Monday, September 11, 2017

A Once in a Lifetime Opportunity

For the first time in 99 years, a total solar eclipse was going to cross the contiguous U.S. from Oregon to South Carolina, and the path of totality was only about an 8-hour drive south for us. How could we resist? Instead of heading for an expensive, scenic, and probably crowded resort in Wyoming or Oregon, our strategy was to find an open patch of farmland where we could be fairly alone, and be able to relocate if clouds threatened. Looking at Google Earth, we found a fairly open spot within the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois, and one street less than 2 miles from the center of the shadow's 71 mile wide path jumped out at me...

We drove down to Evansville, Indiana on Sunday, August 20, where we stayed for the night. It was surprising there were vacancies, and at reasonable prices. On Monday, August 21, we headed west, then south, to get to our chosen spot for the beginning of the eclipse, which began at 11:54 a.m. (CDT).

I was able to take photos of the partial phases of the eclipse by using my Canon PowerShot with the lens of a pair of eclipse viewing glasses over the lens. Because the auto-focus on this camera could not focus on the smaller image when in optical zoom mode, I had to go up to the lower resolution of the digital zoom, so no sunspots are visible in these images. Next time (2024), I'll make sure I have a solar filter for my SLR.

At least three times from the onset of the eclipse to totality, clouds covered the sun. Overall, there was about 60-70% cloud, and building, as the time for totality approached.

It was quite tense with so much cloud, but since there was not a spot that looked any more clear, we decided to stay put and not try to chase after clear skies.

More clouds, and more nail biting...

As more and more of the sun was covered by the moon, we were getting hopeful that there would be an opening in the clouds during totality.

Back home in Michigan, the maximum extent of the eclipse was approximately that in the photo above.

After the photo above, the sun became an even narrower sliver, but the PowerShot would not focus on it, so it was time to turn our attention to the main event, 2 minutes and 41 seconds of totality. But 5 minutes before it was to start, there was a cloud over the sun! Luckily, it cleared away in a couple of minutes, and we were ready. I had a whole routine of different exposures to take, based on a table provided online, and to make sure I knew when totality was ending, I had a timer set for 2 minutes, 30 seconds, that I started when totality started. I hoped that the new Nikon D500 SLR, and Sigma 100-400mm lens would perform well. Totality began at 1:21 p.m. (CDT).

With no filters, no auto focus, no auto-anything, the first great shot was the one above, at 1/500th second (at f/11), which shows some of the corona, as well as three solar flares along the right side of the sun. But the shot below, taken at 1/15th second, shows approximately what we saw with the naked eye.

This was truly an awesome sight, with dark skies similar to that at 30 minutes before sunrise, but with a blue band of sky down at the horizon. During totality, a Field Sparrow and Vesper Sparrow broke into song, and a few minutes after it was over, and Eastern Meadowlark sang. If it wasn't late summer, there might have been a more dramatic change in the soundscape. A drop in temperature may have been noticed by some, but in southern Illinois with the heat index well over 100 degrees, we didn't notice much. Then, as the timer went off, I took the camera off the tripod and cranked the shutter speed up to 1/8000 second in preparation for a couple of final effects, that last only a second or two, "Bailey's Beads", and the "Diamond Ring" effect, just as the moon starts uncovering the sun. I only got off two hand-held shots, and missed most of the beads, but I think I nailed the ring...

We watched through eclipse glasses for just another couple of minutes before packing all the equipment back into the car, and making our way back to the freeway, which took us 5 hours to go 50 miles. The price of such a wonderful natural phenomenon was to endure an epic and unnatural traffic jam! Let's do it again on April 8, 2024 in Ohio!

1 comment:

Ron Gamble said...

Awesome! Thanks for sharing this!