Tuesday, December 19, 2017

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...