Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Great American Eclipse 2017

On Sunday, August 20th, Rich and I headed out to go chase the eclipse.

If somehow you have been hiding under a rock somewhere, there was a fabulous eclipse crossing our continent, which was named appropriately "The Great American Eclipse".  However, to see it, to experience it at its most exquisite, you would have to place yourself in the path of totality, a zone spanning about 70 miles wide, stretched across the continent from the West in Oregon to the East in South Carolina.  Minnesota was not in the path, so I have been planning since last November to journey to experience it.

Our eventual experience of the eclipse was not exactly what I would have hoped for, but because so many cameras were focused skyward, many others with very good equipment caught the action.

I would like to thank Colin Ross of CC Megaproductions for giving me permission to use his exceptional recording.  He produced it with appropriate music, and without too much crowd noise.  It is a good representation of what happened . . . if you didn't have too many thick clouds in the way.

We left on Sunday and journeyed to Lincoln, Nebraska, which would be our "home" base for our time in Nebraska.  Arriving late and getting settled into our hotel, we then walked across the street and picked up some greasy Sonic dinner.  Not the best thing to eat when you need to get to sleep for an early start, but it was quick, and it was right there.

All this time, I had been watching the weather and trying to decide in what direction we would drive in the morning.  I wanted to be out the door and on the road by 6 am.  Originally, I had planned to go directly South, very near to Beatrice but not directly in that town.  There was a very large party planned at the Homestead National Park.  I am somewhat adverse to being in large crowds, thus I would not be going to that party.  Also, the weather in that direction didn't look good.  For that matter, the weather in all directions didn't look good.

(Click Map for more detailed image)

One of the local television stations had a pretty good weather report.  There was a narrow band of potential clear-ish skies just South and East of Grand Island.  The weather program I was following at NOAA seemed to agree.  Guaranteed clear skies could not be found unless you were willing to drive an additional 5 hours or more into Western Nebraska or Wyoming.  I was not willing to do that.  We would take our chances.  Google Maps found a quaint little town named McCool Junction (a very cool sounding name) that had a nice park.  When we arrived at about 7:30, there was only two other cars.  We staked out a claim, and I set up my telescope.  As you can see, it was fairly sunny in the morning.  Oh, and added bonus . . . bathrooms!

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.  I don't know why I didn't think to acquire an adapter to take pictures with my iPhone.  I guess I figured since I was able to just hold up my cell phone and take a picture, why did I need an adapter.  I probably would have had better pictures.  Without the urgency of the limited time during totality, at my leisure I could take many pictures and discard those I did not like.  Here is the full face of the sun, pre-eclipse.  You can even see sun spots.  As more people came to join us at the park, several ventured over and asked to take a peek.  I also gave out some of the extra eye protection glasses I had.

Richard was the GoPro guy.  We set up our older GoPro on a white surface to capture any shadow bands (we were unsuccessful as it is hard to capture them when you have no sun just before and after totality). He wore the newer one, but then opted to set it up on a fence pointed skyward.  The clouds seemed to have gotten their thickest leading up to totality, and after.  The morning was clear enough, and within an hour after the event it was clear.  Just damn bad luck!!

What I did clearly document was the temperature drop.  Just before C1 (first contact of the moon over the sun) our temperature was 95 degrees.

As the moon traversed across the sun, it began to get cooler.  It is amazing that even with 3/4ths of the sun obscured it visually looks just as bright.  The odd light effects only come into play at the last sliver of light.

You can see below my less-than-expert pictures as the eclipse progressed.  I do find it somewhat artistic to see my own reflection in the lens.

A fellow eclipse watcher, Barry of Wichita, Kansas, a retired science teacher, had brought his spotting scopes, and was using them to project the image of the sun onto a white surface.  He was one of the many people we met and chatted with leading up to the eclipse.  I think this was one of the best features of the location we chose.  It did not get overly crowded, and people were happy to chat with each other.  We met several travelers from Minnesota.  Some of the grounds crew tasked with keeping the ball field mowed were out working that morning.  They came over and said hello and indicated no problem with all of us setting up our equipment and lawn chairs.  They knew very quickly after the event, we would all be gone.

As you can see, getting closer to the point of totality, the images are all getting fuzzy.  It's the clouds!

Richard took this picture with his camera just prior to totality.

I got this image through the telescope.  We did see a pair of hawks lazily soaring together just prior to C2 (totality).  I imagine they were about to be very surprised when the sky would get very dark.  I didn't watch them to see what they would do, as I was distracted with my telescope and all going on around us.  I did see with my own eyes the effect of Bailey's Beads, the last rays of light shining through the craters and valleys on the edge of the moon, like so many shiny pearls on a string.  This I simply enjoyed with my own eyes, knowing I would not capture the effect with my camera.

The temperature during totality.  Notice how dark it is.

I asked a fellow watcher to take our picture during totality.  I think it flashed, as it doesn't look that dark.  That was the most spectacular feature of the eclipse.  Right up until the moment the moon fully occludes the sun, and the deepest shadow crosses over, it just looks like dusk.  Then suddenly, even with obscuring clouds, it is like full night.  Someone at our location shot off fireworks.  You also get the effect of a setting sun at all horizons, and 360 degree sunset.  I did attempt to take a video of that, but must have fumbled the record button, for upon review later, I only see the video after I told it to stop.  I'll not post that as it is very un-exciting to see.

It truly is coldest just after "dawn".  77 was the lowest temperature I recorded.  That was an 18 degree drop within one hour.

During the distraction of totality, and the cloud cover, I managed to lose the sun in my viewing window.  At this point so high in the sky it moves very quickly out of the field of view.  It took awhile for me to find it again, as I did not have strong shadows to guide me (for sun viewing, you can use the shadow of your telescope to orient, as I did not have any solar filters for my spotting scope.)

As the sun returned, the temperature jumped up quickly.

My last view of the event.  By this time, most of the people in the park had packed up and headed out.  Rich and I were in no hurry, and knew the roads would be packed with cars, so we just sat back and enjoyed the sunny park.  Oh, yeah, SUNNY!  The sun came out afterwards.  Of course!

When we did finally decide to leave we opted to skip I80 back to Lincoln, and instead took backroads following our map.  It was a nice drive back to our hotel.  After a shower to get all the sun screen and sweat off, I searched out and found a nice restaurant for us to enjoy an eclipse evening dinner.

We found a place called FireWorks, where you could have tasty wood-fired food.  It was a great ending to a fabulous day.

The next morning we planned to begin to head home, stopping off to visit my sister and brother-in-law at their new home in Marion, Iowa.  Not wanting to come empty-handed, I stopped by a cute bakery I discovered the previous evening when I was researching places to eat dinner.  It is very appropriately named, as it is below ground (see the cars in the reflection) and you have to go down some stairs to get to the front door.  It really was a "rabbit hole".  What was offered inside was an assortment of tasty treats, of which I brought a box full for my family.

It was a great little vacation.  I do so wish we hadn't found all the clouds, but I'm still happy we got the chance to experience life under the moon's shadow.