Sunday, April 28, 2024

Bill in Spokane sent this in, the recent solar eclipse.

 Looks haunting and ethereal… Thank you Bill for sending it!

2024 Eclipse Trip

Being amateur astronomers, the carbon based wife unit and I decided to drive 5317 miles round trip to a wide spot in the road, slightly east of Tivydale, Texas. The goal was to witness what has to be one of the most spectacular events a human can see from Earth, a total eclipse of the Sun. The morning of the eclipse started out perfectly clear with a forecast of increasing clouds ….of course. We arrived at the aforementioned wide spot about 8am after driving through seemingly endless fields of blue, purple and yellow flowers. I brought along two 80mm refracting telescopes. Both were mounted on sturdy tripods, one for visual observing and the other equipped with a digital camera.

First contact occurred at 12:15 pm as expected. We watched and photographed through thin and broken clouds as the Sun was slowly devoured by the Moon. We expected it to be thoroughly socked in by 1:30 pm. It’s widely known in astronomy circles that the distance you have to drive multiplied by your desire to see an astronomical event roughly equals the chances you wont see it at all, squared. By some miracle, conditions remained clear enough to see totality which began at 1:32 pm and and continued for the 4m, 26s of surreal and indescribable, coronal light of totality. 

I’ve never seen totality adequately described in words. It’s not like morning or evening twilight or even night. To my eye everything looks soft purple in color. The air cools considerably as the sky darkens. Day time birds and insects quiet down and go back to bed as the night time creatures begin stirring and making noise. Totality never lasts long enough. The maximum duration of totality in perfect conditions is only 7m, 32s so these are always fleeting moments we get to enjoy the Moon’s shadow.

Far too soon, but promptly at 1:37 pm the very first rays of sunlight began peeking through the valleys on the edge of the Moon as evidenced by the bright white spots near the five o’clock position of the attached image. This signals the end of totality. All of the now thoroughly confused creatures begin wondering what the hell is going on as the day brightens and warms again. By 1:44 pm the sky was completely socked in by clouds and the eclipse ended for us.

This was my third total solar eclipse with the first being in Great Falls, MT in 1979 and the second in the Sawtooth Range near Grandjean, ID in 2017. If I live long enough I’ll get one more chance in 2044 in the extreme northeast corner of Montana. I’ll be 80 years old! The attached image was taken at prime focus through an old University Optics 80mm f/6.25 refractor with a Canon 20D DSLR camera in aperture priority mode. Liberal amounts of luck and a kinked neck were involved. For a sense of scale, those red prominence’s on the edge of the Sun are 6-8 Earth diameters wide. I’d have preferred no clouds but I think they added an interesting look to the images I got.

Overall the trip was a blast! Far more fun than I thought it would be cooped up in the car across eleven states for eight days straight with my wife of 34 years. On all but the first and last day we encountered extreme weather. Sustained cross winds as high as 70 mph in Utah, a blinding white out snow storm at 10,481 feet in NW New Mexico, a paint peeling rain storm in north Texas and more high winds with hail and snow across OK, CO, NE and WY. The trip allowed me to visit the place of my birth in NM and some of my early childhood stomping grounds in TX, both for the first time since living there in the 60’s & 70’s. I also got to drive some of the US Highways my grandfather bulldozed a path for back in the 1940’s.



Choose wisely.




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