TOTALITY August 21, 2017


Corona during mid-totality, This is from a video sequence, and tends to emphasize the outer corona.

(Terry and I started writing this post in Lander, Wy on August 25 and we’re completing it in North Platte, Nebraska.)

It’s to be expected that the astronomer in the family would worry about the weather for the eclipse, but I was worried right alongside him.  By Sunday — the day before — I was just wanting the whole thing to be over.  Then, on eclipse morning, I didn’t want it to end.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

By August 15, our family — 14 of us in all — was gathered in Colter Bay Village in Grand Teton National Park. While our kids explored the park, Terry and I concentrated on finding the best place in Colter Bay to see the eclipse.  We wanted a spot with a view — somewhere interesting enough to keep the grandchildren amused prior to totality. It needed to be open enough to see the stars in the eastern sky —  close enough to schlep the camera equipment — and somewhere that wouldn’t be overrun with people.

In other words we wanted perfection.  And sometimes the universe does provide.

Eclipse morning

This is what our eclipse viewing site looked like at sunrise. The Sun rose behind us as we looked at the mountains.

The eclipse was on Monday, August 21.  On the preceding Thursday, the weather forecast was not great — clouds, rain, thunderstorms were expected.  But suddenly on Friday evening that all changed and throughout the weekend the predictions improved.

After great debate we finally decided that on eclipse morning we’d try to set up at a picnic area just a few minutes walk from our campsite  I tried to make a case for getting there at 5 A.M. but couldn’t quite convince my family to get up that early.  Long story short — I woke up at 3:30, tried and failed to get back to sleep, and at 6 AM hauled chairs over to the picnic area, where several groups of people were already set up.  Terry had decided that he was going to do a video of the shadow crossing the lake, and fortunately there was an empty spot at the top of a short rise where he could put his tripod and camera.  I went racing back to the trailer and called to Terry to get his ass in gear and help me save the spot.

By 6:45 Terry and I settled in for the sunrise (see above photo).  Over the next three hours our kids straggled in.(family

(Back Row:  Daughter Athena, Son Matt, Matt’s gf Michelle, Terry, Son Jacob, Jacob’s wife Page, son Loren Isaac.     Front Row: grandson, grandson, me with granddaughter on lap, daughter Sara with her daughter on lap, son-in-law Jeff)
We’d been concerned about crowds — needing to guard our space — fearing that not all would be respectful (there’d been some wild kids in the campground) — Instead we were surrounded by groups of people who were SO into it!  There was a family of cousins from California and Wisconsin who brought extremely sophisticated equipment with electronic feeds from equatorially mounted telescopes.  They set up at 3:30 am. to get a bead on Polaris — the North Star.   The computer feeds that they had were excellent….And they had massive battery packs for power to drive their scopes.  They were instructed by Terry to tell everyone when the different aspects of the eclipse were to take place.

Eclipse Spanish grandmother

This 88 year old Mexican American woman traveled with her family from New York.  When my family sang Happy Birthday to me, she and her family followed it up with a birthday song in Spanish.  It was great!  Afterwards everybody cheered.



Eclipse group politicsAs the morning went on, it got a bit more crowded.  Two sons took time to discuss politics and philosophy.

And then it was first contact — 10:15 — time to use eclipse glasses to watch the moon cross the sun’s path.family2_glasses


First Contact. The Sun looks much more orange because of the solar filters…


As the moon moved across the sun, it began to get darker — and colder.  And we were able to see crescent shadows.  They showed up everywhere there were small holes.


If you punch a small hole in a plate, you can make a pin-hole “camera”, and project the image of whatever is out there. Basically, the pin-hole acts as a lens. Here, one of our eclipse neighbors punched a bunch of small holes in a paper plate, and this is the shadow of the plate on the ground a few minutes before totality….


Now you can kind of see the strange light that we all experienced as it got closer to totality — dark, but still light — I commented to Page that I could understand why ancient people — unaware that an eclipse was coming — would be frightened. Then we looked at each other and both said that we knew what was coming and it was STILL a little scary.

And then it got really dark. The guys with the telescopes started yelling — five minutes — two minutes — (Later on our daughter Athena said that it reminded her of the countdown on New Year’s Eve — except this time Something Happened.)

When Terry looked up and yelled, “Diamond Ring!” the glasses came off.


This is how the Tetons and Jackson Lake looked during mid-eclipse. The shadow of the Moon, which enveloped us for two minutes, moved across the lake at over 2,000 miles per hour.

Terry: The outer atmosphere of the Sun, the corona, bursts into view.  Never visible to the naked eye, because it is so faint, and therefore dominated by “ordinary” sunlight, it suddenly extends  outward in an eerie glow.  Stars come out.  It gets cold.  One of the most unforgettable sights is the sheer blackness of the lunar disk in front of the Sun.

You never know exactly how the outer corona will appear, because it can only be seen during an eclipse and each time it is different.   The visible shape of the corona depends on where the Sun is, into its 11 year sunspot cycle.  But for me, the most striking aspect of this particular eclipse was its asymmetry.  I was just struck by the shafts of light at 12 o’clock, 2 o’clock, and 7 o’clock.


Billy Mabrey’s composite image that allows you to see the inner and outer layers of the Sun’s atmosphere simultaneously. Billy participated in the March for Science last spring, and made these images in Nebraska.

But different people see different things.  Since this was my fourth successful eclipse (out of 5 attempts) I noticed some things, (and missed other aspects!) that other people experienced.   This was the shortest eclipse I had seen, and I wanted to concentrate on just the Sun.  In 1991, in Kona, totality lasted a bit longer, but still under 5 minutes, time to look around and check out the rest of the sky and the countryside,  Not here.  I just had less than 2 precious unforgettable minutes to appreciate one of the astounding coincidences of the solar system;  that the Moon and the Sun, so incredibly different in nature and actual size, by some chance happen to be at precisely the right distances from the Earth to appear identical in angular size in the sky, and allow a fortunate few to see what happened on August 21st, 2017.


Ruth:  I missed the first diamond ring.  When I took off my eclipses glasses. I was awed by the amazing blackness of the moon in front of the sun.  That was where I wanted to keep my gaze.  But I did take the time to look for stars — I saw only one — and I was surprised to see the sunset — I hadn’t expected that. When Terry called it out I saw the reddish prominences at 12:00 which are huge loops of gas which are mostly hydrogen. And then I saw the diamond ring.  For me it was a brilliant flash of light and I didn’t see it the way it looks in the picture below.  But it was unforgettable.

When totality ended the eclipse wasn’t over physically or mentally or spiritually. We continued to see the crescent shadows as more of the sun was exposed.  And everyone in Colter Bay had seen the eclipse and wanted to talk about what they’d seen and where they’d seen it.  I’ve never been in a situation where every single person I encountered during the space of a day has shared the same experience and found joy.


When the first (or last) rays of the “ordinary” Sun steals through the lunar mountaintops, just after (or just before) totality, that brilliant burst of light can form what has become known as the “diamond ring”. An almost blinding shaft  of light is surrounded by the inner corona of the Sun. Here, in a photo I took during the 1991 eclipse in Kona, Hawaii, is probably the best record of this sensational phenomenon that I have.


Totality lasted for one minute and 47 seconds in Colter Bay — not a very long period of time.  In Casper, Wy, it was about two minutes and 30 seconds — longer, but not real long.  I think the eclipse experience was different for each of us.  A friend who saw it in Casper said that she just didn’t know where to look first and was frustrated by the feeling that the time was slipping away.  I felt a little like that too, which is why I’m already planning for the next eclipse.  In 2019 there will be one in Argentina and Chile, and in 2020 it will be (very coincidentally!) in the same region.

However — in 2024 the U.S. will again see an eclipse and this time it will be visible in, among other places,  Buffalo, Rochester, Canandaigua and our second home in Prattsburgh, New York.

At some point Terry will finish editing his video and I’ll add it to this post, but that won’t be for awhile, so we’re sending this out now.

With love,

Ruth and Terry









9 thoughts on “TOTALITY August 21, 2017

  1. Hi Ruth – I loved reading this…so glad the clouds cooperated and you got to have this amazing experience. We are looking forward to a glass of wine at Butler Beach and hearing the full story with you. …and Happy belated sole eclipse Birthday to you as well. Wow. Terry thinks of nice gifts for you. I think you should keep him. Dan (and Lydia)

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Dan and Lydian it’s always good to know who reads the posts — We had a lot of fun writing it together, although with spotty internet it got a little hectic and I’m thinking of things I want to add. When we see you in person we’ll have the video to show.

  2. So good to hear from you again. We were a little west of the tiny town of Unity OR. We were gathered on a rise of the high desert and could see all around clearly. We were with a group of 2 French citizens, 1 Australian citizen, 2 Finnish citizens and 1 man from Seattle. It was a morning to remember! When will you be back in P’burgh? Hope to see you then. Thank you so much for your posts. So good to keep in touch at least like this. Carolyn

    • Carolyn, how wonderful that we all got to see it. I was thinking about you as we drove west. What about your boys? Did they go to the Smokies? Email me and we can talk about fall plans.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this trip!!! It’s an experience for everyone that they will NEVER forget. To have 3 generations there is so awesome. The photos are amazing. 
    I love when you travel and I get to come along…lol. Barely got to Prattsburgh this summer, going this weekend. My neighbors there have a big labor day party. Hope to see you again sometime. Be well and have a safe trip back. 
    Happy birthday and warm regards, 

  4. Donna, I may have known that you were following the blog, but I guess I forgot. Thanks for letting me know — I’ve thought of you several times during this turbulent political year. I hadn’t thought about the three generation thing in those words, but you’re right — that was pretty amazing. I said somewhere else that it was two years in the planning — getting cabins and RV sites for the whole family was pretty tricky, but Terry and I did what we needed to do — which was dial the phone for three hours on the morning that the Tetons finally let people make reservations. The only thing we had to let go of was the weather. No control there.

  5. Very nice descriptions from both of you regarding this exquisite event. It did seem very short to me as well and after trying to see if Venus was out and quickly taking a brief video and a couple of photos as well as a quick look atthe environment in SW North Carolina, I, too, justed wanted to watch this miracle in the heavens. Our viewing time is hard to say but probably closer to 2 min vs 2.5 min. Absolutely mesmerizing. Thank you both for being so eloquent. I already proposed a 2024 watch near Prsttsburg to Terry. No answe. If I am here and able, I am in for NY.

    Thanks again for sharing your experience. Ruth, I only saw the diamond ring coming out as well.

    • JoAnne of course it would be amazing if you would come to Prattsburgh. There will be longer totality in Canandaigua so Terry is already working on that. It will be so much fun!!!! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. And you’ll like the video once it gets put into its final form.

  6. Prattsburgh will be on the edge of totality. What would be best is to use it as a staging area, and then go about 20 miles to Canandaigua, or 40 miles to Rochester. Weather is always a problem but I’ll try to solve that again by worrying it to death in the next 7 years!

    We’d love to have you!

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