Totality at Last!

Total Eclipse SequenceYou’d think given my years of astrophotography (if not just my age!) that by now I’d have seen a total eclipse. The total eclipse of April 2024 that crossed North America was not my first attempt at a total eclipse, but it was my first successful attempt at witnessing a total eclipse! I can now tell you; the hype is real.

The Diamond Ring Effect
The Diamond Ring at the beginning of totality during the 2024 total solar eclipse.

I went to the Texas Star Party, which was moved both in location and time to coincide with totality and we were nearly right on the center line for nearly four and a half minutes of totality. That was the fastest four and a half minutes of my life. I can now understand why people tell you that you should not “focus” on astrophotography at your first totality. Of course, that advice is lost on me (and probably some of you) because photography is in our DNA. I did not however completely ignore the advice. My photography rig was 99% automated. All I had to do was remove the front white light filter at totality and put it back on after totality.

My gear choice was pretty much ideal. I used an equatorial mount to keep the Sun’s orientation constant throughout the eclipse (Sky-Watcher Az-EQ6 in EQ mode). I polar aligned it on a previous evening using the integrated polar scope. For optics, I used an Astrophysics Stowaway 92mm refractor with the f/7 flattener. I had made a front mounted white light solar filter from Baader solar film for the 2017 eclipse that I reused this year. I

Total Eclipse
The Sun and Moon during totality. Note that bright prominence at the bottom just peeking through low areas on the lunar limb.

removed it during totality, and thus got nice safe images of the partial phases, and when it was safe (for the camera) I got Baileys Beads, the Diamond Ring, and some great prominence and corona images during totality. The camera was a Canon EOS Ra mirrorless full frame camera. The “a” means astronomical as it is slightly more sensitive to the hydrogen alpha wavelengths of emission nebula… and as it turns out, solar prominences!

Finally, the software the drove the sequence on my MacBook Pro was “Capture Eclipse”, which is a great program I can’t recommend enough. I rehearsed at home of course, and I focused using the @focus3 algorithm in TheSkyX Professional (which I wrote btw) on the sunspots right before the eclipse started. The telescope was already at equilibrium, so there was no focus drift during the eclipse.

Prominences on East side
Prominence’s on the Eastern limb of the Sun. Note the rather large triangular prominence at the bottom. This was visible to the naked eye during the eclipse.

I must say, I really lucked out. Sure being prepared helps, trying repeatedly helps, but the weather forecast shifted from seasonal norms to mostly cloudy for eclipse day. We got fortunate that the clouds parted for us and although we had a few thin clouds and the occasional thick cloud, we were rewarded with a glorious view of totality. While I’m very pleased with my images, there is absolutely no comparison to the view naked eye. If you can possibly make it to center line for a total eclipse, I highly recommend you make the effort. I know my passport will be ready for some future eclipses…

Additional and larger versions of these photos are available in the Sun gallery. My favorite shot of Baileys Beads is below!


Baileys Beads just before totality ends. These are caused by sunlight filtering through gaps in the lunar terrain like mountains, valleys, and craters.

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