You can prepare all you want. You can practice until you can do it in your sleep. You can have the best equipment and gear, spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for travel. Everything can work perfectly, and you can have your best game on, but a bit of water vapor is all it takes to derail the whole affair. You cannot out maneuver mother nature!
I need a T-Shirt that says “All my friends got great corona shots, and all I got was this T-Shirt!”.
For the Great American Eclipse of 2017, my wife, oldest son and I traveled to Western North Carolina to the path of totality and we setup at The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI for short). PARI has long been one of my favorite summer escapes from the Florida heat and humidity, but alas in this instance PARI was a better location for radio astronomy than visual. PARI was
holding a big eclipse event of course, and notably, this was the first time that totality passed over a radio telescope installation, so of course there was also some excitement about this, and I look forward to hearing about the results of their observations to see if anything unexpected was recorded (radio telescopes don’t care about no clouds!).
We setup the previous day (I also worked the event as a volunteer), and the weather was great that day and all morning. I practiced and took some shots of the full solar disk earlier in the day, and there was a beautiful set of sunspots that rewarded both visual and imaging observers alike.
There was a pretty good sized group of people there naturally, and as an event I think it was the largest that PARI has ever seen. There were food trucks with some excellent Blue Smoke BBQ, Pizza, Beer, etc. It was like going to the fair as a kid except there were no death-trap rides to terrify your parents. A large number of orange shirted volunteers were peppered everywhere (I was one of them) too answering questions, manning telescopes, etc.
The weather could not have looked more perfect that morning. Before the event opened to the public, we had everything ready to go near the nature center were I was setup and the sky was as blue and clear as I could possibly have hoped for. About an hour before first contact though, a rather foreboding group of clouds was seen approaching from the north east. My smart phone radar app showed the most terrifying thing it could show that day… rain in the area. We were in a terrible spot to be caught if there was lightning, and any strikes nearby would mandate an evacuation down to the buildings at the bottom of the ridge.
Fortunately, the rain and lightning held off, but unfortunately the clouds did not. Scattered clouds arrived just minutes before first contact, and I did get a couple of shots literally between the clouds from time to time. You could tell when it was time to man the camera because suddenly there would be hooping and hollering as the partially eclipsed sun became visible. Over all, I got perhaps a half dozen exposures, some through hazy clouds (moody!), and of course only of the partial phases. One only minutes after totality, with a razor thin crescent… that’s still a pretty good catch.
Was it worth the trip? Absolutely, and for two reasons. One is it actually was raining at home, so no I could not have gotten even some partial eclipse images had I stayed home, much less that very thin crescent shot shown above. Second is totality. Even under scattered clouds, totality was an experience you do not forget. No, I got no streaming corona, I saw no beads or diamond ring, but there was an otherworldly atmosphere none-the-less. It wasn’t totally overcast, and you could see the shadow approaching from west over the ridges in the distance. It is a misnomer that during totality it gets as dark as night, it’s more like twilight, and I knew this. However, it got darker than I expected; it was a deep twilight and on the horizon for 360 degrees where there were no clouds (one of the reasons for being on a high ridge for this), you could see the red glow of sunset or sunrise all around you. Again too, dark like well after sunset, and it came on so suddenly after being bright mid-day that it was unnerving somewhere deep in my subconscious. Unnerving… and exhilarating! And then… it was over.
Yes, I’m ruined now. I’d do it all again even if I knew it was going to be cloudy in advance. I’m not entirely sure I can wait the seven years for another total eclipse in the US. It’s about time to renew my passport I think…