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7/04/2017

2017 August 21st Total Solar Eclipse: To See or Not to See

WARNING: NEVER, NEVER look at the Sun with your unprotected, unaided eye! Use a solar telescope or approved solar glasses to view the Sun and the eclipse! 

The following is from YouTube from the 2015 Solar Eclipse in which Professor Brian Cox, Dara O'Brien and Liz Bonnin who was in a plane above the Faroe Islands beaming back the images.



Now, I have to say that I have seen two total solar eclipses in my life and they are amazing events, if you see them with others you know and with a few who know something about them.  Having said that, since I live here in northern Utah, the center line is not that far away and it is really tempting to go up to Idaho, to the Rexburg area or to Camas National Wildlife Refuge (LINK) to view the event in a very natural setting. What is now making me rethink my decision is the amount of people who are going to be heading up there. News reports are estimating up to around 500,00 people in eastern Idaho for the event, and all sites, public or private being extremely filled with people. I-15, the interstate highway that leads from Salt Lake City up to Rexburg and Idaho is under major construction LINK and delays going up and coming back to the Salt Lake area could be horrendous.  We could be talking 6, 8 or even 10 hours for the drive up. 

So that leaves me wondering if I just may sit this one out. I'll set up my Lunt Solar Telescope and watch the eclipse go to 91% from here in the Salt Lake area or out at my favorite dark sky observing site. I am leaning toward that, perhaps loading up the 17.5" and going to my dark sky observing site, setting up everything including my Lunt LS35THaDX deluxe model and my Twilight I Mount and observing the solar eclipse the best I can, and then really connect with nature and the universe by observing that night. 

I believe the closer we get, the more I am leaning toward taking that path for my solar experience this time. As beautiful as they are, totality will last about 2 minutes to 2 minutes thirty seconds and it is over. I get as much joy and fun chasing down deep sky objects late in the summer sky. Might go to Wolf Creek Pass that night as well.  No matter, right now I am leaning to a night of observing (just so you know, a total solar eclipse happens at new moon, the darkest time for deep sky observing since there is no moon). Please realize I may end up going, or as I am thinking today, I may stay local and enjoy what the sky is here or if the monsoon is in, I may just work that day and take an early lunch and see if I can see anything in my Lunt Solar Telescope. I bring my point of view up here since I know there will be others facing the same decision I am, and others who just simply cannot get to the path of totality and view the eclipse. There are still opportunities that day and that is the point I want to make. 

FIRST CONTACT

Now, for those who go, there are some major milestones when you observe the eclipse that you should know. When the moon first touches the Sun, this is called First Contact. It will look like the following image. It is the sign that the eclipse has begun. 



The Partial Eclipse is the next stage, and the moon will be moving over the Sun and begin to take a Pac-Man bite out of the Sun as this image shows. 


If your lucky, in this stage between First Contact and Second Contact, and if you have trees around you, you may see eclipse shadows from the leaves in the trees around you. I saw this affect during the annular eclipse on May 20th, 2012 from southern Utah. 



Also, right before the point of Second Contact, IF you are really lucky, and to be honest, here in Salt Lake City or around it, with our 91% we may see the affect known as Shadow Bands. As the moon approaches a couple of minutes before totality, these wavy shadows appear as shown in this YouTube video from the partial eclipse in the U.K. in 2015 




SECOND CONTACT

The next phase is Second Contact and happens a few minutes before totality. Animals and birds around you may change their behavior. Birds may stop singing and if you know bird calls, you may hear night birds begin to sing. 
Towards the end of this phase you may observe the phenomenon of Baily’s Beads. These are distinct balls of light visible at the edge of the Moon’s circumference.
Baily’s Beads are caused by the Sun shining through the lunar craters, mountains and features on the surface of the Moon. These beads will flicker off one by one until one solitary point of light remains. They look like this starting on the far right and moving to the far left. 



Another image of Bailey's Beads: 




When only one light remains, this is known as the Diamond Ring effect. This effect last just seconds but produces one stunning single burst of light. It is really something you will remember if you see it. My first total solar eclipse I missed it, but I did nail it the second time I saw one. Once this is gone totality begins. Here are a couple of images of the Diamond Ring effect. 







TOTALITY 

Totality occurs when the Moon covers the entire surface of the Sun. At this point in time, only the Sun’s corona is visible (see below). The skies darken a little further, about like when the full moon is out.    
The temperature will drop, typically 10 degrees or so and animals and birds become silent.  
If the Sun’s solar activity is strong, the corona will blast out from all sides of Moon.  If it is weak, it will follow the direction of the Sun’s magnetic path. This stage lasts around two minutes. You will not want to use your solar glasses or telescope during this period, but be ready as when the Sun emerges, you will need to be on the solar telescope or back on with your solar glasses. Here are two possible views but remember, EVERY eclipse is unique and comes together differently. 







THIRD CONTACT

The fourth stage is much like the second and first but in reverse. The Moon is now moving away from the Sun. As the Moon moves off the Sun, (GET YOUR GLASSES BACK ON NOW) you have another chance to view the Diamond Ring for the first time if you missed it, or again if you did not. Baily’s Beads now reappear after the Diamond Ring, which after that a thin crescent of the Sun appears, gradually getting bigger as the Moon moves away. Shadow bands may be observed once again and we are back to the partial eclipse stage. The skies start to lighten and birds and animals return to activity.

FOURTH CONTACT

This is where the Moon leaves the Sun and the eclipse is now over. The last shadow of the Moon on the Sun disappears ending the eclipse. Some people will stay around to observe this. Most will be gone by now. 

There you go. The stages of the eclipse and the items to look for. In order: First Contact (Moon touches the Sun), Shadow Bands, Bailey Beads, the Diamond Ring, Totality with the Corona, then the Diamond Ring, Bailey Beads, Shadow Bands and Fourth Contact. 

If you brave the crowds, traffic and obstacles, I believe you will have a wonderful experience, a life remembering experience. If you go wherever you are, please be careful, please be courteous, there are enough mean and ill spirited people in the world, be better than that. Be kind so everyone has a great experience.  Don't retaliate if someone is mean, pity them, and just move on. If you can't go, then look for Shadow Bands if your relatively close and see if you can spot them. Take an photo with your phone if you have leaves in the area of that affect. Always, and I mean ALWAYS protect your eyes with the appropriate safety equipment for observing the Sun.  If you can't go and stay, or opt to go out and see a partial eclipse to observe that night, realize your not alone. I think most amateur astronomers and people will enjoy and be with you. 

Last, and here I go again. If you get out, enjoy the experience. Treasure it, soak it in, remember and document how you felt, what you saw and what you enjoyed. Listen if possible to nature during this time and see how nature responds to this event. Last feel connected to the wonderful universe in which we have our being. It is a wonderful thing to experience a Total Solar Eclipse, but it is equally wonderfully to get to a dark site, to observe, to feel and listen to nature there. It is equally fun to get connected in your backyard. It is truly wonderful how this hobby reminds us how truly amazing nature, and our universe is.  I hope you get out and enjoy it in your own way and in your own style.