2017 Total Solar Eclipse

August 21st, 2017 – We traveled from South Florida to Hodges, South Carolina to witness the total solar eclipse.  Arriving, we were shocked to find unseasonably clear skies, as warm August in the Southeast remained a gamble in terms of heavy clouds and rain.  About forty enthusiasts turned this placid home’s front yard into a buzzing array of viewing telescopes and eager photographers.   Initial phases began around 1:10pm EDT – totality beginning at 2:39pm and lasting 2 minutes and 32 seconds.  Using our Vixen refractor and Canon 60Da DSLR, we imaged a series of phases using a Mylar filter on the front of the refractor, each exposure 5 minutes from the last, and began shooting an array of exposures during totality with filter removed.  GoPro’s were running during totality to create a timelapse video seen below.  Visually, totality was awe-inspiring as the hot summer day cooled off into an eerie dusk/night with 360 degree horizon ‘sunset’ colors.  Expansive bright corona draped around the moon and spilled into the dark sky.  Planets were easily visible including Venus, Mars, Mercury, and Jupiter.  Bright star Regulus accompanied totality, about 1.5 degrees away, and can be seen in some of our images below.  An incredible event that we will remember forever – thankful for clear skies, gracious hosts, and friends and family to share in the experience.

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It is rewarding to hear from so many friends that got the opportunity to witness this awesome total solar eclipse. The weather cooperated for so many along the coast-to-coast track. Lots goes in to choosing an observing site. My first priority was for my whole family to witness a total solar eclipse which they had never previously seen. During our July Chiefland astro-safari, Barry Riu suggested we consider a site not far from his Deerlick Astronomy Village (DAV) in eastern Georgia. Barry’s friend and DAV resident Dan Ford invited Barry and us to view the eclipse from a gorgeous rural residence in uplands western South Carolina near the town of Hodges. We were pleasantly surprised by the beautiful weather and warm hospitality of site owners Jeremy and Azuree Sprouse. Otherwise perfect weather was marred by a solitary gust of wind which lifted Barry’s and our tents off the ground and blew them into my Vixen telescope and mount which would have caused considerable damage had it not been caught mid-air by Dan Ford standing nearby!!! I missed the whole episode talking to Bud Cridlin about his mount issues! Thank you Dan Ford for not only setting up the eclipse safari but also saving my equipment!
After being informed of the near disaster, I re-aligned the Vixen 100mm f/3.8 refractor on Vixen GPD2 mount with Canon 60Da DSLR (at a different location) and began shooting the partial eclipse phases. There were plenty of sunspots to focus on and no clouds intervened with exposures — totally unexpected to me in the humid southeast mid-afternoon summer heat!!! As totality approached, gorgeous shadow bands could be seen streaming across the pavement! The attached video shows the abandonment of my telescope post to see the shadow bands! Chad captured the phenomenon with his cell phone video! It is amusing on the video to see the “Chinese Fire Drill” at totality with me ripping off the solar filter for totality and taking so many exposures in the frenetic 2.5 minutes!! Notice how little time I took actually looking at the eclipse visually. I’ll never learn (it is my fourth eclipse)! I did witness its glory through big binocs, though, an image I will never forget! Also notice Chad and I waiting until the last second to put back on the solar filter at the end of totality because we wanted to capture the diamond ring and we nailed it, albeit almost too late!!! Much longer without the filter and we could have cooked the camera well done! Our attached diamond ring image screams “Here comes the Sun”! Nevertheless, first magnitude star Regulus can be seen in that exposure. Chad and I also took exposures of the partial phases every 5 minutes and a mosaic of some of the symmetrical phases is attached. Regulus is also seen in the mosaic. Exposure times of totality ranged from 2 seconds to 1/1000 sec! Unlike sophisticated solar imagers Don Goldman or Tony Hallas, I did not have the exposure times preset using an intervalometer. So you can see Neanderthal me in the video at totality scrambling to change camera settings! The longest exposures show the Earthshine on the Moon actually showing recognizable features like craters Copernicus and Tycho! That feeble Earthshine light illuminating the Moon comes from light from the Sun reflected off the Earth – not so easy to record in detail during solar eclipse! I probably needed to stack 75 totality images like Tony Hallas to get better Earthshine!! Short exposures reveal large red prominences that would dwarf the Earth in terms of size! Notice the peculiar darkening around the largest prominence. Could that be a shadow or did I spend too much time out in the Sun?!
Sandy, Barry, Brett and Chad thoroughly enjoyed the eclipse! And thank you to Barry for arranging this site and for the incredible tour of the Deerlick Astronomy Village the previous day! My son Chad was indispensable in keeping track of exposures and filters and our only rubber band! You will notice at 21 seconds on the video that I hastily tore off the Mylar filter during totality. I did so because I felt “late to the party” having taken an unplanned 10 second tour of the shadow bands. When I ripped off the Mylar filter, the rubber band flew 15 feet up in the air later to be found by Chad. He wondered how it got over by the cars! I had no explanation – I never knew it flew away! After the diamond ring exposure, the filter and rubber band found their way back home. Of course, a frame-grab image from the video of the flying rubber band is attached! Unfortunately, Chad spent some of his time searching, looking on the ground, for the rubber band during totality because he knew we needed it for the partial exposures! I guess I owe him another total solar eclipse! The eclipse wasn’t the only gift from heaven we received that day! So I’m booking my site in southwestern Texas for April 2024!


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