 2017, about 2 minutes long. It wouldn’t be practical to haul along a telescope like I did to Idaho, so I’d just plan to watch them with binoculars and a piece of welder’s glass. I’d buy some new image-stabilized binoculars if I could, and I’d take along some small backup binos. I’d make filters for the binos, and take a piece of shade-14 welder’s glass for my eyes (plus a few backup pieces). And that’s it.

As great as my telescopic view of the inner corona and prominences was, I don’t think it would be worth hassling with if I had to fly to an eclipse. If could make it to South America in 2019 or 2020, my trip would consist of little more than: 1) Flying to Buenos Aires or Santiago, 2) Getting into a rental car, and 3) Pulling over on the side of the road somewhere in rural Argentina or Chile on eclipse day. Then back to the big city, to the airport and back home. That’s all I’d be able to afford. Maybe I’d eat one steak with some chimichurri sauce, but otherwise, just bread and cheese from grocery stores. El Cheapo Eclipse Trip, baby!😆

In that scheme, there won’t be any telescope, just binos and a piece of welder’s glass. Simple, no fuss, no muss. Make a quick horizon spin during mid-totality, maybe look for the teapot of Sagittarius at the zenith in 2020, but otherwise, just look at the freakin’ corona, and make sure not to miss the diamond rings. Bada boom, bada bing, total eclipse(s) observed. That would be sweet.

Thoughts about Baily’s beads and annular eclipses

Having now seen both an annular eclipse and a total eclipse, I have a guideline for myself:

  • Total eclipses are for looking at the corona, and maybe prominences / chromosphere if you’re lucky.
  • Annular eclipses are for looking at Baily’s beads (through a safe solar filter).

Notice that “Baily’s beads” and “total eclipse” don’t really go together. During a diamond ring, sure, you see AN amazing Baily’s bead, and that’s awesome in that context. But I think for me at least, it’s not feasible to see the last bright arc of photosphere break up into beads (which requires a filtered telescope) and then ALSO look up to see the diamond ring and C2 corona with the unaided eye. (Too much time is required to remove the solar filter and stand up. And IMO, it’s best to be standing, given how overwhelming and whoop-inducing the event is!) These latter two things are non-negotiable must-see’s, in my opinion, so an attempt to see a chain of multiple, blinky-winky Baily’s beads is best saved for an annular eclipse.

During the 2012 annular eclipse, the beads looked really cool at C2 and C3! I was quite pleased by this. When annularity comes to North America again in 2023, I plan to be at a friend’s house in Albuquerque, along with the rest of our Lassen crew, and then I’ll enjoy those beads again. We’ll be on the centerline, we’ll have scopes with solar filters, maybe enjoy a nice long leisurely brunch, and then have a front-row seat for some nice beads at high magnification. Maybe my friend will capture some high-res video at long focal length. Should be cool!

And then, only several months later, we’ll (hopefully!) find some clear sky in southwest Texas, and catch ourselves some more corona!

After we got home, we were able to buy some Smith's Ferry shirts from Pastor Josh, who'd organized the Grace Chapel observing site.


I wasn't born at a good time for North American eclipse-watchers; it seems like the eclipses in my youth were always in Indonesia or someplace distant like that. But looking into the future, there are a lot of eclipses in the 2020s, 2030s, and 2040s that might be quite feasible to reach.

Naturally, I'd love to go to South America in 2019 and/or 2020. If I had to pick one, it would be the December 2020 total eclipse. Although it would be wonderful to observe it from the Andes near the Chile-Argentina border, I think I'd be tempted to shoot for rural eastern Argentina. Fly into Buenos Aires, rent a car, and just head for some remote place in the path, out in the dry steppes of eastern Argentina. I don't know how easy it would be to find places to camp, but this might be a good place to try and pull off a cheap-ish foreign (for me) eclipse trip.

I doubt the sky around the eclipsed Sun would be dark enough to show it, but my ultimate dream for the 2020 eclipse would be to see the `Teapot' of Sagittarius, and the `stinger' of Scorpius during totality. As an amateur astronomer I've spent a lot of my time dreaming of seeing that central Milky Way region overhead. I have seen it overhead in New Zealand and Australia, and the thrill of that sight is comparable to seeing a total eclipse. Being able to see totality and a few of the brighter stars that mark the center of the Galaxy... my cup runneth over at the thought!

2023, of course, will be Annularity in Albuquerque. Maybe I can send some gear to my buddy's house in advance, fly to ABQ, and have a nice high-magnification view (with a safe solar filter) while those Baily's Beads blink and wink at C2 and C3.

Then it's time for Texas 2024! 😁 Yee haw, pardner! Where's my Stetson? Here's hoping against hope that early April is kind to us in the region to the west or southwest of San Antonio. If we get lucky and get some clear skies on the centerline, we'll have four whole minutes of totality! Man, I can hardly imagine what a luxury that would be!... er, yeah, actually if I'm lucky it'll feel like four seconds instead of three seconds! 😆

Spain 2026... where to go? That's another nice August eclipse (seems like that's a theme during my lifetime, yay). If the weather prospects look good, I think it would be awesome to see totality from a high limestone mountain in the Picos de Europa.

Then, of course, the Big One, the Main Event... Luxor 2027! Six glorious minutes of totality among the antiquities of Ancient Egypt. The shadow of the Moon in the Valley of the Kings! Wow, what a sight that would be. It won't be cheap, that's for sure, and the weather will be roasty-toasty in August, but it would be pretty incredible.

2028 promises to have another great eclipse in Australia. This one will be a Great Australian Eclipse. Four minutes of totality in Sydney, and five minutes in the Northern Territory. It'll be in the SoHem winter, so tropical moisture shouldn't be too bad in the north, and camping out to save money should be feasible, without the summer heat. And Australia has three more total eclipses in 2030, 2037, and 2038! What a bonanza!

It's back to North America in the 2040s. In 2017, during America's great coast-to-coast eclipse, the world commemorated the 100th anniversary of the First World War. Canada and the U.S. will get two beautiful summertime eclipses in 2044 and 2045. The beautiful mountains of western Canada will be the site of a broad path of totality in the first case, and the 2045 path will be a lot like 2017, but farther south.

Perhaps most memorably of all in the 2045 eclipse, the Moon's shadow will sweep over Lassen Peak, where the group with whom I watched my first totality spent so many nights under the dark skies of summer, high on the flank of the volcano. Talk about full circle!

2052, anyone? If I make it that long, I think I'll shoot for someplace in Florida near the edge of the path, to try my hand at seeing a maximal display of Baily's beads and the diamond rings.

Okay, that last point got me thinking. Let's imagine it's 2052, and somehow I've made it into my mid-80s, with my mind and my eyesight reasonably intact. That's asking a lot, but let's say it were to happen. Maybe I'd indulge myself, during my "likely last totality", with an observing site near the edge of the path. I think that would be really interesting, to see the maximal display of beads, crawling slowly along the edge of the Moon's limb, in a long, drawn-out diamond ring. The more I think about it, the more it strikes me that it could be really special. Rather like Fred Brujenes's video from Warrensburg, Missouri in 2017. Thinking about this, I found myself in a reverie about the Moon, Baily's Beads, and the diamond rings. It gave me an idea for a story...

... Imagine it's the future, and people are able to travel to the Moon regularly. This might be a world like the one depicted in Andy Weir's novel Artemis. Let's say you could go to the Moon, and perhaps spend a large fraction of your life living and working there. And imagine, furthermore, that it became possible to travel around on the lunar surface, like we travel around on the Earth. I wonder if something like the following would ever happen?...

A Story: You've Got a Buddy in the Baily's Bead

The traveler checked their rover's nav system, and saw that they were right on track, and right on schedule. It had been decades since the engineers had sorted out the details of the Lunar Global Positioning System, and coping with those lunar mascons had been a real bear. Not to mention the gravity of the Earth and Sun. But it had all worked for years now, and a reasonably enterprising traveler could buy and outfit a rover capable of covering thousands of miles across the lunar surface. With enough patience, a decent-sized trailer full of supplies, and a willingness to tend to their recycling and environmental systems, a rover driver could nearly circumnavigate the Moon - and know just where they were the whole time.

The traveler always enjoyed reading about the great journeys across the Earth's surface. Although most history buffs were drawn to the romance of the sea, with its voyages of discovery, its heroes and villains, and its age of fighting sail, the traveler was, at heart, a landlubber. Perhaps that's why they'd taken a job on the Moon, where there was nothing but dry land, and where you could strike out across the Sea of Tranquillity, or the Sea of Serenity, or even the Ocean of Storms, and never get seasick or sink down to a watery grave. In the end, that's probably why the traveler had worked on EVA crews for long hours, and had saved up their money to buy and outfit a long-distance rover.

Most people on Earth took the maglevs everywhere, but the traveler understood why a few of them still liked their own vehicles. It was possible to spend hours reading about the arduous journeys across the Earth's vast continents, from the Paleolithic migrations lost in time, to the camel caravans of the Sahara, to the latter-day recreationalists who sought the open road. The traveler loved accounts of 20th and 21st century travelers, like those who drove from Cape Horn to Point Barrow, or who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, or rode a bicycle across the country. Sometimes, buried deep in a net archive, they'd find tales of four-wheel drive enthusiasts who followed the old Canning Stock Route in the Australian outback, or drove over the remote Steel Pass in the California desert. Apparently a few people still did that even now, albeit without the uncertainty of the old gasoline-powered vehicles.

Like many lunar workers and residents, the traveler liked to spend time alone. Long solitary voyages across the Moon's face and EVA ascents of lunar mountains were their favorite pastime. Looking out over the vastness of a mare plain, from a mountainous rim, filled them with a sensation of "sight lines and grandeur", and even more so if the Earth hung in the sky, fat and gibbous like a ripening plum. Sometimes they deployed their telescope, aligned the mount, opened up the dust shields, and looked at the Earth for hours. Unlike the Moon, which they'd gazed at through the eyepiece so many times in youth, the Earth rotated visibly, and brought glorious new details into view nearly every minute. Sometimes they'd catch sight of a flash of lightning, as a tropical storm roiled the sweltering evening sky. Or, if the illumination was just right, they could see the shadow of a mountain range cast out upon a nearby plateau. The Himalaya in winter was the best, when sometimes, at high magnification, you could just see the long shadows of Everest, Cho Oyu, and Shishapangma thrown out across the cold, dry Tibetan plateau.

As much as they loved solitude and the Moon, the traveler was thankful that they had friends, some here on the ol' natural satellite, and some back on ol' Mother Earth. And they were thankful that they could still visit the mother planet from time to time, if they juggled the budgets for vehicle mods and cislunar cycler tickets just right, and caught enough lucky overtime at an ilmenite mine or one of the farside telescope sites. The long, sweaty months of strength training weren't easy, but it was worth it for the chance to camp in the desert with some old friends, swim in a lake, feel the wind and rain, and strain against the gravity they'd evolved for. And sometimes to look up at the night sky through an actual glass eyepiece, just like the astronomers of old, instead of the monitor of their telescope back on the Moon.

The traveler turned on their headlights, since the shadows were growing long. This had been a long trip across the farside, and they were nearing their destination. And what a trip it had been - a chance to cross the remote and seldom-visited Mare Orientale! They'd always had a soft spot in their heart for Orientale, since it was a symbol of the early Space Age, in a way. Seen from above, it was simply staggering - a giant bulls-eye of immense shock-ring mountain ranges, forming the freshest, most perfect example of a large impact basin on the Moon. And as seen from the Earth, it was just barely, tantalizingly visible. Only when the libration tipped the western edge of the Moon towards the Earth just so, could an Earthbound observer see the giant ring-like mountain ranges, or hints of the lava patches between them. Between the time it was discovered and the time of the first lunar landings, lunar maps changed. They went from having their easts and wests arranged like maps of the sky to having them arranged like maps of the ground, so the "Eastern Sea" was on the west side of the visible face of the Moon. And at the dawn of spaceflight, planetary scientists had taken an old-fashioned slide projector and projected telescopic images of the Moon onto a blank white globe. This allowed them to look straight "down" on Orientale, as though they were space travelers, and get some notion of its true structure. The traveler always smiled when they thought of those long-ago scientists, standing next to a globe in a darkened room, playing the part of Moon-orbiting astronauts avant la lettre. Everything about Orientale was unusual and a treat.

But there was something even better about approaching this region from the farside... Earthrise! With each mile forward, they leaned forward and strained to see the first hint of that blue-white disk. Is that it? Am I seeing the faintest hint of a bright patch on the forward horizon? It was like catching the first faint glimpse of the Rocky Mountains back on Earth, when driving across the Great Plains. A little farther. Now? How about now?

And then, at last, it was certain - there it was! An unmistakable hint of bright blue-white light, like a glowing bead between two low hills. "Bead! Ha! A bead indeed!" they thought, smiling as if in response to an inside joke. A handful of additional miles, and there was no doubt. Earth - dead ahead! Now the sliver of home planet above the horizon grew with each mile forward, until the curve of it rose like a slowly-expanding bubble. Details emerged, as the hazy whitish limb broke free of the Moon, and more of the blue disk appeared. White wisps of cloud, more sea-blue, and then, at last, the greens and browns of a continent. That oh-so-sweet sight of dry land, one of the homes of humanity on that orb of ocean, adrift in a sea of infinite star-speckled blackness.

Once half the Earth sat above the grey horizon, it was time to make camp. The traveler parked their rover, got the trailer and solar arrays arranged just so, and set up their telescope equipment. The next morning - at least by their watch, since it was still the two-week-long lunar day - they counted down to the main event.

All was ready. The traveler was outside, facing the horizon-hugging Earth. The scope was set up, powered up, and pointed at the Earth with the mount aligned and the dust shields open. The unoccupied rover was parked with its windshield facing towards the traveler. They only had to turn their head about thirty degrees from the Earth to look inside. Extra monitors were propped up on the rover's front seats, showing the telescope's view of the Earth, along with various software windows, news feeds, and data feeds. A couple of monitors were mirrored on their in-helmet display. The Moon-Earth radio and data links were working okay.

The traveler had to be outside in a spacesuit for this event. There was going to be much jumping up and down and hooting and hollering in a little while. No way they could stay in the rover for an event like this!

There was the Earth, right on the horizon. There was the telescope's magnified view, visible on a monitor through the rover's windshield. And there - there! - was what they'd come so far to see. Right where the Earth's disk touched the lunar horizon, the Earth looked wrong. Normally, the Moon's horizon transected the Earth's disk with incredible sharpness. But today, it was as though the outer darkness had infected the the beautiful globe that was the Earth. A faint smudge was growing at the lower edge of the visible half-disk. And with each passing minute, the dark stain got the tiniest bit larger, darker, more ominous. Its edge was impossible to discern, but towards its center, the darkness was much deeper. On the telescope's display, the darkness crept inexorably upward.

Then the voice channel beeped in the traveler's headset - incoming call! A grin spread across the traveler's face as they accepted the connection.

"Hey, hey, buddy!" said the traveler. "Good to hear from you! How's the chase going? Are you at your observing site? Is the weather holding?"

Their friend's voice came across the link. They were filled with pumped-up excitement, and a tumult of voices could be heard in the background.

"Yeah! We're on site! Wow, it's a crazy scene down here - you should see this place! Must be a few thousand people right around us here, and lots more sites like this one all around. We got a little worried looking at the clouds last night, but it looks like they've moved off - oh thank goodness! I was so worried last night, but wow, it's all coming together now! So awesome!"

"Sweet!" yelled the traveler, and they pumped their fist in the air. This, this was satisfaction!

At long, long last, their plan was falling into place. Over the years, the traveler and their friend had had many adventures together, and had spent many nights out under the star-filled sky. And best of all, on a few occasions, they'd seen the ultimate astronomical sight that could be seen from the surface of the Earth - a total solar eclipse. Those had been epic trips, and the sight of the eclipsed Sun had been beyond compare!

This time, though, they'd hatched a different plan. One would venture into the path of totality, dodging clouds and crowds and going through all the usual frenzy for a few more minutes of the experience beyond compare. The other would observe from the Moon, as its dark shadow raced across the Earth's face toward where their friend waited. It was the ultimate exercise in contrasts - one would be on Mother Earth, amongst a throng of frenzied fellow eclipse chasers, excitement building and accelerating with each passing minute. The other would be on a remote part of the Moon, in glorious solitude, watching the shadow through their telescope as the Sun set silently behind them.

Having seen totality from Earth before, the traveler wasn't disappointed at being alone in the magnificent desolation at the edge of Mare Orientale. Besides, they sometimes got to see total eclipses from the Moon, when the Earth passed in front of the Sun - those lasted over an hour!

This time, they would savor the silence and solitude of a lunar sunset at their back, while the Moon's shadow moved across the face of its parent planet. And then the stars would come out as the landscape around them darkened, and they could savor the sight of the constellations and the Milky Way, while their friend began their trip home on what was still eclipse day. And hanging above that backward horizon, visible for hours, would be the ethereal glory of half the corona. All in all, they thought, the Moon is a pretty awesome place for an eclipse chaser. But eclipses here are quiet and stately, without the drama and rushing excitement found on Earth.

The countdown timer ticked down, and on the telescope's monitor, the overlay showed that the edge of the Moon's umbra, the dark core of its shadow, was closing in on their friend's site, with only a few minutes to go.

"Holy mackerel, it's getting so dark!!" came the voice of the traveler's friend. "I can never believe how the light plunges like this! People are really starting to go crazy down here! The Sun's almost gone!"

"You're getting close, buddy! Not long now!" yelled the traveler into the helmet's microphone. "This is gonna be so awesome!"

The traveler double-checked their position on the map. This was going to work! Suddenly they realized that they were nearly as excited as their friend was, down in that crowd on the darkening ground, with the crescent Sun shrinking overhead. From up here on the Moon, everything was literally coming together... it was all going to happen like clockwork! Just as the two of them had visualized it. In just another couple of minutes, they'd both see what they'd journeyed so far to see.

On the distant horizon, the central core of the Moon's shadow had finally come into the traveler's view. Soon it would sweep over their friend's observing site. Through the telescope, the traveler could just see where the site was, as the darkness around it deepened and deepened.

The friend would see the solar crescent get narrow, and shrink, and disappear. Second contact! Totality would arrive. Incredible!

The traveler would see the light around their own self fade, too, as the Sun set behind them. Both friends would be in the shadow - one at the wide end and one at the narrow end.

Best of all, as the Moon covered the Sun, the friend would see that most amazing, most fleeting of all sights visible from the Earth: The diamond ring! For just a few seconds, after the corona had already emerged into view, a single bright Baily's bead would morph and burn at the edge of the black disk. The searing, burning day-sunlight would coexist with the light of the sky's grandest glowing nebula. The Sun would be shining through one last valley on the edge of the Moon.

And in that valley of the last light, at that exact spot on the Moon, stood the traveler, with the Sun at their back. From where their friend stood, along with all those other people, the invisibly distant traveler would be transformed into a point of blazing light, transfigured to become the heart of the second-contact diamond ring. Light will plunge into darkness, and I will become the momentary blaze of glory, the traveler thought.

Over the voice link, their friend's voice could just be heard over the crowd. They were counting down now: "... Twenty! Nineteen! Eighteen!..."  The traveler glanced at the only-slightly-silvered mirror they'd set up to reflect an image of the setting Sun into their helmet - the Sun was turning into a tiny little speck for the traveler, too! The light around them was fading, just as it was for their friend. Soon, they too would be bathed in the ethereal silvery light of the corona.

"The light's fading up here, too! The Sun's almost down behind me! I think it's about to get dark for both of us, pal!" yelled the traveler. They were starting to jump up and down, now, leaping upward in the one-sixth gravity like Gene Cernan saluting the flag on Apollo 17.

The voice from Earth called out: "...Seven! Six! Five!... Diamond ring! Oh my god, there it is! The diamond ring!"

On Earth, the racing edge of the Moon's shadow plunged the land into darkness. People laughed, cried, screamed. Shadows vanished. Day turned into night. The sky became an unreal dome of bluish-purple twilight, and the last Baily's bead burned for a few seconds as the corona shone forth.

On the Moon, the traveler savored these seconds as if they were seeing the sight themselves. For not only was their friend seeing that burning bead, but here, on the silent grey lunar surface, the traveler got to be in it. Became it. Became part of the eclipse.

On Earth, the voice of the traveler could be heard:

"You've got a buddy in the Baily's bead, my friend! Welcome to the shadow of the Moon!"


When you’ve anticipated something for as long as some of us had anticipated the 2017 eclipse, can it possibly be a life-changing experience?

At first thought, it would seem like no, it can’t. It’s simply going to be a feeling of “Finally! It’s in the bag! That big bucket-list item is complete!” And there was a great deal of that feeling, and I still feel that way. But in another way, the good fortune that we had in 2017 has restored my faith, ever so slightly, that things CAN go okay sometimes! There are a lot of things in life that make us pessimistic, and things don't always go right. People get clouded out of eclipses, and I’ll almost certainly get clouded out of some of them in the future. But sometimes... sometimes it actually DOES work! The depth of that feeling, after the eclipse, surprised me.

I can’t remember who said this, but I think it fits the total eclipse experience pretty well: Life is full of things that show us that the world is as terrible as it is beautiful, but sometimes, if we work hard and if we’re lucky, we encounter something that reminds us that life is as beautiful as it is terrible. Life was very beautiful on that day in Smith’s Ferry, Idaho. I will only see a certain number of eclipses in my life. But the Moon really does keep moving in its orbit, and a lot of people, and a lot of landscapes, will experience some very beautiful days for as long as the Moon is close enough to make total eclipses. There’s a lot of peace and fulfillment in that thought.

Eclipse 2017: Eclipse Day

This is my account of the day of the 2017 total solar eclipse in Smith's Ferry, Idaho. It is posted in four parts:

Eclipse Day (this post)



Setting up and disbelieving anticipation

People were arriving at the observing site as the predawn hours progressed, and many more – including our friends – arrived after sunrise. Traffic hadn’t been a big problem. One more gate had been passed through, one more bridge was behind us! This was where everything started to take on an unreal quality. We were on the centerline of the long-awaited eclipse. The sky was clear, and looked reasonably likely to stay that way. Everyone had made it to the observing site. It started to look like the part with the Moon and the Sun might actually happen!

James and Casey on eclipse morning. Note the frost on my observing chair.  Photo by David Kingsley.

Yours truly, pleased as punch on eclipse morning.  Photo by Carl Larson.

In the few hours between sunrise and first contact, we couldn’t help trying to visualize where the Moon was. It was just a little ways up and right from the Sun. It was getting so close!

We set up our gear and ran through our procedures. Carl got his computer set up and we plugged the GPS unit in. It had a number of heart-stopping restarts, but eventually everything seemed to work smoothly. Whew!

Carl's imaging rig, with live GPS timing, ready to roll. Xavier Jubier's Solar Eclipse Maestro was in the driver's seat, freeing Carl up for visual observing.  Photo by Carl Larson.

I put my scope on its pre-aligned mount, and put the battery, hand controller, solar filter, and eyepiece in place. Got the solar tracking rate selected. There it was, taking up about a third of the field of view: The face of the Sun. And it had sunspots! We hadn’t expected them, given that we were near solar maximum, but there was a nice line of them right along the solar equator. I anticipated watching the Moon pass in front of them, one by one.

Deep blue sky

Not only had we lucked into a nice, cloud-free sky, but it seemed to be essentially smoke-free, too. It had that deep, dark blue color that one sees out West, when there’s neither cloud, smoke, nor significant water vapor. Barring the sudden appearance of an unexpected cloud or smoke plume, it looked like we would be in for a good show!

Casey's hangin' loose! Notice his awesome laser-cut holder for two cameras.  Photo by James Turley.

Dan's projection box and C1!

My friend Dan set up the same rig he’d used at Whiskeytown Lake during the annular eclipse in 2012. He took a 6” Schmidt-Newt, put it on an old equatorial mount, and projected the solar image into a large box, which was mounted on a tripod. This yielded a large, bright image of the Sun, which could be viewed by many people at once. Lots of people stopped by our camp, and families even had their pictures taken next to the box. What a neat memento!

Dan's crowd-pleasing projection box captures first contact at Smith's Ferry.  Photo by David Kingsley.

David and Dan admire the crescent Sun with Dan's projection rig.  Photo by Wesley Chang.


Dead bino stabilizer - not too surprising. Plan to cope.

`Eclipse magic’ had been the order of the day, with things going right and coming together so nicely. But nothing ever goes perfectly, and I realized that one of my gambles wasn’t going to pay off. The stabilizer in my 15x50 binoculars turned on for the briefest moment, then conked out, then refused to turn on again. The summer of good performance had come to an end. Even when I put in new batteries, of the exact type the binos usually liked, they wouldn’t turn on. I knew they probably wouldn’t work during totality, and I mentally prepared to just deal with it. I don’t remember exactly what I decided to do, but I think I decided to substitute more telescope time for the binocular time. There was no way to modify my script recording at that point. Oh well, things could be FAR worse!

Noticeable dimming, earlier than expected

After having seen a few partial eclipses, and the annular eclipse, I wondered when I’d notice the slight dimming of the sunlight. I was surprised how soon it happened! I don’t have a record of when I first noticed it, but I think it wasn’t long after the Sun was 50% covered. This was a pleasant surprise. Sometime around 60% or 70%, I’d guess, I decided I didn’t even need to wear my sunglasses.

This caused a problem, however! I said to my friends “Well, I guess I can take off my sunglasses now”, and one of them thought I meant that we didn’t need to use eclipse glasses anymore. That took a bit of sorting out, but we got it cleared up in the end, with no harm done. Whew!

Diggin' the progress of the first partial phase, as the light starts to change in a just-perceptible way.  Photo by Carl Larson.

Venus near the zenith in a still-bright sky

Everyone else saw Venus before I did. It was near the zenith, with about 10 or 15 minutes to go until totality. I had to be talked through how to find it, and I chalk this up to my nearsightedness and the out-of-date prescription on my eyeglasses and their scratched-up-ed-ness. When I did see it, it looked strange. Somehow it reminded me of a silvery ball bearing, suspended some hundreds of feet above the ground, brightly reflecting the Sun.

Looking for Venus near the zenith.  Photo by David Kingsley.

On Beyond Zebra and the Near-Eclipse Light

Eventually, the eclipse reached 79% obscuration. We were passing into a new realm beyond that partial eclipse I had observed so diligently in Ann Arbor all those years ago. The 79% obscuration that began the 33-year journey. Then we passed 87%, the obscuration during annularity in 2012. Oh boy. Now the dimming was getting noticeable. The light really had a different `quality’ than normal daylight.

I think the right term for this might be “the near-eclipse light”. It would be hard to give it an exact boundary in time, but somewhere around 70%-80% obscuration might be about right. When the Sun gets more covered than that, you really start to notice the weird light.

But.. you also notice how powerfully your eye/brain system counteracts it! And, in photos and videos, you can see how powerfully cameras are able to counteract it. So many things about the landscape and the sky still look amazingly normal, even when you’re under the near-eclipse light. After all, our visual systems evolved to cope with cloud shadows, lightning flashes, going in and out of caves, and all sorts of other tomfoolery with the illumination. But there’s still no getting around the fact that things start to get weird after about 70%-80% obscuration.

In my memories of the near-eclipse light in 2017, I mostly remember it seeming orange-ish. Not a strongly orange light, but a slight orange-ish cast to the sunlight, and enough to be noticeable. I don’t know if I was seeing this correctly (whatever that might mean), or if I’m remembering it correctly, but that’s how I remember it.

(Austin Cousineau captured this orange light nicely in his video from Gannett Peak in the Wind River Mts of Wyoming.)

Anisotropic Shadows

Somewhere I’d read that shadows would look sharper in one direction than in the perpendicular direction. And it was true! Once the Sun was a narrow crescent, we could orient our hands at right angles to each other, with fingers spread apart, and see how the shadow of one hand was sharper than the other. Neat! As the crescent got even narrower, strange diffraction effects appeared at the tips of the shadows of our fingers, or at the shadows of the gaps between our fingers. It began to dawn on me that if you lived in ancient times, and didn’t know what was happening, this would really mess with your head. 

Dan's projection box shows the unreal crescent the Sun has become.  Photo by Dan Wright.

T-2 min, recording on, unreal narrow crescent, this is really happening


My friend Carl was running Xavier Jubier’s program `Solar Eclipse Maestro’ on his computer, and it was going to operate his camera during totality so he wouldn’t have to. (And it did, yay!) One of the beauties of SEM is that it provides a very precise countdown clock, especially with the GPS hooked up to it. This allowed me to start my recording at exactly T-2minutes 10 seconds, just as planned. If I’d missed that, I’d have gotten really frazzled because my recording wasn’t working right.

Another friend stood several paces behind Carl, watching the countdown on Carl’s computer screen, and also looking up at the Sun through their eclipse glasses. In between views of the Sun, they were able to call out a precise countdown to totality. This was handy, and it provided quite a touch of drama in the last few minutes – like an eclipse and a rocket launch combined! When I watch the GoPro footage of our group, hearing that countdown adds a tremendous thrill to the memory of the event.

'See you on the other side, brother'

We were now at about T-2min, and it was clear that this was really going to happen. For the last several minutes, the crescent Sun, seen through my telescope, had been unreal. Can it really look that thin? Has the Sun really gotten than narrow? Good grief, that’s how it would look if a total eclipse were really about to happen! Holy mackerel, This Might Actually Happen! As silly as it sounds, that thought was positively earthshaking at the time. Oh my gosh, this is really going to happen. No more waiting, no more buildup, we are really on these railroad tracks and that big dark train is really bearing down on us!

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better example of the word “inevitable” in my life.

Carl turned and looked up at me from where he was sitting, behind his computer, and said “See you on the other side, brother.” Wow. That really struck me, although I all I could do was to weakly mumble out “Yeah, see you on the other side.” We were really about to go through this – we were really about to cross through one of the biggest life portals we’d ever been able to imagine.

Too shaky to hold the welder's glass and look for early corona

Remember all those words I wrote, earlier, about hoping to see the corona before and after totality? All that dreaming I’d done about imitating David Makepeace and Lucas Gornisiewicz, who held their thumbs over the bright crescent to get some extra corona time? Yeah, no. My audio script told me to pull out my welder’s glass and try it. I pulled it out of the breast pocket of my shirt, and lifted it up with both hands. Steady, steady… I was like an X-Wing pilot on the Death Star trench run, but I couldn’t get anywhere near that thermal exhaust port. I was just shaking too much, and I got an eyeful of bright crescent. Fortunately, my mind was working just well enough to make executive decisions. “Okay, tried that, didn’t work, too dangerous. Don’t try that any more.” I looked at the razor-thin crescent once or twice more through the welder’s glass, but didn’t try the corona trick again. (At least that’s how I remember it, and that’s how it looks on the GoPro footage.)

At this point, the friend who was watching the countdown had gone into automatic mode. They didn’t need to look at the computer anymore, they could just count it down by instinct.

“Fifteen, fourteen, thirteen, twelve…”

My heart was pounding. I was seated at my telescope, facing the Sun. Following my own voice on the recording, I “looked up and left over my shoulder at the approaching shadow”. The sky, my gosh, how dark it was getting! It really WAS getting dark over there! The darkness was now palpable, over the mountains that lay behind us to the west. The light around us was plunging, down and down and down, falling like I could hardly imagine.

THIS was one of the most incredible things about the last seconds of the near-eclipse light. It was like jumping into a dark pit in a cave, thinking you knew how deep it was, and finding that it just went on and on and on, down and down and down, seemingly without end. Like a dream of immense falling, into a shaft that’s deeper than you ever thought it could be. THIS is what your mind can’t imagine about ordinary daylight: How bright it really is! To have the light fade away, on an ordinary clear sunny day, by a factor of a million, is beyond your ability to imagine. Truly, it must be experienced. The bottom drops out of your world.


Few beads at the edges of the razor-thin crescent

The most ambitious thing about my script was trying to see several things in a very short time around second contact. This was probably too ambitious in retrospect. I had spent considerable time in Solar Eclipse Maestro, simulating the Baily’s beads and studying their timing down to the nearest tenth of a second. As the razor-thin crescent Sun diminished into a rapidly-shortening arc (as seen through my filtered telescope), I could see the tips of the arc breaking into small beads. But the main “breakup into beads” event, I didn’t really see. My recording said “Look through the telescope and watch the bright arc breaking into beads”, but I had already realized that I needed to be looking up with the unaided eye and welder’s glass, and needed to take the filter off the front end of the scope, in preparation for the chromosphere. So I stood up, took off the filter and looked through the welder’s glass. I must have seen a tiny short arc, or some Baily’s beads, but I don’t remember. I’ve blanked that part out.

Quick glance to the left, and I thought I could detect a gradient in the sky’s darkening – the closest thing to the edge of the umbra that we were likely to see in that clear, transparent sky. Lordy, the shadow is swallowing us now! It’s really here!

Everyone Goes Nuts at the Diamond Ring

“…Five, Four, Three…” my friend was calling out. Now the crowd’s excitement was reaching a fever pitch. I don’t recall which happened first – someone calling out “Diamond Ring!” or my looking up and seeing it. But I know I saw it, with the unaided eye, at second contact.

Oh my god, there it is! That’s really the diamond ring! And that’s the MOON! That black disk! The strange, confusing, don’t-look-directly-at-it entity where the Sun used to be… it was gone! In seconds, it transformed utterly, into this ink-black hole in the sky, this disk of darkness. And there was this ring of bright, glowing light around it, but not the searing, stay-away light of the photosphere. But much brighter than I expected. I could scarcely process it as being the inner corona. The scene, for those few seconds, was dominated by that unearthly, morphing, transforming bead of burning light at the lower-left edge of the glowy ring. Such incredible change, packed into just a few seconds! And the utter strangeness of the sky in the vicinity of the eclipsed Sun. I think the fact that the sky isn’t ALL that dark in that area, at least not until ten or twenty seconds into totality, adds to the utter strangeness of the sight. It’s not the darkness of night, and it’s not even the deep purplish-blue twilight that surrounds the eclipsed Sun at mid-totality. It’s more like a vestige of the daylight that shouldn’t be there, given how the Sun has transformed into this… this thing. So many overwhelming things to process, all in a few seconds!

Crikey, that transformation! That morphing! If I had been a pre-scientific person who didn’t correctly guess what was going on, the sight of a total eclipse would completely wreck me. I mean, it would break my brain. I wouldn’t have the slightest idea what was happening, only that everything I knew about reality was wrong.

This is when the magic happens. Standing in the shadow of the Moon!  Photo by Wesley Chang.


Unexpected appearance of the corona

So there I was... in the seconds after Second Contact. That great moment, the moment I'd been waiting for... for 33 years. As the C2 diamond ring faded out, the full corona came into view. More cheers of amazement from the crowd greeted its appearance. Awesome!

And it *was* awesome - I was seeing the corona! Wow! The biggest, most amazing nebula in the whole sky!

I want to describe what it looked like with the unaided eye in some detail. I want to do this because this was the Main Event, the Big Kahuna, the Big Nebula on Campus. But my task isn't easy. In short, I'm going to talk about how different the corona looked, relative to what I expected. And about how I didn't see some of the detail I was expecting, at least not with the naked eye. But I don't want to sound like I was disappointed - I wasn't! It was the most incredible, awesome, bizarre-looking thing I'd ever seen, and it wasn't disappointing at all. But it was different from what I expected to see, and I'm still puzzling over the reason why. This is going to fascinate me until I get my next good view of totality, and probably beyond that time, too.

Quick summary of my impressions upon first seeing the corona:

1) Wow, there it is! This thing is actually real! There really is this glowing, ethereal, pointy stuff that appears around the Sun! Wow!

2) The inner corona is definitely brighter than I expected. It's a brightly glowing circular ring around the limb of the Moon. It's nothing like the brightness of the photosphere, and nowhere near painful to look at, but it's quite surprisingly bright. Didn't expect it to be so bright. And I didn't expect this ring of inner corona to be such a prominent, continuous, structure. Didn't expect this ring to dominate my visual impression of the corona this much.

3) The corona had three big, main streamers during this eclipse. You'll see them in any decent photo, and they even show up in a lot of wide-angle and GoPro shots. They were that long, bright, and distinct. Wow! As a friend of mine said during totality, "Look at the corona - it looks like a delta-V". He could plainly see the triangle-like, V-like shape of these streamers. Later we said it looked like a Star Trek com-badge :-) I'm sure we weren't the only people to make that connection :-)

4) Now for the big surprise - I saw less detail in the corona than I expected with the naked eye. (Saw lots of detail in the inner corona with my telescope, though, and if my binoculars had worked, I'm sure I would have seen lots of detail throughout the whole corona.)

Like most people interested in eclipses, I had seen many photos over the years. And for most of those years, I'd seen film photos that could only record one portion of the corona correctly. Many authors and speakers had emphasized the fact that there's a strong brightness gradient in the corona, and that a single exposure can only record a small portion of the corona correctly. None of this is news to anyone who's read about eclipses and seen a lot of images.

Nor is it news that in the last decade or so, many imagers have recorded quite a lot of detail by shooting many images at different exposure settings. The great masters of this are, of course, Miroslav Druckmuller and his collaborators. Wow, what amazing detail they are able to record! Other imagers have gotten great results, too, such as Alan Dyer and Jerry Lodriguss, to name just two.

Okay, so here's what I expected: I thought the naked-eye view of the corona was going to look like a Miroslav Druckmuller image. I thought I'd see delicate, structured detail throughout the corona, from right at the Moon's limb all the way out to the tips of the streamers. All in one naked-eye view.

As it turns out, that didn't happen for me, and I'm still fascinated as to why. With my unaided eye, I saw essentially no detail in the inner corona. (Again, though, I saw plenty of detail in this region through my 6" telescope.) And I didn't see the prominences with my unaided eye, although people right next to me did. (I saw them very well in my scope.) I could see the three main streamers that made up the "delta-V". And that's about it. No more detail than that with the unaided eye. I found myself thinking “There should be more detail in those streamers, no? More little thready and knotty details? Am I missing something?” It looked a little bit like someone had taken a Druckmuller-type image and applied a noise-reduction filter in an image-editing program. Like they’d smoothed out the little details, but left the three big streamers, with sharply-defined edges.

Not only am I dying to see more total eclipses, but I'm dying to see what the corona looks like to my slightly-more-experienced eye/brain system at those eclipses! This is going to be my #1 obsession throughout the next few eclipses during my life - maybe through all of them.

We had very clear weather, so it wasn't due to high clouds, smoke, or haze. Here are my guesses as to why I didn't see more detail:

Possibility 1) The details are small-looking, and I don't have very sharp eyes.

This might well be a factor, given that nearly all of the Druckmuller-like shots are taken with lenses or telescopes of at least a few hundred millimeters focal length. After all, when you look at a Druckmuller-type picture that shows Earthshine on the Moon, you can see that many of the fine, wispy coronal details look no larger than the lunar maria. And it's hard for anyone - especially a myope like me - to distinguish most of the maria as individual spots without optical aid. Mare Imbrium, maybe, but not all of the maria. So, some of the `Druckmuller-type details' are just too darn small to see. Asking to see some of them would be like asking to see the crater Clavius, or Copernicus, with the naked eye.

(Then again, people did see the prominences with the naked eye, so it is possible to see details of that small an angular size, given a little assistance from the dramatic color contrast that comes with prominences.)

(Then again again... I didn't see the prominences with my unaided eyes. That may be a comment on my poor eyesight, old eyeglass prescription, and scratched-up glasses. Now I feel like an idiot for not getting a good new pair of eyeglasses before going to the eclipse. If I get a new prescription before my next totality, and see Druckmuller-like detail as a result, I'm going to feel like a real dope.)

Possibility 2) ... this is the one that fascinates me the most... Maybe my brain just couldn't see what was right in front of me! There might have been more details in the corona, and visible prominences, and my brain might not have been able to process what I was seeing.

At first blush, I might tend to reject that hypothesis. After all, I've spent a great deal of time looking at astronomical objects. I've used telescopes from 80mm to 18" aperture on a regular basis for years. I've used a 30" telescope a fair amount. I've spent many hours staring at the night sky with binoculars and the naked eye. I've worked my way through lists with hundreds of deep-sky objects. I've studied detailed nebulae like the Orion and Carina nebulae for hours on end. I've teased out details and structures in them, and in the Magellanic Clouds. I've stared at the central Milky Way, both when it's low on the horizon (N. Hemisphere) and at the zenith (S. Hemisphere) for more hours than I can count. Surely, says my fragile ego, surely I must have the visual and perceptual chops to pull tons of detail out of the corona!

But - and this is perhaps the most fascinating thing about the entire eclipse experience - maybe not. Maybe the combination of decades of anticipation, years of planning, weeks of prepping, days of driving, a night of cloudy worrying, hours of excited anticipation, and then the general rush of events, images, and excitement at C2 simply messed with my brain. Throw in a range of coronal brightness that didn't match the Druckmuller-type images, and you might have a recipe for a befuddled visual system. Major features were visible, but my visual cortex might have been too overloaded to see what was there.

The mystery of the Red Ring

This was one of the weirdest things about the beginning and end of totality, and I wasn’t the only one in our group to see it. Sometime around C2 and C3 (I’m a little fuzzy now, as to the exact timing), I recall seeing a reddish color in the inner corona. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the chromosphere or prominences, but a reddish glow throughout the inner corona. This impression didn’t last long, because most of my memories of the corona are of its silvery-white, perhaps even very slightly bluish-white, color. Whatever caused the impression of the `red ring’ in the inner corona, it didn’t last long, but it did seem to happen around the times of the diamond rings.

Telescope view: Arc of chromosphere, inner corona, and prominences

My script recording was marching on, and I'd started it at the right time, so I followed its directions. I had seen the corona with my naked eye, and my brain was filled with what seemed like a million overwhelming impressions and questions as a result. But the recording directed me to the eyepiece, to look at the narrow pink arc of chromosphere that would only be visible for a few seconds.

I saw it! This was one of the really nice successes of my telescope and my recording. As had been the case during the slender pre-totality crescent, everything seemed so sharp and detailed. Despite all the solar heating during the morning, the seeing seemed quite good. Maybe being in a big grassy field, near a nice cool river, helped. No hot pavement anywhere nearby.

I could see the chromosphere as a thin arc, and there was that magic hydrogen color! Mostly the red of hydrogen-alpha, with a little pinkishness due to H-beta (teal) and H-gamma (purple). Wow! The actual chromosphere, right there! No H-alpha scope needed!

And then I saw them... the prominences. 😮😮

I could scarcely believe my eyes. Solar minimum, and we've got these great big proms sticking up from behind the Moon's limb! And with the sharp seeing and the sharp views that my `scope was giving, I could see that they were full of detail! I had mere seconds to notice the detail, as my script was directing me to make a scan around the Moon's limb, but I could see incredible, net-like detail in them.

(Naturally, this is a great place to insert a link to the incredible video captured by Jun Ho Oh and his group in Warm Springs, OR. Wow! I can't claim to have seen quite that much detail in the prominences and chromosphere... but close! Knowing that I saw a sizable fraction of that detail is a very satisfying outcome of my observing program.)


Binos no joy, press on regardless

I knew, even before totality started, that my binoculars were unlikely to work. But I followed the script, took the filter off, and gave "one or two stabilizer tries". No joy. Tried to find the Sun in un-stabilized mode for a second or two, and put the filter back on and put `em down. Bummer, but at least everything else was going right! :-)  Time to press on.

As far as I know, I think I substituted telescope time for bino time. But I'll have to check the GoPro video against my script.


4-turn scan of the `sunset ring'

Shortly before mid-eclipse, I looked at the corona again with the naked eye, then dropped my gaze and looked at the horizon. I made four 90-degree turns to the left, surveying the ring of sunset-like light all around the horizon. This went well, and was beautiful to see, but I wish I'd spent a little less time on it. The point of it was to imagine the giant oval shadow that was centered right above me. But in reality, I think I could have used a shorter sweep. Still - it was nice! What a strange sky, all deep purplish-blue overhead and near the Sun, and with that sunset glow all around the horizon.

Taking at least a few seconds to look at the "sunset ring" is definitely worthwhile, especially for amateur astronomers, who spend so much time outdoors in twilight. If you do a lot of visual observing, you end up spending an enormous amount of time out under the sky, watching the Sun set, and watching the sky fade into starry darkness. The deepening twilight is one of my favorite times of day, and I have so many beautiful memories of so many versions and instances of it! Seeing the eclipse-shadow sky was an incredible addition to this store of memories.

Venus and Sirius

I'd deleted Orion from my script; it seemed to make the script too rushed. So I just looked for Venus and Sirius during totality, and saw them both. Then back to the Sun. Upon finishing my horizon and Venus/Sirius scans, I sat back down at the eyepiece, and raised my arms to the sky again - I'm in the shadow of the Moon!


More telescope time: Fanboy-ing David Makepeace ('Massivo'!)

I was back at the eyepiece of my telescope, and the prominences were even more prominent now, since the Moon had moved partway off of them. Several feet to the right of me was my friend David, observing with the naked eye and some compact binoculars. Behind me was my friend James, using his unaided eyes.

David: "Prominence on the right"
James: "Prominence"
David: "Oh, those are beautiful!"
James: "Oh. My. God."

In the months prior to the eclipse, I'd watched David Makepeace's "Still Hooked" video many times. I particularly enjoyed the Indonesia 2016 sequence, with the high-resolution video and the detailed narration. Around the 13-minute mark in the video, Makepeace and his friend Lucas Gornisiewicz are watching totality, and Makepeace says:

"Oh my god, fantastic coronal streamers. The one at 3 o'clock is mass-ee-vo!"

For some reason, I really got a kick out of the way he described that. "Massivo"  "Mass-ee-vo". A nice little bit of personal slang.

Problem is, I'm a total vocal mimic. I pick up expressions everywhere, all the time. In imagining this eclipse, I wondered if I'd end up fan-boy-ing David Makepeace with a little vocal mimicry...

... and then my friends David and James started calling out the amazing prominences that we were seeing in the 2017 eclipse... and I knew that I would.

Me: "That's a huge prom! Those proms are massivo!"

Yes, dear reader, totality does that to a person. It will make a first-time eclipse chaser into a hopeless fanboy of other eclipse chasers, shamelessly imitating their slang... because man, those proms really were huge! When you see proms like those, decorum goes out the window!

David: "Another one, twelve o'clock, one o'clock, two o'clock."

Even though I didn't see the proms naked eye, I got great views of them through the scope, and I'm really glad they were so big that other people could see them naked-eye. Wow!

A last scan around the inner corona, using the telescope. Polar streamers were visible, looking like hair sticking out from behind the limb of the Moon. Loops were visible in the corona, around the prominences - now that's some Druckmuller-type detail, by gum!

Third contact was getting fairly close. Following my script, I put the filter back on my telescope. Now it was time for one last naked-eye view, with the welder's glass at the ready.

The Second Diamond Ring

When C3 comes, and you get the second diamond ring, you can really be ready for it. This is where another of David Makepeace's phrases comes in handy - "Oh, it's getting hot on top, there". Just before the first Baily's bead pops into view, the corona appears to brighten along that part of the Moon's limb. Since we're mostly seeing photospheric light scattered off of free electrons in the coronal gas, I suspect that the brightening is quite real, and is simply the Moon revealing the extra-bright, lowermost corona from behind one part of the lunar limb.

And there it was - that incredible point of day-sunlight, coexisting for just a few seconds with the bright ring of the inner corona! What a sight! Amazing!

Yours truly, exultant at the second diamond ring.  Photo by Carl Larson.

My overwhelming impressions of the diamond rings can be summed up with words like "flow", "morph", and "plasma". I mean these in an aesthetic, visual sense. As described above, I saw no detail in the inner corona with my unaided eye, it was just a strange glowy ring. And during the diamond rings, the Baily's bead was like a tiny drop of incredibly bright liquid placed into a ring of another, less bright liquid, and dissolving smoothly into it. For just a second, the two liquids coexist as one imiscible drop within a ring, and then they flow together and an entirely new visual tableau results. During the first diamond ring, the drop loses its brightness as it combines with the ring of `other' liquid. It's like a quenching of one liquid by another, or the putting out of a fire by a liquid. During the second diamond ring, the introduction of the tiny new droplet sets the whole thing ablaze with an impossibly bright light. Liquids, droplets, flowing, combining, morphing, these are all words that come to mind when I think of the diamond rings.

I can't rank the standard `totality corona' versus the diamond rings. I just can't rank one type of phenomenon as better or worse than the other. Each is incredible in its own way. In fact, when I think about this, the sheer awesomeness of each type just blows away the whole idea of comparing them, or ranking them. They blow the doors off of ordinary perception so thoroughly that all I can say is "they're BOTH totally awesome!"


'Patagonia, here we come!'

As the second diamond ring turned into the bright crescent, I let loose with another "will-I-or-won't-I" phrase. I kind of planned this one. The next two totalities are in the "southern cone" of South America, more-or-less in the region called Patagonia. I doubt I'll be able to afford to go see them, but if I could, I'd love for my pals to be there too. So, dreaming of going to Chile or Argentina in 2019 or 2020, I yelled "Patagonia, here we come!"  Hey, if you're dreaming of going after Moby-Dick, why not bring the tartar sauce?

The crescent re-lights the world

Another quote from David Makepeace in Indonesia, 2016: "As the Moon moves off, watch the emerging light from the diamond ring spill down and re-light the Earth." Having now seen this myself, I can attest to just how incredible this effect is. The plunging light before totality, and the re-lighting of the world after totality, are simply mind-blowing. Two things are special about these times: First, during these periods of several-to-a-few-tens of seconds, you can't believe how *fast* the light is changing. Second, the *amount* of change is incredible. Most people have no idea how much brighter full daylight is than indoor lighting, or a computer screen, or moonlight. The range of brightness the human eye can cope with is staggering. And to compress a decent chunk of this - much more than any monitor or printer can handle - into such a short time is stunning.

It felt like much LESS than 8 seconds, even with the recording! 😭

If I had to describe my experience of the eclipse with two statements, they'd be these:
  1. The entire eclipse experience was every bit as awesome and thrilling as I'd hoped it would be. Truly worth the wait! Most incredible thing I've ever seen.
  2. Totality felt like it was just a FEW seconds long. Forget about the 8-second rule, it was more like a THREE-second rule! I couldn't believe how the time flew by, even when I was following along with my recording (as best I could, given the bino failure.)
Eclipse chasers often say "C3 was the saddest moment of my life." It seems facetious, but now I understand completely. In the immediate aftermath of totality, there was this sense of passing, of yearning, of disbelief that it could have seemed so short. A true and deep sadness - I'm not kidding! And as I felt this, I thought 'How can this be? I waited so long. I planned so well. I read Norm Sperling's article several times. I planned and made a recording. I coped smoothly with the binocular failure and the `early-corona' failure. How, oh how, can it have seemed so short?' I felt something like a terrible guilt, or an enormous disappointment in myself. Not in the event, but in myself. How could I have screwed up so badly? How could I have let it seem so short?
This, I now realize, is one of the most remarkable things about totality. It truly messes with your head in some fundamental ways. The `plunging light' before C2 is an example. The bursting forth of the corona at C2 is another. These things really turn your head around, that's for sure! And there's this incredible compression of time during totality.
An example: One of my fellow observers had a GoPro camera facing us during the eclipse. When our group looked at the footage a few days after the eclipse, the period of totality seemed remarkably long. Our brains were reacting to the video the way they react to most videos on a computer: If it's longer than about 20 seconds, it seems to drag, and to go on forever. But in the moment, the brain is doing exactly the opposite. Years of desire and yearning reach their culmination, and you're filled with a sense of the fleeting nature of the event. The effect on one's perception of time is one of the truly incredible things I experienced at this eclipse.

'We did it!'  'We saw it!' Coming together after C3

     Shortly after totality, when the re-lighting of the world had brought things up to what seemed like a near-normal brightness, I threw my arm around the shoulder of my friend Carl and said, in a kind of overwhelmed stage whisper "We did it! We did it!" That was the phrase that kept running through my head. We'd done it! We'd found a good observing site. We'd traveled into the path. We got lucky with the weather. We'd set up our gear and it had worked. We'd seen this crazy thing!

All smiles after the main event!  Photo by Carl Larson.

     But, as noted above, there was the immense, crushing sadness that it was over. The stunned, shocked feeling of "Is that all the longer it lasted? Did it really feel so short? Can we run that back again?" I felt almost guilty for having such thoughts. Was something wrong with me? Few things can fill you with as great of a mixture of emotions as a total eclipse.

Wistfully watching C4

We were in no hurry to leave, since we only had to drive to Hagerman, ID that day. We figured we'd let the crowds clear out. So, we stuck around through fourth contact, and I can remember wistfully watching the last little piece of the Moon vanish from the Sun. My filtered telescope was still working well, providing sharp views, and I could just see that last little "bite" go away. It was over. The 2017 eclipse was in the history books.



We needed to head south, through Boise, and take I-84 down to Hagerman. Our plan was to spend a handful of nights at a lodge near Craters of the Moon, to do the dark-sky observing that we normally would have done at Lassen. Hagerman made a good intermediate stop on Monday night, and there were some interesting things to see in the Hagerman valley, like the Hagerman Fossil Beds. We tried heading south towards Boise on ID Hwy 55, but quickly ran into stopped traffic. We eventually turned around, bailed out, and headed back north to McCall, and then back south again through New Meadows, Midvale, and Weiser. It would up being a long day, but we made it. James's rental car got fender-bendered by a not-so-securely-parked Jeep in McCall, and I am still amazed at the how smoothly he handled the whole affair. He was a much cooler customer than I would have been!

Carl is a happy camper as we pull out of Smith's Ferry! He occupied totality, indeed.  Photo by Wesley Chang.

I think my most vivid memory of that afternoon was the drive back through Midvale and Weiser. Some of the roadside eclipse-viewing and festival-hosting sites were packing up and returning to normal. Some signs were still out, some were being put away. I expected to find it all quite melancholy, and it was, a little bit, but not quite as much as I expected. It was more like a feeling of "The circle is now closed. The circle is now unbroken. The event has well and truly happened." 

Casey and I pull out of Smith's Ferry, heading for dark-sky observing near Craters of the Moon.  Photo by Wesley Chang.

On Tuesday morning, while packing up at Billingsley Creek near Hagerman, we ran into an English fellow who'd seen several eclipses. It felt really good to re-visit that glow of excitement from the eclipse chase, and to talk to someone who'd come to our country to see one! I still smile thinking of the smiles all around.

We enjoyed a day in the Hagerman area, visiting sites like the Hagerman Fossil Beds, Malad Gorge State Park, and some genuine ruts from the 19th-century emigrant trails. As we were preparing to leave Hagerman and head for Craters of the Moon, I saw a curious sight near the gas station. A local sporting-goods merchant was advertising t-shirts from the "Path of Partiality". (Hagerman was outside the path of totality.) I couldn't help but be intrigued. As at Brundage Mountain and in McCall, here was a local who had, in his words, "97%-er Pride". I couldn't help but get a couple of t-shirts, to add to my stock of souvenirs from the great eclipse adventure. I get a kick out of the fact that one of them shows a partial lunar eclipse!

That fascinating phenomenon that I'd never expected: Pride at being in the "path of partiality".

Souvenirs from the eclipse trip, and the digital recorder I used for my `Sperling-style' script.

We enjoyed our time at the Craters of the Moon Log Lodge, where we enjoyed peace, quiet, and great hospitality from Monty and his kind and hospitable family. Some of the nights were nice and clear, and we got in some good dark-sky observing. Dan's brother Rob came down from Missoula, and I enjoyed throwing darts at the nice dart board he'd brought. Those two brothers know how to throw!

Eclipse-chasing observers under the Milky Way.  Photo by Casey Fukuda.

Aglow with red lights under the summer Milky Way.  Photo by Casey Fukuda.

On to Afterword...