Total Solar Eclipse August 2017
Pardon me if wax poetic in this post, but this event was one of the highlights of my life and I am in a sharing mood.
Ayelet, Ronnie, Adam and I traveled to Oregon on August 18 to see the Total Eclipse of the Sun on August 21. I have been planning to witness this eclipse for 7 years, since I first read about it. About 18 months ago, I checked for hotels in the cities that would be in the path of totality and they were all booked. As I learned later, all RV’s were also booked close to a year ago. Nevertheless I was certain we will be going somehow and started making flight plans. Then a few months ago, out-of-the-blue and unsolicited, Mark Tisdel and Frances Yao kindly offered their vacation home in Sherwood Oregon for the Eclipse. From that moment things started to take shape. I read up about eclipse imaging, started buying equipment and began practicing on the weekends. The idea was that I wanted to see the eclipse directly and not mess around with cameras during the precious 2 minutes of totality. This meant I needed a tracking mount that would allow the cameras (stills and video) to track the sun and a well-rehearsed imaging routine allowing me to click on a remote to take images and change exposures without taking my eyes off the sun. As I prepared, my friend and San Mateo County Astronomical Society colleague, Dr. Ken Lum, contacted me saying he had come up with some improvements for his equipment and decided I should have those improvements too, so he bought the extra equipment for me – very happy he did.
As the weeks got closer, I realized a little late that Sherwood was not in the path of totality and so began the frantic search as to where and how we could get to the right place in time. Madras Oregon was touted by the press as the best place in all of the US to see the eclipse with the best chances for sunny weather. So obviously hundreds of thousands of people already made plans to be there. Oregon’s road system is not designed for this load and the predictions for dire traffic jams were reported all over. I decided to find a place closer to Salem with access through backroads and close to the center line in the path of totality. That is how I came across Monmouth and Independence, the latter was selected as target A. Monmouth was the second target. To be on the safe side, a camp site in Madras was secured (in case the weather did not collaborate) and another option was offered me by Robert who works with me at Model N, on a farm near Salem. Additional viewing targets were prepared between Sherwood and Independence in case traffic made it impossible to get there. As you can see I had no intention of missing this event for anything. Finally the night before we flew to Oregon we also secured an RV to sleep in in Independence the night before the eclipse so we could avoid morning traffic. This turned out to be a great decision that impacted our entire experience.
During the first two days, we stayed at Mark and Frances’ place in Sherwood and drove down to Independence and Monmouth to scout for viewing locations. I read about the 3 day festival Independence was planning and so we spent the Saturday afternoon hanging out in River View Park, the kids had a ton of fun with all the activities and unlimited junk food they could eat, we enjoyed seeing all the people and listening to live bands that were playing. Upon our arrival we met the mayor of Independence and the CNN crew that was interviewing him. On the Saturday night we had a lovely meal with some good local Oregon wine in Sherwood.
On Sunday we checked out of the house in Sherwood and headed down back to Independence. Checked in to the RV and did a final dry run on the imaging sequence. We spent 11 hours in River View Park, more live music, more junk food and a great Fireworks show at the end – the city of Independence put up a great event, which was pleasant, not overcrowded and gave the whole experience a real special feel. That day was cloudy in Independence and so throughout the entire day we kept checking weather forecasts in case we had to head out to Madras.
When we made the final decision to stay in Independence, we canceled the camp site in Madras – we fully expected to pay for it. Initially the lady we booked it from offered to drive us in if we had difficulty getting in (which was an unbelievably generous offer), then she gave us a 50% refund even though she did not have to. So nice and so kind.
The night before the eclipse both Ayelet and I hardly slept. On the morning of August 21, we got up at 6:30 AM to see perfect weather, not a cloud in the sky and excellent transparency. We setup the equipment and also started packing as we had to get to the airport to fly back to California the same day. We did one more rehearsal of when to put on and take off the protective glasses and I did another tech dry run on the imaging. We were all ready and waiting by 8:45 AM. Neighbors, on the street, the young couple we rented the RV from, guests gathered outside and we waited talking to each other. 9:04AM the eclipse began, with a sliver of a bite taken out of the sun by the moon. As the eclipse progressed, lighting, color and temperature changed from minute to minute. We kept looking through the glasses and talking with each other commenting on all the changes. By 9:45 at least 80% of the sun was covered and a very unnatural light settled over us, it was like late afternoon but all the colors seemed off, Ronnie described it as if a Sepia filter had been applied to everything. It started getting much cooler. We also took note and pictures of the crescent shaped shadows that could be seen on the walls of the house next to us. A few minutes after 10 AM there was only a sliver of sun that we could see in the glasses. The tension started to build up and everyone was watching carefully. The last few seconds, it seemed as if the moon is accelerating its motion and the sliver of sun disappeared and we took off the glasses to stare directly at the sun. People’s reaction which you can hear on the video I posted was incredible. People were hollering, mostly saying “oh my god”, Ayelet was crying in excitement. I was completely gob-smacked. All of my reading, viewing videos, viewing images and the 2 partial eclipses and one clouded-out total eclipse I witnessed, did not prepare me for what my eyes were now looking at. The view of a dark moon (still could see some of its details thanks to earth-shine light), a very dark blue sky, with stars and planets visible in mid-day, sunsets on every horizon and the most un-earthly beautiful light which surrounded the moon and a fainter light gently flowing away was so unnatural, so beautiful that my brain was having a hard time processing it all. The sun’s corona is one of the more beautiful sights I have ever seen. In addition to this beautiful light, we saw prominence (plasma shooting out from the surface of the sun) and bits of the sun peeping through lunar mountains, known as Bailey’s Beads, as little red dots appearing and disappearing around the moon.
All of my training and planning was no match for this awe inspiring view – and so it was only after taking about 20 images, that I realized I did not remove the protective filters off the video and stills camera – essentially I was imaging darkness. I removed them quickly and returned to my routine. The practice paid off big time. I viewed the entire totality not taking off my eyes of this amazing view, that is now etched in mind, and was still able to image over 50 images during totality which produced some very decent pictures. Even though I was imaging I was still mostly dumbfounded by what I was looking at, so I forgot to turn on the timer to remind us all to put on our protective gear before the sun returned. So we all saw the diamond ring and return of the sun and quickly returned to our protective glasses.
Ronnie was quick to point out that we can see the shadow of the moon racing away from us as totality moved on, creating an amazing shimmering shadow on the ground.
At this point we all just started chatting excitedly and sharing how we felt about what we just saw- everyone expressed happiness and gratitude that we were so lucky to see this. Even though we were with people who until 2 hours before were complete strangers there was a feeling of a bond and people were hugging each other. The young couple who rented out their RV to us, said that they did not know what to expect and didn’t understand what the whole fuss was about and thought that people like us traveling all this way with all this equipment were a bit crazy. But after the eclipse, they said the completely get it and may become eclipse chasers. I thought I knew what to expect, but frankly I did not and I was absolutely floored by what I saw. Ayelet and I are already talking about how we are going to get to our next eclipse.
This whole event was wonderful, marked by a lot of kindness and goodwill, from Mark and Frances, Ken Lum, the lady in Madras, the couple that rented out their RV and others. A million things could have gone wrong but none of them did. It was simply perfect.