Tuesday, August 29, 2017

August 21, 2017: The Great American Eclipse

The photo is overexposed and doesn't do justice to the actual spectacular appearance of the total eclipse.

The Moon's shadow raced across the continental United States on Monday, August 21. Millions gathered along the path of totality to witness the Great American Eclipse in totality while millions more viewed the partial eclipse over much of the Western Hemisphere.

I procrastinated and did not make advanced travel plans to the path of totality and thought I might have to be content with experiencing the partial eclipse at home in Maryland. In the final days before the eclipse, I devised a plan to find affordable lodging within striking distance of totality, staying in Charlotte, NC. I wound up joining friends at Triple Tree Aerodrome, a rural airport southeast of Greenville, SC.

This was my second total eclipse, the first one in 1991, when I joined a bus trip organized by a NASA Ames scientist which headed down from San Jose, CA to La Paz, on Mexico's Baja peninsula. Both experiences were worth the effort. The sight of the black silhouette of the Moon surrounded by the Sun's corona is a striking and memorable experience. Words or photos don't do it justice.

To observe the partial phase before and after totality, I used the certified eclipse glasses from NASA, though I primarily relied on a projection system I devised with a ~2.4" refractor telescope I've had since high school. This system allows several people to gather around to safely and comfortably view the Sun's image. It is necessary to adjust the telescope's pointing every minute or so as the Earth's rotation begins to move the image out of the field of view.

My homemade telescope solar projection system

Projected images of the eclipse before and after totality

This eclipse generated much public fascination and interest in the next opportunity to view this kind of awesome event. The next total solar eclipse over North America will happen on April 8, 2024, where the Moon's shadow will sweep up through Mexico, across Texas and up through the Midwest including Ohio into the Great Lakes region, upper New England and eastern Canada.

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