The Big Cosmic Show – Total Eclipse 2017

Hi everyone! On August 21st, the solar eclipse took place and what a show it was. The path of totality, where one would see a total eclipse, crossed the U.S.A. from Oregon to South Carolina. I had heard the reports that there would be tremendous traffic in the areas around the path of totality, but, being within 100 miles of a total eclipse for the first time in my life, I decided to go for it. I’d never seen a total solar eclipse and felt it would be almost criminal for me to miss this one because of fears of heavy traffic. And, to get an idea of what to look for during a total eclipse, and also ways of making pinhole viewers, I checked out YouTube, which can be very helpful in finding out about lot’s of things.

The Trip There

I was prepared. Totality in Salem, Oregon would take place around 10:17am local time, so, I got up around 4am and left about 5:15am. I mapped out a back road route in advance and armed with my maps, gps, and a packed lunch, eclipse glasses, a home-made pinhole viewer, and my camera, I set out. Traffic going to Salem was much better than I expected and I arrived there in about an hour and 15 minutes, which is near normal. I realized, people had been arriving over the previous 4 to 5 days, so the influx was more gradual, and I figured this might be the case, but, being a possible once-in-a-lifetime event, I wasn’t taking any chances.

My Viewing Site

I didn’t go to one of the advertised venues, but instead opted for a supermarket parking lot on the east side of Salem. I found easy, and free, parking. The beautiful thing about an event like this is, you can view it from anywhere, it’s not like a greatly anticipated movie, rock concert, or sports event where you have to go to a specific place, this is visible across a wide path from anywhere in town or between towns for that matter.

There were a few others there, including someone with a telescope, using it to project an image of the sun and eclipse on a large white sheet of paper, and this was actually more effective and safer than the glasses, and more detailed than the pinhole viewer, though the pinhole viewer was definitely effective in showing the advancing eclipse.

Total Solar Eclipse 2017. Man with telescope using it to project image of eclipse on large white paper. Looks great! – 8/21/2017

Remember! – Never look at the sun without certified eclipse glasses or filters! Best and safest is to look indirectly using a projection on a surface or a pinhole viewer! Otherwise your eyes can be damaged instantly! Only during totality in an eclipse is it safe to look with the naked eye!

What I Saw

At first, when the eclipse started, you didn’t notice much darkening or lessening of the amount of light. What you could notice, as I had learned from YouTube, is that, the light coming through the leaves of a tree will actually show the crescent sun as the eclipse advances! I saw this for myself! And, this effect is visible whether or not the eclipse itself is total, partial, or annular. (Where the moon doesn’t quite cover the sun but leaves a full circle of light instead of totality.)

Total Solar Eclipse 2017. Crescent suns on the ground after totality as seen through the tree leaves. – 8/21/2017

There is another effect which is sometimes happens just before and after totality, called “shadow snakes”, in which these shimmering shadowy lines appear, but this is somewhat rare and I didn’t see this, but, in retrospect, I could see where it may have been close to happening.

As the light dims, which you do start to notice at around 85-90 percent totality, it looks different from the dimming of light when the sun sets normally or when clouds move in. And, you can “See” the moon’s shadow coming, as a darkening of the sky. It also looked to be changing to a darker blue, again, different from a normal sunset. And, the street and parking lot lights come on as well! Then, totality hits and it gets almost as dark as night much quicker than it would in a normal sunset. At this point, you can look at the sun without protection, with the naked ye, safely. And what a sight!

Total Solar Eclipse 2017. Sun in totality. Light from corona makes sun look like it is shining but in actuality, it is dark as it is covered by the moon, which one would see in person or with a better camera. – 8/21/2017

You do see the sun’s corona from behind the moon, which is a pitch black circle in the sky. You can also see stars and planets. I saw Venus, which, where it was, would be completely obscured by the sun’s light before and after totality. In the photo I took, the light of the corona does overwhelm the dark circle of the moon, and no photo does it justice.

The temperature does drop, though I was too engrossed in the eclipse to really notice it myself. Also, all along the horizon, you see distant light as in a sunset, but overhead and nearly to the horizon, it’s a night sky! They refer to this as a “360 degree sunset or sunrise” And it is really different and worth seeing.

Where I was, totality lasted about a minute and 56 seconds roughly. When the sun starts reappearing, there’s a sort of flash at one end of the moon’s rim making it look like a diamond ring. At this time it is no longer safe to look at the sun with the naked eye!

And, the light again looks different from normal sunlight. It first looks like the light is coming from a very powerful electric spotlight from far away, like standing in a big football or athletic field at night with only one light on, shining down on the filed. Then, still slowly but seemingly faster than before totality, the light starts coming back, still with that strange dimness, but then returns to normal. And, on the projection of the sun or through a pinhole viewer, you see a now reappearing and growing crescent sun, the crescent appearing on the opposite side.

Though the totality only lasts a very short time, the partial eclipse usually lasts about two hours, so you can still use the pinhole viewer to view the remaining partial eclipse.

In Conclusion – My Thoughts

Total Solar Eclipse 2017. Me just after the totality phase of the eclipse, as shown on the projection in the background. – 8/21/2017

I had considered staying where I lived to view the eclipse, where it would be 99.2 percent totality, but everything I’d read from those who had seen a total eclipse said that there was a huge difference, like the difference between “going to the prom vs actually getting married”, or “hitting 5 numbers in the lottery vs hitting 5 plus the mega or power number for the top jackpot”, so I went and it was worth it! It did take me 2 1/2 hours to get home using back roads, but I’d do it again even if it took me twice as long to get home! I found that the comparisons that I read bout are true and I’m glad I went down to Salem to see my first total solar eclipse! It was quite a show and not one to be missed!

Here’s  the video I took during the eclipse. Enjoy!

Happy Observing!

 

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