Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Great American Eclipse - August 21 2017

 It turned out to be a long day - about 14.5 hours (and 548 miles) from the time I left the house in Farmersville untill my return that evening. It was a day bracketed in dark. I met Tom in Cincinnati at about 8:15 am. He drove his Prius so we could save on gas. Our target: either Hopkinsville KY or an airport in Greenville KY depending on traffic and time.

 Hopkinsville had dubbed itself Eclipseville and they were dead center for the longest period of totality for this Great American Eclipse. I had been working with maps of where totality would present itself and chose an airport in Greenville as a good alternative. That is, if they allowed us to park.

 Traffic was horrendous. Partly the problem was the excess volume caused by the eclipse itself but also road construction. We chose the shortest route through Louisville, moving ever southwestward. By the time the moon contacted the sun we were within 30 miles of Greenville and decided to avoid the hotspot of Hopkinsville (news reports estimated between 100,000 and 200,000 visitors would show up).

 Even as we drove through western Kentucky, many of the car's license plates were from Ohio. We began noting states and probably logged a majority of the US. No wonder traffic was terrible!

 We couldn't have made a better choice. The Muhlenberg County Airport still had a handful of open parking spots and we were greeted with almost open arms. Amateur astronomers had set up telescopes and I was quickly ushered to an eyepiece where I viewed the sun close-up and saw a cluster of sunspots on its left side.

 I had quite an exceptional view of the sun through this Celestron. It's great that people can own this type of equipment and share their joy with others.

 This man greeted me at once with a ready smile and a handshake. He told me that he knew Joe Dimaggio and his wife said "he's telling you the truth. He's a famous person". I wish he had told me his name. His wife said the airport had hot dogs and hamburgers cooked and I was welcome to go in and help myself. The hospitality of small town America still exists!

 Being a vegetarian, I helped myself to the use of their restroom but not the meat.

 I grabbed my camera equipment and began taking pictures of the sun ...

 1:37 pm EDT

1:51 pm EDT 

2:03 pm EDT 

2:06 pm EDT 

2:17 pm EDT

 Totality was a mere seven minutes later at 2:24 pm EDT (Tom and I didn't change time zones but it was an hour earlier on their clock: 1:24 pm). We watched as the ground darkened beneath our feet. It is an odd sensation of having a blue daylight sky above, fading to darkness with the sun still out. Shadows take on odd shapes. I watched blooming white clover beneath my feet fade and disappear as the moon slid ever closer to covering the sun.

 At the three minute mark an airport loudspeaker noted the time and the crowd hushed as night swept upon us. The moon's shadow arrived from the west and suddenly the crowd broke into applause. Someone, not far off, fired what surely was a cannon. Such a thunderous boom! We were bathed in day/night as Venus shone brightly just to the right of the sun.

I did not see other "stars" and Tom mentioned that he thought it would have been darker. It is simply an odd atmosphere, one we seldom see. It is still day ... and it is not.

I fiddled with my camera equipment a bit but I was shaking from the excitement (and my benign essential tremor) and decided to just stand back and take in the brief sight of totality. How exacting is science that this can be predicted years in advance, and to the second and the breadth of the shadow known to mere feet.

 During totality we had a thin layer of cirrus clouds and, in fact, a large ring formed around the sun. Or maybe the moon? It looked like a common moonbow.

Totality is like looking upon a hole in the sky. The moon is pitch black as it slides in front of and completely blocks the sun. And then the sun's corona shined brightly as a ring that circled the sun. It was brilliant white, too bright for me to photograph against the backdrop of the dark sky. At the top of the sun I saw a red prominence erupt. A total eclipse is actually colorful.

 I also  watched as Bailey's Beads (also called String of Pearls) rippled along the edge of the eclipse, sunlight shining through mountains and valleys on the moon. It seemed only a moment before the sun broke through on  the right and the crowd gasped as the light returned.

 Just as totality was ending I turned to the west for this view of the sky and the still-dark earth below.

 It was a magical minute, one I can never forget.

 I noted the temperature at the beginning of the eclipse as 93°. Just after it ended the temperature had dropped to 83°.

Tom watches as the light returns

 Afterwards we stopped at McDonald's to get a little something for the drive home. Even though we waited until 1:45 pm, the place still didn't open. A gal came to the door and told us they were getting food prepared ... but we didn't wait.

 Finally. we were warned that it was likely that restaurants would run out of food and we might find gas stations without fuel. After we got on the road we stopped for gas. Yes, the pumps had signs that they were out of Regular and Plus. They had Premium, of course ... at a $0.40 higher price. Tom wondered if the outages were real or just a way to sell the more expensive gasoline.

 The trip home also offered horrendous traffic. On one stretch, near Elizabethtown while on the Western Kentucky Parkway, we managed only about a mile in an hour's time. My GPS showed we had 147 miles to Tom's apartment. Luckily things eased up and we got back there just before 8 pm.

 Home about 9:15 pm, ate quick snack and in bed by 10 pm and out like a light.