2017 Total Solar Eclipse

I don’t usually “blog” about my pictures, but so much happened that can’t be captured in photos that I’ve decided to add a narrative about my experience watching the 2017 total solar eclipse.

In 2003, I created a map of the path of totality through Kansas and Missouri and started planning for the 2017 eclipse. My primary plan had always been to watch from my in-laws farm in central Missouri. Although their farm is about 40 km off the center line of the path, that location still provided 2m06s of totality plus the convenience of “walking out the back door to watch.” At this location, the times of major stages of the eclipse were:
     11:45:37 AM start of partial eclipse
       1:12:51 PM start of totality
       1:14:57 PM end of totality
       2:40:43 PM end of partial eclipse


When August 21, 2017 finally crept into the long-range weather forecasts, the forecasts for central Missouri were not optimal, but offered enough hope to proceed with the primary plan. Upon arriving in central Missouri on August 20, the local forecasts were positive despite increasing cloud cover. Needless to say, my sleep that night can only be described as restless, but venturing outside pre-dawn the morning of August 21 revealed a largely cloud-free sky that persisted almost unchallenged until the late afternoon. In short, the weather was better than I had dared to hope.

Articles published in Astronomy, Sky & Telescope and other sources recommended simply watching the eclipse if you’re a first timer, which I was, and I took those recommendations very seriously. However, I eventually realized that I could not let this opportunity pass without trying to capture some images. I decided to piggyback my camera with telephoto lens, giving me about 17x magnification, on my equatorial mount telescope – all with solar filters of course. Although not optimal for any specific imaging task, this gave me hands-free tracking of the Sun. I could immerse myself in watching the eclipse, but, if I happened to remember to click the remote shutter release on my camera, I’d have photos too. I’m happy to say that I feel this was a success: I managed to “have my cake and eat it too.”

We invited family and friends to join us making our party about 10 in number. This made the morning pass pleasantly and quickly. The humidity and temperature were to be high, so we bivouacked under trees to catch a light, but steady breeze from the south. As folks arrived, we insured that everyone had appropriate eclipse glasses, snacks, water, sun screen, and so forth.

Active Sun with sunspots.
Active Sun the day of the eclipse.
2017-08-21 08:19 AM
White balance = auto
1/985 sec - f2.2 - ISO 50
25.0 mm eyepiece (50.0x) taken with cell phone held to lens
South is to the lower-right

While setting up for the day, I took time to look at the Sun through my telescope. I was excited to see two groups of sunspots: near the center and towards the west (left) edge. On one such occasion, I snapped this photo of the Sun through my telescope using my cell phone’s camera. I’d shown a few others how to do this with their equipment before, but never tried it myself. To my great pleasure, I captured a nice image of the Sun. This really got our observations off to a nice start. As folks arrived, we gave them a quick tour of the amenities including a chance to look through the telescope. Folks that were able to do so were duly impressed.
Using my fingers to project images of the Sun. Tree foliage projects images of the Sun.
Projected images of the Sun using crossed fingers.
2017-08-21 12:49 PM
White balance = auto
1/465 sec - f2.2 - ISO 50
Cell phone
Projected images of the Sun using tree leaves.
2017-08-21 12:51 PM
White balance = auto
1/313 sec - f2.2 - ISO 50
Cell phone

I made sure to be at my telescope at 11:45 AM and announced the start of eclipse once I’d confirmed visually. This prompted folks to take care of any personal needs and have lunch. The excitement was building, so I offered an outline of the things we hoped to see and experience. The idea of projecting images of the Sun through leaves or fingers intrigued folks so off we went to take photos.
2017-08-21 12:37 PM. 2017-08-21 12:37 PM
White balance = auto
1/640 sec - f5.6 - ISO 200
Piggyback using 600 mm telephoto (17.1x) and solar filter
Average of two images

Around 12:40 PM, folks started mentioning that the sunlight “seemed different,” the skies a little bluer and the temperature a little cooler. In addition to the visual display, we’re confident we experienced at least a 10° Fahrenheit drop in temperatures during the eclipse.
2017-08-21 12:55 PM. 2017-08-21 12:55 PM
White balance = auto
1/640 sec - f5.6 - ISO 200
Piggyback using 600 mm telephoto (17.1x) and solar filter
Average of two images

Around 1:00 PM, the persistent southerly breeze stopped and it became surprisingly quite. No cars. No cows. Nothing. This really grabbed everyone’s attention and was my cue to head to my telescope and start taking pictures.
Faux sunset at 1:12:32 PM
2017-08-21 1:12 PM
White balance = auto
1/8 sec - f2.2 - ISO 200
Cell phone

I cycled between checking the Sun&Moon, checking the horizon to the northwest and calling out the time until the start of totality. Over the next few minutes, as the sunlight dimmed in a way that I cannot describe, folks mentioned hearing tree frogs calling from the nearby pond and, although I didn’t hear it, a whip-poor-will start singing. At 1:12 PM, seemingly in an instant, the clouds on the horizon turned dark and the sky behind them pastel oranges and pinks. The shadow of the Moon was almost upon us. A few managed to snap a quick photo before totality arrived.
2017-08-21 1:14 PM.
Inner corona and prominences (pink spots on the left).
2017-08-21 1:14 PM
White balance = auto
1/640 sec - f5.6 - ISO 200
Piggyback using 600 mm telephoto (17.1x)
Average of four images
Unsharp mask (50.0, 0.5, 0) applied

Zoom of 2017-08-21 1:14 PM
Zoom in on prominences.
2017-08-21 1:14 PM
White balance = auto
1/640 sec - f5.6 - ISO 200
Piggyback using 600 mm telephoto (17.1x)
Average of four images
Unsharp mask (50.0, 0.5, 0) applied
Image has been rotated 90° counter-clockwise for convenience

2017-08-21 1:15 PM.
Longer exposure to show more of the corona.
2017-08-21 1:15 PM
White balance = auto
1/80 sec - f5.6 - ISO 200
Piggyback using 600 mm telephoto (17.1x)
Average of four images
Unsharp mask (50.0, 0.5, 0) applied

I wish I could be more eloquent, but I can’t. Imagine the best total solar eclipse photograph you’ve ever seen. Seeing the eclipse live was, for me, much better. I saw day-to-day things like trees and power lines and buildings against a dark sky with familiar stars while a lifetime of experience murmured in the back of my mind that this cannot be right. And in the middle of all this unnatural normalcy, I saw something I’ve literally never seen before: the black disk of the Moon surrounded by the white corona of the Sun.

I called out that it was safe for everyone to remove their eclipse glasses and, for a few moments, we all just watched. Then the gasps and shouts erupted both from our group and nearby farms. I slipped the solar filter off my camera and started a new cycle: lingering on the the Sun&Moon, checking the horizon to the northwest, snapping a picture and pointing out Venus, Pollux and Castor to the west; Jupiter, Spica and Arcturus to the east. I’m afraid I didn’t notice Mars or Regulus near the Sun. When I looked in that direction, I saw nothing but the eclipse.
2017-08-21 1:15 PM.
Baily's beads?
2017-08-21 1:15 PM
White balance = auto
1/80 sec - f5.6 - ISO 200
Piggyback using 600 mm telephoto (17.1x)

And, again, in an instant, the clouds to the northwest changed from dark to light. I called out that the eclipse was ending just as a brilliant diamond of sunlight appeared and we all paused to watch again. But just for a moment. Then the eclipse glasses went back on and we experienced all the effects of the minutes leading up to the eclipse in reverse. The only discrepancy was that the southerly breeze did not resume for about 40 minutes.

Then doggy bags were prepared, good-byes said and folks started heading out. A few of us watched until fourth contact (the end of the partial eclipse) – all the while talking about April 2024.

30 hr Moon
31h07m old Moon.
2017-08-22 20:21 PM
White balance = auto
1/50 sec - f5.6 - ISO 200
600 mm telephoto (17.1x)
Average of five images

A quick postscript...
At sunset, the next day, I was out with my camera again. Occasionally, I try to capture images of the smallest sliver of a Moon that I can. I’m not very diligent about it. Just a fun challenge when I think of it. But on August 22, I was diligent and managed to capture this photo of the Moon that I knew was exactly 31h07m old. A parting gift from the 2017 eclipse.

Equipment

Last modified: 2017-08-24