Totality or Bust

August 21, 2017

Some people have panic attacks over bills, work or their family. Not me, I have panic attacks over totality. Stargazers, such as myself, spend years thinking about an eclipse they might get to see. For this particular eclipse. For nearly 10 years, I waited anxiously for that 2 minute 45 second stretch of glorious darkness.  The Great American Ecliose of 2017. An eclipse spanning the entire length of the continental United States and watched by millions of people.

So many variables to worry about when viewing an eclipse. Will I be in a good location? Will there be clouds? Will their be traffic? Will there be coffee and a bathroom?  These don’t even begin to touch on the more difficult factors to worry about, like will I get a good picture, how do I want to image it, do I have equipment to image and of course, will I get to enjoy totality.

After nearly 2 weeks of heart palpitations, horrible sleep, wrecked nerves and the last of my Xanax, I decided, I’ll get what I get and I’ll spend my time enjoying the beautiful show.  I just won’t worry about pictures. Millions of people will get images, a few thousand will get decent ones and a few will get some really nice ones. My images won’t matter, but my experience will.

I’ve seen a couple of partial eclipses, and even SLEPT thru one annular eclipse, but I’ve never experienced Totality. Heck, less than 10 years ago, I didn’t even realize that it actually got dark during Totality. So, you see, I had to make sure I experienced Totality..

I planned, i ordered my glasses early, I practiced imaging, I packed up the family and we headed west to Tennessee.

Turns out, not only did I get to enjoy Totality, but I also got pictures!

 

 

The Other Part of Totality

Since I didn’t plan of getting pictures during Totality, I decided to focus on things I could attempt to capture with a lot less effort.

The first of these is the temperature change during Totality. Since we were going to be in a shadow, it was logical to assume there would be some change. The real question was how much was the temperature going to change?

It was a HOT and muggy day in Tennessee, during the eclipse. The temperature was about 95 degrees and 60%-80% humidity. I used a digital thermometer in direct sunlight and it registered 121 degrees just before the eclipse began! As the eclipse transpired, the temperature dropped to 81 degrees! That’s a 40 degree difference! It was a lovely respite from the heat.

The second thing I tried to capture were the shadowbands that can appear during Totality. Shadows bands are hard to explain, so I’ll let this NASA burb tell you more.

What are “shadow bands?”
These are among the most ephemeral phenomena that observers see during the few minutes before and after a total solar eclipse. They appear as a multitude of faint rapidly moving bands that can be seen by placing a white sheet of paper several feet square on the ground. They look like ripples of sunshine at the bottom of a swimming pool, and their visibility varies from eclipse to eclipse. 19th century observers interpreted them as interference fringes caused by some kind of diffraction phenomenon. The Sun, however, is hardly a “point source” and the patterns are more random than you might expect from diffraction effects.
The simplest explanation is that they arise from atmospheric turbulence. When light rays pass through eddies in the atmosphere, they are refracted. Unresolved distant sources simply “twinkle,” but for nearby large objects, the incoming light can be split into interfering bundles that recombine on the ground to give mottled patterns of light and dark bands, or portions of bands. Near totality, the image of the Sun is only a thin crescent a few arc seconds wide, which is about the same size as the atmospheric eddies as seen from the ground. Bands are produced because the Sun’s image is longer in one direction than another. The bands move, not at the rate you would expect for the eclipse, but at a speed determined by the motion of the atmospheric eddies.

Since we would be look at the sun, I set up and old camera to record shadows bands. They are extremely faint and I almost wish I would have used a better quality video. Oh well, next time.  They are difficult to see, and when I converted the video, they became even fainter.

Getting Ready for the Event of a Lifetime

We choose chose Center Hill Dam in Tennessee for our solar eclipse location. Well on the center line of totality, wide open skies, no after dark lights, and few crowds…and a bathroom!

The park staff were great at helping us set up and they even reserved us a space.

It was a great location for people seeing us when they drove into the area. Many people came and spoke with us, viewed at our eyepieces and some even spent Totality with us.

It was a horribly hot and muggy day. Temperatures reached 121 in direct sunlight.

Lunar Occultation of Aldebaran

Yours is the light by which my spirit is born: my sun, my moon and all my stars. -E.E. Cummings

My favorite image of Aldebaran being occulted by the moon. This was before it happened, but I love how you feel as if you are flying over the moon. Very reminiscent of the Apollo 11 moon landing. I feel like Neil, Buzz and Aldrin looking out over the moon.

Apollo 11 flying over the moon before landing

You Spin Me Right Round

Star Trails with Polaris, the North Star centered.  Another happy accident. It was my first attempt at star trails, made with my Canon G16. I had taken it out in the front yard, which faces north, and let it loose. When I checked the image out, I was floored to see that I had centered Polaris.

For those who don’t know, Polaris is not a very bright star.  It is the 46th brightest star in the entire night sky! During outreach programs, I always ask about Polaris, and most of the time I hear comments about it being the brightest star in the sky.  Polaris, (Alpha Ursae Minoris) also called  the North Star or Pole Star, is the brightest star in the constellation of Ursa Minor. The constellation is also known by its asterism, the “Little Dipper”.  It is very close to the north celestial pole, making it the current northern “Pole Star”.  Polaris is part of a triple star system. Polaris A, Polaris B and Polaris Ab.

To locate Polaris, all you have to do is to find the Big Dipper pointer stars Dubhe and Merak. These two stars outline the outer part of the Big Dipper’s bowl. Simply draw a line from Merak through Dubhe, and go about 5 times the Merak/Dubhe distance to Polaris.

Photo courtesy of Saint John Astronomy Club

Saint Johns Astronomy Club website has a wonderful article on Star hopping,

Lunar Occultation of Venus

First contact of the Moon occulting Venus

Do you know how difficult it is to find a sliver of the moon on a bright sunny day? I’m really surprised I saw this, much less imaged it. These were taken at the eyepiece with my Canon Rebel DSLR.

Occultations by the moon, are common, especially Aldebaran. Unfortunately, very few are seen in the continental United States.

Karma

This is what I get for being a good parent. One of my first long exposure images of the sky with my G16. My teenage son was with me and I told him to go dance around with a glow light in front of the camera. I don’t think I need to explain what he was drawing. Needless to say, it’s a happy accident because we laughed and laughed when we saw it and there’s nothing quite like hard laughter with your child.  In the end, I did manage to get a cool image of long exposure light, but the one above, will always remain a favorite.