Eclipse Day, August 21, 2017

Brian Ottum composite image 21077685_723036411231224_4553820105859167058_n
This photo, by Brian Ottum, matches my memory of what the eclipse looked like.

It has taken a week to catch up on a lot of neglected chores (like sleep), but now I am ready to tell the story!

Summary:  The experience of the eclipse was worth four days of driving!

We had options to go to Missouri, Nebraska, or Tennessee.  Based on the weather forecasts, we chose Lebanon, Tennessee.  We arrived on Sunday, and searched for good places to watch the eclipse.  The Cedars of Lebanon State Park looked good, but I was apprehensive that the viewing area would not be big enough for the expected crowds of people.

Early in the morning of eclipse day, my daughter and I returned to the park, and claimed a spot in the open field. It turned out that there was plenty of room for everyone.  We were joined by a fellow-member of my astronomy club with some friends.

The Ball Field at the Cedars of Lebanon State Park was not at all crowded.

We wanted clear skies, and we got them!  The Sun was high in the sky, and the air was hot and humid. Fortunately, we had two extra camera tripods and two umbrellas. We fastened the umbrellas to the tripods with hose clamps and duct tape, and positioned them near our chairs so that we had some relief from the scorching sunshine.

After a full day of clear skies, banks of clouds moved in, and covered the Sun at the start of the partial eclipse.  Thankfully, the clouds left and did not come back.

Camera Bar 20170821_112445
Here I am with my 5-camera monstrosity.  Shortly afterwards, it was abandoned.

I had a grand plan to take videos and still shots of the eclipse, using 5 cameras mounted on a single tripod.  I had tried out this gadget at home, and was successful in managing it. However, on eclipse day, I found that it was impossible to aim it high enough to capture the Sun, and I wasn’t able to keep it balanced.

After trying several fixes, I realized that we were half way into the partial eclipse, and I hadn’t looked at the Sun!  So, I set some priorities by giving up the eclipse photography.

Giving up on the photography was a great relief.  I was also able to be more sociable, and talk to the people around me.  And, I was able to enjoy the eclipse!

Time passed quickly, and I noticed that the heat of the Sun was no longer bothersome.  The remaining sunshine was dim, but didn’t have the orange cast which goes with sunset.  Everything looked a bit gray.

2 minutes before totality, brightened IMG_0505
Two minutes before totality, an unusual kind of darkness covered us.

I had a plan to watch the ground for the shadow bands, which are very subtle ripples which often appear just before and after totality.  However, when the coverage of the Sun was in its last stages, I forgot those plans. My entire focus was on the long awaited total eclipse, which was about to happen.

Through the eclipse glasses, I watched the Sun shrink rapidly.  When there was nothing more to see, it was time to put the glasses aside.  I will try to describe what I saw: The sky was a dark grayish blue, which was brighter gray near the Sun.  The body of the Sun was a round black circle.  The corona was quite a bit larger than the disk of the Sun.  Its width was irregular, and was widest on the lower right.  At first look, a red stream protruded from the bottom of the black disk.  Its length was about 1/16 of a sun diameter, and was visible without magnification.

I came to my senses and remembered that I had brought a pair of 7 x 50 binoculars to use during totality.  Because they didn’t have solar filters, I had hidden them for safety.  I scrambled in the dark, and found them.  The view of the Sun was better with magnification, but the red streamer appeared smaller.

Toward the end of totality, the red stream had changed appearance again.  Someone nearby said that this object was a solar flare.  I need to learn more about this.  I didn’t think that solar features changed so rapidly over a period of 2 – ½ minutes.  It is possible that the changes were in my perception, rather than reality.

Although stars and planets were visible during totality, I was not interested in viewing them on eclipse day.  I have the rest of my life to do that!  Venus, however, forced itself on me.  Because it was so close to the Sun and so high in the sky, it was annoyingly bright.  I had never seen Venus so bright.  Curiously, I remember the position of Venus as directly above the Sun in the sky.  Later, I checked the position of Venus on two different planetarium apps.  They both show Venus to the right, and slightly higher than the Sun.  I think that the apps were right, and the observer was excited.

The 2 minutes and 20 seconds of totality passed quickly, and a tiny sliver of the Sun lit up our area again.  I was amazed at how much light comes from the Sun even when it is 99% covered.  In a few seconds, lighting had changed from a very deep twilight to an early twilight, and we had no trouble seeing ourselves and our surroundings.

Our crowd was very calm, compared to ones I had watched on videos.  We all broke out with a spontaneous cheer at the start of totality, and another applause at the return of the Sun.

I had no regrets that I dropped the idea of photographing the eclipse, because I was planning to take a series of shots with a manual single-lens-reflex camera.  It is unlikely that I would have had enough alertness to make the settings and shoot the pictures.  I did remember to make movies of the crowd reactions.  The quality of the movies is mediocre, but their keepsake value is tremendous.

A few minutes after totality ended, I was thinking about the next total solar eclipse for North America, which will be on April 8, 2024.








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