01 September 2017

Solar eclipse


The total solar eclipse is awe inspiring. You have to see one before you die.

As someone who studied Sun for decades, I’ve seen corona, all of it in the various iterations. I know how it supposes to change with solar activity. Heck, I was even able to predict how corona should look like during this last total eclipse. Simply because I knew the position of the active regions on the solar disk and level of the solar activity.
But none of that had prepared me for a real-life experience.
Traveling to the path of totality was motivated mostly by my need to do something geeky this year. And to show my husband how astronomy can be beautiful.
I’ve seen several partial eclipses. I even worked during one, answering countless questions posed by curious kids. I knew what to expect. I even knew that I better grab my fleece as the things progressed, because it will get cold.
I’ve seen that nibbled yellow biscuit in the sky already. So that part went without any surprises. Besides my annoyance for my own lack of planning that left me with just a smartphone to take photos and frustration when I discovered that filter on solar glasses does not work on the phone camera, there were no noteworthy events. I was running around our camp site in Oregon, using every trick in the book I knew to get the image of that half-eaten biscuit in the sky. You can see a nice example I got with the help of the local tree. The light filtered through the leaves shows the exact shape of the partial eclipse.
As the solar crescent got thinner, the shadows around us turned sharper and sharper. As if someone found a contrast button and turned it up. Then crescent became really sharp, so I sat down in a camp chair, yelling for my husband that the main show is about to begin. He was fiddling with the car stereo, adamant to play Pink Floyd song during the total eclipse itself. I settled down to wait for that last flash that will show the beauty of the chromosphere. Without a telescope, that was my only chance to glance at it.
And then, a flash came.
I took my glasses off and glanced at the sky I never saw before in my life.
Do not take me wrong, I’m not a spring chicken. I’ve seen the sky, I know what to expect, but this was weird. All around the horizon, there were red colors of the glorious sunset. Up in the sky, the gorgeous dark blue of the deep twilight filled the space, framing the most amazing sight, a silver wreath made from the thin shimmering, dancing fibers.
The awe filled me. I knew that’s our Sun. I’ve seen corona countless time in photos, but this, this real time experience could not get even close. The beauty of it was mesmerizing.
I sank deeper in my camp chair, staring upwards, unable to tear my eyes apart from that silvery wreath. Only when my husband mentioned there are stars, I glanced around, looking at them, spotting Mercury. I admit I did not look for others, my eyes got drawn back to that silvery wreath.
And then, the spectacular view was over. Another flash declared the moon’s departure and a return of the old sight of the blue sky. In total, the whole experience was less than 3 minutes.
I’m humbled. I’m awed. I’m hooked. And I will definitely go and watch the next total eclipse in the USA, the one in 2024.

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