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Our latest family outing was to view and enjoy the TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE SUN On August 21, 2017. Our expedition Crew consisted of a group of Scientists, all in one family -
Barbara (spouse – computer scientist), William (son – atmospheric scientist with responsibility for several meteorologic satellites), and I (nominally retired astrophysicist) began planning months ahead of time to view and photograph the Solar Eclipse of 2017. This would make Barbara’s 4th total eclipse, William’s 3rd, and according to my parents, my 5th total eclipse (I was told that my 1st one took place while I was about 5 years old – can’t remember anything about it). Of mine, aside from the one when I was a youngster, the first I remember was from Cap Chat, along the St Lawrence in Quebec. I had gathered a number of my grad students (I was a university professor of astronomy at the time), and we drove from Boston to Cap Chat. Unfortunately, just at the maximum of totality, a storm front swept over us, allowing only a slight glance through the clouds.
My next Total solar eclipse was viewed in clear skies from Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip of Baja California. The view was great, though the hill we had chosen was swarming with Japanese tourists (3 buses full) who had come to Baja, just for the eclipse. Son William had been excused from school to go with Barbara and me for the great spectacle, and a spectacle it was. We drove there down the length of Baja California.
My 4th eclipse was viewed from Easter Island. This time Barbara and I joined a commercial eclipse hunters group, based in the Los Angeles area. Again, this was spectacular, with the addition of a big banquet and native dancers. Easter Island is located about as far from any land on Earth as is possible, way out in the Pacific Ocean. An airplane was required to get there.
This eclipse was planned originally for me to be leading a group of climbers, some of whom would be viewing totality from the summit of Grand Teton peak in Grand Teton National park. For several reasons, this plan fell through, and we settled on a site on the west side of the Tetons at Grand Targhee Ski Resort, a skiing area we had visited many times. The original attraction was that Targhee would be limiting the number of people (wrong!!). One of the groups that eventually made up the mob scene was a group from Pomona, one of the group leads being the director of Griffith Observatory, with whom I had gone through grad school. Actually, the Pomona group was a small part of the ultimate crowd. It was great to see Ed again after so many years.
Since William is based in Wisconsin, involved in his satellite work at University of Wisconsin, we arranged to meet at the Salt Lake City airport. Barbara and I drove from Palo Alto directly to a motel that is in the airport complex. The complex has its various roads named after famous airmen and airwomen.
Grand Teton as viewed from the top of Fred’s Mountain. My ascent of the Grand was in 1987 along the right skyline
After a night there, we drove up to Grand Targhee. Despite rumors of jammed roads, we only had to deal with a bit of road construction until we got to Driggs, a small town at the bottom of the mountain on which Targhee is located. Driggs was jammed with people buying souvenirs, safety glasses, T-shirts, and other memorabilia. But it only took a couple miles out of town and the road was pretty empty. On arriving at Targhee, we picked up our paperwork and selected a really nice campsite in the trees. Over the next couple days, we hiked up to the summit of Fred’s Mountain by 2 different routes (about 4 miles each and 2900 ft of climb for acclimatization) and selected a site to set up our cameras.
Early on the Mountain to establish our site for Eclipse Day.
As the day of the eclipse grew closer, we discovered that people were parking alongside the road up the hill (despite signs forbidding such parking). Lots of people drove up, but had to go back downhill because of “no room at the inn”.
Checking out our chosen station for viewing and photographing the Solar Eclipse. Note the crowd on the summit of Fred’s behind us
On the August 21, we got up early, ate a quick breakfast, and headed for the ski lift (you had to buy a pass). This took us up to the summit in time to pick a spot with an appropriate view, set up the tripods and cameras, and mark it off to prevent the cameras from being knocked over by the crowds. Soon the hordes began arriving. I was astounded at the number of people who brought up young children, but who did not seem to have any control over them as they tossed rocks over the edge and ran up and down along the edge. If any had tripped, the edge would have dropped some of them between 500 and 1000 feet over a steep cliff. Several of us had some talks with the kids and their parents.
Because the Sun is so bright (especially at 9600 ft elevation), we used a special type of glasses before our eyes and filters on the lenses of the cameras. Without these filters, you will probably cause permanent eye damage (or a permanent burn on the sensor of your camera).
A few seconds after First Contact, showing several small sunspots. Ancient peoples believed this was a dragon devouring the Sun. The arc is actually the silhouette of the Moon.
From the camera’s view, the Moon’s shadow moved from upper right to lower left. As the day moved on, we began tracking and photographing the sun, the Grand Teton (a bit of haze, thanks to the large fires in British Colombia, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and California), and the Valley below us. We were able to capture images of the few sunspots (storms on the face of the Sun). Then, right on schedule, first contact happened, accompanied by lots of cheering (1st contact is when the “dragon begins devouring the Sun”… or more scientifically, when the Moon begins to encroach its shadow on the Sun). Over the next few minutes, the Moon crept across the face of the Sun, allowing less and less to be seen.
Down to the last few seconds until the Sun is completely occulted by the Moon.
First contact signals when the frenzied work begins, first to track the occultation of the Sun, and second to watch the shadow sweep across the valley and finally engulf us in the darkness of night and a display of the Diamond Ring, as the Sun is completely occulted… We could also see the shadows of the Moon as they traveled through the various haze and smoke layers in the Valley below us.
The shadows approaching.
The “Diamond Ring” phenomenon as the last bit of the Sun’s bright atmosphere gets hidden by the moon – a tiny piece of the Sun’s surface is peeking through the Lunar mountains.
The Valley hidden in the Moon’s Shadow 18 seconds later with smoke and haze layers shadowed by the Moon as the Moon and Sun moved past us.
The Sun peeks over the edge of the Moon to say "Hello! with another Diamond Ring, which brightly illuminates the mountains
As soon as the Sun was completely covered, we removed the filters and eclipse glasses. The Sun was covered for just for 2 min 12.1 seconds. Then the Sun’s strong light was back and another Diamond Ring signaled that “the dragon is driven away” and the Sun is again uncovered by the Moon. The sky was filled with a bright light directly and scattered off the haze.
We immediately replaced the filters on the cameras and the eclipse glasses over our eyes. (If you do not quickly put your eclipse glasses on and replace the camera filters, you can cause permanent injury to your eyes, along with damaging your camera).
Gradually, the moon unveiled the rest of the Sun. Most people did not wait for the Moon to completely clear the Sun, but headed for the ski lift and the descent trails to get in their vehicles and jam the roads. Those of us having a scientific interest continued recording the view on our cameras of the Sun and Moon and the movement of the shadow of the Moon the rest of the way across the Valley. We continued jumping up and down and expressing our excitement at the perfect views - no clouding out of the eclipse! Just a perfect, gorgeous view of one of the most spectacular features in our universe. Then we packed our gear and descended the mountain back to our campsites.
In the morning, we packed the tent and loaded our transportation, then drove down the almost vacant roads until we got to the freeway. Since the Idaho highway department had gotten back to work, it took us a while to make it back to Salt Lake. After a fine dinner with one of our friends who lives in Salt Lake at The Red Iguana (an excellent Mexican Restaurant), we got a good night’s sleep. In the early morning, we drove William to the airport, then headed back home (761 miles on Interstate 80, with only a couple stops for gas and food, in 13 h 45 m, an average of 55.3mph).
The eclipse is so spectacular that one can understand how the primitives would become so worried and terrified at the loss of the Sun, the source of life on this planet. But despite the apparent destruction of the Sun, it always comes back again. Would that the destruction that humans wreak on this planet could be remedied just as easily.