Saturday, September 2, 2017

Journal of an Eclipse

I love eclipses! Solar, Lunar, Total, Annular, Partial -- you name it, I love it. (Well, except for penumbral lunar eclipses. Those are boring.) I'm one of those who screams when clouds cover up the event and then go away right after it's done.

So let's see ... I caught the total annular eclipse, which went directly over Milton High School in 1984. That was pretty cool, but we didn't get to see the corona.

Here's a piece of paper I created back then to capture the projection of the eclipse back then (you can double-click to see a higher resolution image -- bonus points if you can find the Dolly Parton galaxy):

Since then, I've caught countless lunar eclipses, and several partial solar eclipses -- one of which occurred on Christmas Day, which I remember very well, as I tried to use my telescope as a projector, and it melted part of my eyepiece.

But of all these eclipses, this total eclipse of August 21, 2017 is by far at the top of my list. It was my very first fully total solar eclipse, and the first time I got to see the corona. It only took me 48 years to wait for it to come anywhere close to me!

Pictures capture only a mere glimpse of the real thing, and words cannot fully describe exactly what we saw and experienced, but I'm going to try to do so in this quick eclipse log.

A little after 5AM, we left our NC city, which was already in the 95% zone. If you want to catch a total eclipse, though, you gotta get in the 100% zone. We had our certified solar glasses. We even had a pair of solar binoculars. We did our homework of the weather -- realizing we could go to either: Columbia, Greenville (SC), Nantahala National Park, or south of Knoxville. I was happy to learn that the clearest forecast coincided with Greenville, where my aunt and cousin just happened to be in town.

So down we went. Google Maps put the regular trip time at 2 hours 45 minutes, but even so early in the morning, we hit eclipse traffic and it ended up being closer to 3 hours 45 minutes. Here we are in northern South Carolina with traffic backing up again.

At 8:41 AM, we finally made it into the eclipse zone. My kids were excited, and so was I! Nothing could stop us!

We finally left the highway shortly after 9AM.

We stopped at a McDonald's to get a late breakfast. While ordering, I asked the server guy if he was going to see the eclipse. He was all, "What eclipse?" We told him he needed an excuse to get out during the total eclipse portion. Take out the trash or something.

By the time we left, we heard the manager on the phone asking for permission to let his people go outside for a couple of minutes. Oh yeah!

We arrived at my aunt's house and chilled for about an hour. Then we started scoping out a good spot to watch the show. You see, Greenville has a big problem: trees everywhere! And I didn't plan this event for years only to pick a bad spot at the last minute.

We checked her back yard. Then we went over to my cousin's house and checked out his yard. Still too many trees! Though his pool was positioned such that you could swim while you watched, we had to go somewhere else.

Then my aunt took us to their neighborhood field. It was perfect except for a couple of lights that had the potential of turning on. We also checked out the parking lot of the nearby Mormon church she attended. It had a great view, but way too many street lights.

The neighborhood field was going to be the place.

We went back to my aunt's place where I watched her make a pinhole projector out of cardboard. I also erroneously told her that you could project an image of the sun with a magnifying glass. Turns out you can, but the image is so small and hot that it burns things! Who knew?

When the eclipse started, we were at my cousin's house. He was cooking up hamburgers. We took a moment to look through our sun-glasses, and sure enough, there was a tiny bite out of the sun on the upper right side. I mentioned going to the neighborhood field, but they preferred to stay put.

And you know me ... I didn't plan this thing for years just to ... well, you get the picture. I left with my immediate family and departed to the neighborhood field. I felt bad leaving behind my other fams, but ... science!

Next to the field was this pool, and many were swimming. Music played loudly. I guess that was the thing to do in Greenville. Swim and watch!

My family had a quick little picnic, and I set up my camera so it would be steady for some cool shots. Only, the camera sucked. Here's me trying to catch a pic with the camera looking through my sun-filter glasses.

Can you make out the crescent? I can almost see it ...

By the time we had finished our little picnic, it was already getting noticeably darker. It was nowhere near as dark as one would have expected with half the sun's face gone, but it looked more like a weird lighting trick.

These pictures perhaps ... maybe ... catch some of that weird twilight. The second picture was taken about 10 minutes after the first. You can also see how high in the sky the sun was, which was probably the most annoying part of this particular eclipse. It was probably lower in the sky for those lucky peeps in Oregon.

Also, you'll notice in that first picture above, there are some clouds. I didn't get a good picture, but there were large clouds heading our way. At least twice, it appeared that a cloud was headed straight for the sun, but then a strange thing happened. All the clouds in the sky dried up ... completely! I think they just lost steam as temperatures dropped.

Though, several of my friends told me that some reporter lost his cool out west because one cloud just happened to go over the sun for only those two minutes of totality. On camera he lost his cool, talking about "no, it wasn't okay." It was the main purpose for being there, and it was ruined by a rouge cloud. (Hey ... if anyone can find a video of this, I'd love to include it here. My search came up short.)

As the sun came close to being covered, I watched the last few minutes through my sun-oculars. I got a good view of the bailey beads, and I could see the exact second when it was safe to take off the glasses. Over at the pool, they were playing "A Total Eclipse of the Heart."

Somewhere in there, I accidentally looked at the sun unfiltered with only a sliver left, and I can tell you, it looked as bright and as much a full circle as I'm used to seeing every day when I accidentally look at the sun. I also looked away very quickly, leading me to wonder how people could mess up their eyes. You would have to work pretty hard to keep looking. Then again, it only takes a couple of seconds to do permanent damage.

But let me tell you ... at the very end, the light around us and the temperature dropped immediately in a matter of seconds. And then there it was. The corona shone around the moon, much brighter than I had expected, and there was a strange bluish tint to it. It looked like an origami black circle placed in front of a bright light -- an incredible 3-D effect I've never seen in any pictures or videos.

Off to the right was a bright planet ... most likely Venus. And to the left was another planet ... probably Mercury seeing how close it was to the sun.

I tried to take my picture, but I first accidentally shot this video.

And in a quick fit of frustration, I tried to switch to another setting, but I wasn't going to spend more than a few seconds, and this is what I got:

It looks more like a black hole from Interstellar or that second Thor movie than it does what I actually saw with my eyes. I quickly gave up and just enjoyed it. At the top edge, there was a really bright spot, and I partly worried if it was still okay to look at it. It was a prominence--a piece of the sun blasting into space and coming back down. I can't even describe what color it was--a purply blue red?

Around the horizon, it looked like a sunset--light coming to us from the poor people outside of the eclipse zone only 30-something miles away.

Suddenly a small dot in the upper right started getting bright, just like a diamond. The light around us came back up as quickly as it left. Heat returned, and we all had shadows again.

My friend took this picture. I am full of the angry jealousy.

It was a quick experience that I will remember forever.

The only thing I missed were the shadow bands. I thought I saw some in the corner of my eyes, but it was nothing like what I saw with the annular eclipse of 1984. Back then, there were clear dark lines flowing across the ground like a surreal wave. But this time ... maybe it was because we were in a grass field. But then again, I've yet to hear anyone report about shadow bands connected to this particular eclipse. Maybe they just didn't happen this time. (By all means ... let me know if you saw any, and tell me what city you saw them in.)

We went back to my cousin Andy's house, and caught the last part of the eclipse there. On the way over, we saw this phenomenon: eclipses projecting through the tree leaves!

Then back at my cousin's house, Andy let me look at the eclipse through a welding glass. That was pretty cool. It was a bright green crescent! Pretty.

I also saw the results of my aunt's pinhole projector.


I did a little swimming in my cousin's pool, and then after about an hour, he announced that the last bit of the moon was disappearing. He and I watched the end through our glasses, and then it was done. Sad, but well worth the whole effort.

We left there at about 5PM, and by then Highway 85 was already starting to become a parking lot. We ended up taking the back roads up north. Would you believe those roads were packed, too? And Google Maps kept cutting out.

Here we were on 64.

When we got to 40, past 77, we ended up in a long line where the construction was, and at 9PM, I could only exclaim, "This is ALL eclipse traffic!" It was both frustrating and fun at the same time. It took us a little over 4 hours to get home, and we didn't stop even once (we had gassed up after McDonald's, fearing possible shortages after the event).

Would I do all this again? You betcha I would. In fact, there's another coming up in seven years. I'd have to travel further -- maybe even rent out a hotel. Who's with me?!

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