Eclipse Day

Aug 23, 2017

And so the day dawned.

But it wasn’t good news. I could tell from the light filtering through my tent that there was no sun. I got outside and was greeted with thick and heavy grey cloud in all directions. The car was wet, the tent was soaking. Not sure if it rained during the night or not. Either way, not good. πŸ™

Uh-oh. Thick cloud. πŸ™

The folks next to me were already packing up and moving out, planning on heading west. However, without any intel on how thick the cloud was or how far it extended it was a gamble. There was also the problem of traffic. Reports had been filtering in of massive traffic jams in certain areas along those single track highways I’d driven up on. What to do? Risk a move and take a gamble on escaping the cloud or stay put and hope it would clear? It was three hours until ‘first contact’.

Two other eclipse watchers were headed into town, so I decided to join them for a trip to get some breakfast and get some wifi! At least then I could have a look at the satellite maps and see what was going on.

A tense breakfast!

When we got there the skies were a bit brighter, but it was still overcast. However it was clear now that this was a fog bank that had settled in overnight. The question was, above that, was there cloud or not – and would the sun burn it off in time?

Satellite images looked encouraging, but it was nerve wracking!

Back at the camp site, the sun was making a valiant effort, by 8.30 we had tantalising hints of blue sky.

Come on sun!

With the rising temperatures and a brisk northerly wind the fog surrendered and the sun blazed forth. We were in business! Back to check the equipment again!

All set up and ready to go.

I intended to snap pictures of the sun every 5 minutes from the point of first contact (about 10.30) all the way through the eclipse and out the other side until last contact, around 13:20. This worked fine in practice and I was pleased that my minimal kit that I’d brought with me worked well.

And then. It started!

First contact

It was mesmerising, watching the moon slowly roll in front of the sun. You get quite a strong sense of how celestial mechanics works when watching this. Everything is in motion all the time and this is one of the few times you can see orbital motion like this happening in front of your eyes. It’s remarkable to watch.

The moon progressed steadily. The skies stayed clear – only the strong north wind provided a bit of an issue as it was rocking the tripod – this caused me a few problems for later images with long exposures.

Just minutes away!

Then, all the waiting, the planning, the travelling came down to 2 minutes and 30 seconds of totality. A vast shadow swept in from the west, towering up into the atmosphere. You could see it moving (it’s travelling at over 1,000 miles per hour – I have a video I’ll upload later on). The light became thin, and then twilight was upon us. Totality! I hastily pulled the filters from the camera and spun down the shutter speed.

Diamond Ring

The photos are amazing, but they still can’t do justice to standing underneath this amazing phenomena. The sun was now a dark blue hole in the sky, ringed by its own atmosphere, the ‘Corona’. It wasn’t as dark as I expected. I saw no stars, but did see the planet Venus shining bright off to the right. All around the horizon was aglow like sunset in all directions.

Totality and the Corona

Standing there, after all the effort it had taken to get there left me trembling at the sheer spectacle. I’ve never seen anything like it and I may never again, but it was astonishing, overwhelming and exhilarating all at once. You did feel a strange connection to the cosmos, as if some greater power was gazing down upon you. Folks cheered, cried, shouted. Some even did some kind of strange pagan dance.

Not quite sure what these folks were doing!

All too soon it passed on. We saw Bailey’s beads (light shining through the mountain valleys on the moon and then the diamond ring. Within moments the brightness level shot back up and the moon was on its way once more.

Some folks were straight in their cars the moment the light came up, hoping to beat the traffic home. I stayed in place, to capture the receding parts of the eclipse, so I could do a montage of the whole thing.

My family had left me with a card with strict instructions not to open it before the 21st. On opening it there was a lovely homemade card and a balloon! πŸ™‚

Card and Balloon!

But there were more surprises in store. Cake for my birthday was provided! πŸ™‚

Birthday cake!

And Kathy took me for a drive in her classic 90s Corvette. πŸ™‚

90s Corvette. Cool. πŸ™‚

But all too soon it was time to go. I had to get to Denver that evening and so I began saying fond farewells to the folks at Wells Ranch, Alliance, Nebraska. I hope I come back this way again one day. πŸ™‚

Time to head back south…

I reached the hotel in Denver at about 8pm… the first leg of my journey back home to the UK complete. Tired, exhausted even, but happy. What a day it had been! πŸ™‚

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