“A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success.” –Elbert Hubbard
I’ve had the great fortune in my life to see a great many wonderful things with my own eyes, including the rings of Saturn, the phases of Venus, a couple of faint, distant galaxies, and a large number of sunsets, sunrises, and lunar eclipses. But as far as solar eclipses go, I missed the only realistic opportunity I ever had to see — as Cara Beth Satalino would say — that
Back in 1994, an annular solar eclipse happened just 300 miles from where I was living. While I got to see the partial eclipse that resulted from being off of the ideal path, I’d never seen either a total or annular solar eclipse. But this weekend was my big chance, and I wasn’t going to miss it. For the first time, I set out on an eclipse expedition, hoping to catch a glimpse of the spectacular sights that one of my former astronomy students had grabbed hours earlier from Tokyo.
(Image credit: Destiny Fox
. Thanks, Destiny!)
As many of you know, I’ve been preparing for this for a couple of months, and that started with scouting out a prime location. The one I chose was right on the coast, for the earliest possible view from America, right in the middle of the path of maximum eclipse.
Choosing the middle of that path means that I was going to get to see — if the conditions were ideal — the Moon pass over the dead center of the Sun, creating a true ring of fire. The place where this was going to happen was False Klamath Cove
, a rock-littered area in very northern California. But this place was “only” about 330 miles from where I live today, in Portland, Oregon, and so I made the trip down. About an hour before maximum eclipse, this was the view I had.
Yes, it was somewhat cloudy, and I knew the clouds and fog would be continuing to roll in, but it wasn’t hopeless. You see, the clouds were thin enough that the “binocular trick,” where you un-cap one side of a pair of binoculars and project the image of the Sun onto a white screen behind it, was still very effective.
As you can see, you were still able to see the Sun’s disk, as well as the fraction of it that was obscured by the Moon. But I wasn’t going to settle for a projection of the Sun’s disk onto a screen; I wanted to see it with my own eyes
. And so that meant bringing a little protective eyewear. In addition to my polarized sunglasses, I also brought along two wonderful pieces of equipment: a pair of shade-5 welder’s goggles and a shade-10 welder’s hood.
Under sunny, high-noon conditions, you need shade-14 to safely look at the Sun. Thankfully, eye protection is additive, so wearing both of these together meant that I could look at the Sun without concern for safety.
I’m not going to lie: other than a green tint, this view was spectacular. The Sun was crisp, the clouds could be seen dancing across its face, and the fraction that was obscured by the Moon was cleanly and clearly visible. I’m definitely
going to be using both of these, together, to watch the Venus transit
in a couple of weeks.
But for photography? That’s never been a skill (or even an interest) of mine, so all I could do was experiment. Placing the shade-5 goggles in front of the camera was clearly not enough.
While the cloud cover was light, as it was in the early stages of the eclipse, it turns out that the shade-10 hood, on its own, was significantly better than the goggles.
You could see, with the camera, that part of the Sun was obscured, but the image was still greatly overexposed, making it virtually impossible to see any detail.
I tried using both the goggles and the hood together. But the combination that worked so well for my eyes was a miserable failure for the camera.
As you can see, the Sun’s disk still
appeared overexposed, plus now there were problems of multiple reflections between the different surfaces, ruining the image on the camera.
But as we neared the moment of maximum eclipse, and the Sun dwindled to a crescent, slowly creeping around the edges of the Moon, something both wonderful and horrifying began to happen. Thick, foggy clouds began to roll in, as they do every evening in this part of the world at this time of the year. But it meant something wonderful for my feeble photography skills.
My images were suddenly less over-exposed. And as the fog rapidly thickened, I discovered that I no longer needed shade-15 protection to watch the eclipse. I no longer needed shade-10, in fact. At the moment of maximum eclipse, I had nothing but the shade-5 welder’s goggles over the lens of the camera, and this was the photo I got.
Digital cameras, of course, get outstanding resolution. So this perfect circle, this ring of fire, actually showed up like this.
There’s no way to describe what it’s like to see it with your own eyes, but my experience was probably extremely unique, because rather than watching the Moon move off of the Sun, I watched this ring of fire fade away
behind some ever-thickening clouds, and disappear from sight.
And that’s why even though there are no more pictures from my first eclipse expedition, you can bet it won’t be my last!