The Great American Solar Eclipse
Probably the last of my friends to post eclipse photos on Facebook, I had decided to take a social media break on August 21, “Eclipse Day.” When not viewing or thinking or writing about the sun, our distant, dangerous life-giver, I took care of other tasks like dishes and mail–minor things that needed to be done but didn’t require mental focus.
Finding Eclipse Glasses
I had ordered two different sets of eclipse glasses from Amazon. One of them didn’t meet standards and was never shipped. The other set was supposedly shipped, but never came to my post-office box. So I seriously considered making a pin-hole viewing box. But the day before the eclipse, a friend sent an email offering extra solar viewing glasses because she had a surplus. I went by her place and picked up two, just in case.
What happens during an eclipse?
While at her house, I tried to explain to her and her grandson why the eclipse would be moving from west to east, while the sun and moon both seem to move from east to west in their orbits. It’s not a trivial issue. Both the earth and the moon are rotating toward the east, and the moon’s shadow was moving just a bit faster than the earth’s rotation, so it moved across the American continent from west to east.
I may try to do some diagrams and calculations for a later blog post. The rarity of the phenomenon is a consequence of the vast expanses of space, orbital tilts, and the very small probabilities that everything will align so that such an event can even occur.
This could be the only time this century that Hawaiians have envied those of us on the US mainland.
Monday afternoon (August 21), we were lucky in Charleston, SC. Although rain was predicted, and clouds covered more than half the sky, swatches of blue sky interrupted the thicker clouds, and the sun often appeared in those spaces.
The actual event!
My eclipse viewing station was the front lawn of the house, from which the sun was easily visible (when it wasn’t covered with clouds). With the new eclipse glasses, I could look at the sun from there and record observations and thoughts in a journal and take a few eclipse photos. Didn’t try to take photos of the partial eclipse; that might have fried the camera.
A simple Cannon digital camera was all I had. No fancy lenses or filters, so the resolution was not terrific. Some loss of resolution probably resulted from the high relative humidity—vapor saturation—in the air. But then, Charleston is like that!
The eclipse glasses truly did block out everything but the sun. Looking through them, everything was totally black except for a small orange circle with a bit of a bite out of the right side. Amazing! Of course, I took the glasses off to write.
And then I took them off again when the eclipse reached totality. At the beginning, bright flare beads were obvious, mostly on the lower left of the black disc. An odd phenomenon happened just after the flare beads lit up briefly.
The sun’s rim began dancing around in the sky, and I had trouble centering it in my view finder. I snapped a couple of photos anyway, and got some strange shots. I wonder if it wasn’t some sort of diffraction phenomenon of the rimmed light passing through water or ice in the thin haze of cirrus clouds overhead.
In the photo of totality, I wanted to get the full surrounding scene, including a nearby tree, so that photo was not zoomed nor enlarged. However, the photo was so dark, that when I tried to upload it into this blog, almost nothing was visible. Odd lights were playing on a nearby tree. It looked like leaves on the lower branches were illuminated from below.
As the sun began to come out of totality, the red flare beads appeared again, this time on the lower right of the blackened disc.
It’s over so quickly!
Then a signet ring figure appeared as the sun began to emerge from the moon’s shadow. The photo below shows how much moisture was in the air. Thunder rumbled in the background. We were lucky in Charleston that the overhead clouds parted long enough for us to see the spectacle!
Shortly after the sun began to emerge, heavy clouds rolled in, the sky darkened, thunder grew louder, and rain began. The remaining sun’s spectacle became invisible.
It’s a wonderful world!
Although I’d seen a couple of partial eclipses previously, this was the first full solar eclipse of my eight decades.
The song “What a Wonderful World!” flits through my mind from time to time. I understand why the ancients were so awestruck by eclipses, especially an eclipse of the sun. I’m so glad to have witnessed this one!