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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Totally Eclipsed!

Since I was Mason’s age, I’ve always wanted to see a total eclipse in person. So when I learned that it was going to pass only an hour’s drive from FAR Manor, I was stoked. Then August came in with rain, and more rain… I’ve always considered August an unlucky month.

But then the usual August dryness started moving in. Some things are stronger than bad luck, after all. I checked the maps, and found that US23, the GA/NC border, and the center of the eclipse path all intersected. There's a rest stop a few miles into NC, so I thought maybe I had my plans set.

“They said on the radio that traffic is going to be horrendous,” said the wife. I don’t listen to commercial radio much these days, but the wife does and passes on stuff that really matters. It made sense: a lot of metro Atlanta could make the same daytrip I was thinking about.

But Wednesday, I woke up with the solution. The resort we have a membership at was in the path of totality, it’s an hour from the manor, and there are lots of sunny areas. Woohoo, we’re on! I put in for Monday off, warned Mason’s teacher that I’d be getting him out early, and started making a list of stuff we’d need.

Crude but effective
First thing, I decided to make a pinhole viewer. I did something similar for the annular eclipse in the previous millennium, but got a little fancier since I had time and materials.

I taped a piece of paper in the bottom, cut a square hole in the top, then sacrificed a broken plastic plant pot for the cause. A 1/16" hole in the plastic piece, taped over the hole, projects an image of the sun onto the paper (if you have it aligned properly).

With all that taken care of, all you need is a way to look inside. I cut a slot, hoping maybe I could get decent cellphone shots of the projection. That didn’t turn out so well, but it did the job otherwise.

After going through all that, I learned that the school was going to give all the kids direct-sun viewing glasses. Still, I figured, my efforts were not all in vain. Mason could use his glasses, and I could use my viewer.

With the partial eclipse phase sorted, I Googled for optimal exposure settings for a total eclipse. Google obligingly turned up a chart. The National Weather Service provided times for the eclipse, and I was set. All I needed was a little luck to get there.

Everyone turned out for this one
Luck, in the form of Siri plotting a route over some backroads, was with me that morning. I loaded up the camera, tripod, pinhole viewer, sunscreen, and swim gear (I figured we’d want to cool off in the pool afterwards), picked up Mason from school, and away we went. The backroad route worked better than I expected, and we arrived at the resort almost ten minutes sooner than I’d hoped.

The resort had decided to throw an eclipse party, with hot dogs, drinks, and even a DJ! He never did play “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” but I did LOL when he played “Bad Moon Rising.” I found a place to park in the corner, but there was plenty of space on the grass. One guy thought the pinhole viewer was a pretty neat idea, once he saw how it worked. (I learned to tilt it up until the shadow on the backside just goes away, and that gives you the angle.)

Mason looking cool in the heat
It was a hot day—August on Planet Georgia, duh—and the heat had Mason dashing into the clubhouse a few times to cool off. I got him a hotdog, and water for us both… and then the sun got a chip taken out of it. Over the next hour or so, we alternated looking through the pinhole viewer, taking brief direct peeks through the sun viewers, and I tried in vain to get a decent shot with the phone camera through both the pinhole viewer and using the sun viewers. It cooled off as the coverage increased. I looked for the weird shadows, like I saw during the annular eclipse, but never did catch them. The wife, who stayed closed to home (in the 98% coverage zone), did though.

Of course, I envied the several people who had brought telescopes to the party. None of them, though, matched the rig I saw during the annular eclipse: a sun-scope with motor drive and camera attachment, taking shots at set intervals.

As the crescent sun grew ever thinner, I turned up my own camera and pointed it sunward—then put the lens cap on, loose, until the main event began. I looked at my chart one last time, making sure turning the clickwheel left was what increased exposure times.

Total!
At last, things got really dim. I looked up, saw the corona ring, and got going with the camera. Click click click click I went, working down through the chart from Baily's Beads to the widest corona. Finally, I grabbed up my phone and got a shot of Mason with the eclipse in the background. Being a cellphone camera, it gave me a bright disc instead of a ring, but it was still an interesting shot. The sky looked really weird.

The last two shots, 1sec and 4sec, suffered from camera shake. Had I used the self-timer, I probably could have avoided that, but I might not have had time to get the shots anyway. Had I been closer to the centerline, I would have risked it.

Then things brightened up really fast, and we retreated to the pool. I was already thinking about the 2024 eclipse—Charlie will be 8 by then, and maybe he’d like to see one. It might be too early to book hotels and the like, but not too early to save up for the trip…

4 comments:

  1. We're going to be in the 2024 totality so you can come visit us!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Awesome! That just might work out.

    ReplyDelete
  3. That's so cool you were able to see totality. I only got, like, 80%, but it was still cool to see.

    ReplyDelete
  4. It was great. I've wanted to see a total eclipse since I was about Mason's age. One off my bucket list!

    ReplyDelete

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