Thursday, 29 June 2017

Planning your eclipse day

It seems every journalist in the USA is taking a stab at writing a piece about solar eclipses. This is great! Finally we get to tell the story. You see, a total solar eclipse is an experience.

  • For some it starts years before the actual event. They are considered the eclipse chasers
  • For some it is just like any other day. They are innocent by standers
  • For the rest it is another day on vacation with an eclipse chaser. They are groupies.

I am writing this blog entry is for the eclipse groupies.

This is kind of what it will be like to experience your first eclipse in the company of an eclipse chaser.

Morning, sunrise:

Eclipse chasers have been frantic about weather and other secret contingency planning. They probably did not sleep the night before. Chances are good that this will be the first time you are actually looking at the weather with any real concern. You are wondering whether or not it will cooperate during the solar eclipse. The sleep deprived chasers will be the first clue. If they are frantically loading up to move, you should join in and help - after you have some breakfast and coffee maybe.

But let us assume the location is deemed good and proper so there will be no moving to a new one in the early hours. Now you can sit back and watch the dance of the eclipse chasers.

If the eclipse is in the morning, before noon, then the eclipse chasers have been set up since sunrise (if not hours earlier). 

If the eclipse is in the afternoon, then the eclipse chasers have been set up since shortly after sunrise (if not hours earlier). 

Generally the eclipse chasers will stake out an area to view the eclipse, sometimes days in advance. The location may be marked with tape or a small sign. Most will wait until eclipse day with the most concerned members being up early and putting up tripods or other equipment to define a boundary.

They will choose a location based on many reasons. Some want the landscape view, others want an unobstructed view, some want specific silhouettes visible, while others choose a space way bigger than they need so they can select who sets up near them. Other considerations may be a desire to be near a scarce resource like electrical power or to best observe shadow bands. What ever the reason, most will follow where ever the more experienced eclipse chasers in the group locate so they can see what they are supposed to do. They also like to be near the expert so they can ask questions should something come up (at this time it is either equipment set up or camera related).

First Contact:

First contact has a big build up with little to actually see. The Moon is just starting to cover the Sun. It is just a small arc of darkness against the edge of the Sun. You cannot see it with the solar glasses right away, the Sun will still look like a ball. But give it a few seconds and the anomaly will begin to appear. It will slowly grow covering the solar disk over the next hour.

Over the next hour each time you check the Sun with a viewer a through a solar telescope, more and more of the Sun is covered by the Moon. For most this eclipsing process seems to take a lot longer than needed. Kind of like waiting for anything, time just runs slower when you watch it carefully. Should you have the ability to completely ignore the partial eclipse phase you will not really notice much until the Sun is about half covered. The temperature may start to dip and the light of the Sun is starting to seem odd. It is not as bright as it should be (on a clear sunny day). You will hear eclipse chasers remark about the temperature at some time. If you don't have a light shirt or cover up of some type, now is a good time to consider getting one. The eclipse is still half an hour away and that may seem like eternity to eclipse chasers, it really isn't and thus a good time to get ready for the next parts.

As the total eclipse draws near the eclipse chasers will caution others not to move or jump around, a buzz will start as people say they see darkening on the horizon to the West or they spot shadow bands. Shadow bands are waves of light and dark that sweep across the surface making seem as if the ground or a wall is vibrating in light. They are kind of hard to see if you are not at the right angle.

Venus and other brighter planets may become visible at this time. The sky takes on a darker blue color similar to a clear sunset. You should notice the air feeling cooler and maybe the wind settling down.

Second contact:

With just seconds remaining the buzz of noise from your group will increase until there is a scream of joy or amazement and others yell out second contact. My advice is to wait another couple seconds before looking at the eclipse. The diamond ring at second contact will flash blind you and cause spots to appear in your field of vision. Much like a bright flash camera going off in your face, and having that happen right at the start of totality is really poor timing.

Looking up at the eclipse is amazing. An eye in the sky, a bright flower with a dark center, an angel, the open yaw of a dragon falling on you from above, and much more have been used to try to describe the view.

It does not matter once you have seen one. You are now part of that special group.

After Totality:

You have lost your eclipse virginity and are no longer a groupie. Now you know. There is a good chance some of you just might become eclipse chasers.

After totality there will be a celebration and much discussion about what was just seen. Pictures will be compared and shared. And plans will begin in earnest about the next one. It seems strange, but most will ignore the eclipse ending. Watching the Moon slip away and the Sun grow can be a very sad for eclipse chasers. It means another eclipse is over and it will be a while before they can see that amazing thing in the sky again.

- Wishing you have clear sky above your head for the eclipse in August!

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