The “Great American Eclipse” lived up to it’s name
When I was asked last week about how many eclipses I’ve seen, I must respond define ‘seen’. Ultimately, I’ll answer with “1.5.” My very first total eclipse adventure in 2010, had our group missing the eclipse by 500 feet. Huh? The drivers hired to take us to the viewing site in Patagonia planned four years earlier, decided at the last minute that they had a better place for us. With totality being a scant 1 degree above the horizon, there was no room for vertical error so being placed 500 feet below the original site put the sun right behind the Andes across the valley just as it was completely covered by the moon.
Count 0 out of 1.
Eclipse number 2 was in Australia in 2012. As with the previous, it was planned years in advanced, but considering our viewing site was on a small island off the coast Australia we had a remarkable view (while those on land had to contend with clouds. Haw-haw!).
Count 1 out of 2.
Number 3 was in the Faroe Islands in 2015. Virtually all Northern Europe was clouded over, it rained out our site. Sniff.
A fabulous trip, except for the beet juice for breakfast masquerading as cranberry juice, not to mention celery flavored ice-cream.
Count 1 out of 3.
Eclipse number 4 was last year in 2016 in Indonesia. The eclipse was viewed from Belitung Island in-between Sumatra and Borneo. Surrounded by a thousand Indonesians including a delightful number of school girls (and new Facebook friends). It was scattered clouds, which blocked the second half of totality.
Count 1.5 out of 4.
Now I can move that total up to 2.5 with the “Great American Eclipse” of Aug. 21. The tour group I was with was that of MWT Associates, www.melitatrips.com. This was my ninth astronomy tour with them since 2009. Melita Thorpe, the force of nature and tour organizing ninja, always puts together the best tours, and really outdid herself this time around. The viewing site was kept secret to us until the day of the eclipse, and had been a secret to our respective tour directors until two days prior. It was that good. Held on a small ranch/B&B of a few dozen acres, Melita had booked the entire site, so it averaged about 1 acre per person. Melita herself was directing the alternate trip which was a cruise on the SS Legacy steamer down the Columbia river.
Two years ago, for the Faroe Islands, we were rained out, but I kept my Faroe eclipse glasses to finally put them to use. Last year in Borneo, I bought a Theta Sigma 360 camera for the sole purpose of being the first to shoot a 360 video of such an event. On the bus to the site I tested the camera, made sure there was enough power for 15 minutes of shooting and so on, then put it away for “safe keeping.” Too safe as it would because I couldn’t find the damned thing when we arrived. Spent about 45 minutes looking for it on the bus, on the ground where I may have dropped it. No luck, so there went $400. Finally, after the eclipse as we boarded the buses, and I felt something hitting my chest, and discovered that for “safe keeping” I tucked the Theta into my passport pouch around my neck. It was so light I just never felt it until it was too late.
But this time I was ready, finding a small wagon full of flowers near our bus that served perfectly as a base, with one lens facing directly towards the sun and the other directly away. During the totality, I wanted to search for Sirius, Orion, and the elusive “shadow bands,” a very faint phenomenon that occurs just prior to and immediately after totality. I had a solar filter for cameras taped over my small binoculars so had no problem watching the sun directly. At the moment of totality, I ripped off the filter and spent about 20 seconds observing for solar-flares and the delicate corona.
Nearby was also a corral of several allowing us to observe some of them nestling down to go to sleep. One couple brought a thermometer to track the temperature drop. Within a few minutes of totality, the temperature was near 70F, it plummeted down to 48F during blackout. Venus popped out immediately and can be seen on the video, whereas Regulus, only a degree away from the sun could be easily seen through my binoculars. After third contact, as the moon started to move on to its next stop, we sat down for a lovely catered lunch in which the phrase “OMG that was Beautiful” or similar ones to it would be heard over and over.
There was one older Japanese man and his wife on the bus with me on the way home. This was his first eclipse and was so very excited as he proudly showed me his photos.
My 360 video came out good, but looks like &((@* in the two screen VR mode, one of the weak spots of using the cheaper consumer cameras like the Theta over the multi-thousands pro-grade 4 and 8K models.
Dennis Mammama, top flight sky photographer and author who was in our group, had been to 17 eclipses and rated this one in his top 3. He also forgot to take the sun filter off one of his cameras during totality, ruining his possible best shots. Amateur!