(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.
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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.
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.
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.
As 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ruth and Terry