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  • Dr Toner Stevenson

Total solar eclipse success! Viewed from Warm Springs Oregon, August 2017

With great anticipation myself, fellow Skywatcher member, my partner Ron Stevenson, & fellow eclipse chaser, Melissa Hulbert, from Sydney Observatory, MAAS, had planned this trip for some time.

On the morning of the eclipse, Monday 21 August 2017, we left our hotel in Portland Oregon at 4am. We drove 185 miles (it is the US and they still use miles) south west to a good viewing area to observe the first total solar eclipse to totally sweep right across the USA since 1918. The extent of this eclipse meant a large proportion of the population were able to view at least a partial eclipse and 13 states had the ‘path of totality’ travel right across their territory. Because of this the whole country was in a state of anticipation and excitement with many news channels sending out information about how to view the eclipse, solar viewing glasses for sale in many different locations and schools and community centres organised eclipse sausage sizzles and festivals. Even the supermarkets had eclipse souvenirs and viewing parties planned for the day!

The weather prediction was good for most of Oregon state, but we were fearful of the wildfire smoke and we changed our original plans to view the eclipse from Salem to further south near Madras to avoid the smoke. We chose a site in Warm Springs which was land owned by the Indigenous Peoples of Simnasho tribe because this was very close to the centre of the eclipse line. Nearby in Madras there were tens of thousands of campers and festivities planned for the eclipse, and there was also an undesirable hazy atmosphere.

Good luck was with us when we discovered a site which was permissible for us to use for a small fee to the First Nations owners and which had views of Mt Hood (see above). We preferred the open plains, wild horses and lines of native pine trees to rows of tents and dust.The sky was clear and smoke free. There were also a small number of other observers from France, New Zealand, Canada, Oregon, a few other Aussies, and local indigenous peoples. The site was near a service station which had toilets (very important) and sold coffee and other goods. The eclipse started at 9:06am local time, with totality at 10:19am lasting 1minute, 43 seconds until 10:21 and the eclipse finished at 11:40am.

We viewed the partial eclipse phases using solar filters on cameras, binoculars and eclipse glasses and had some fun with projections of the Moon covering the Sun onto people and using a pinhole camera.

I am not an experienced photographer but I was still happy with the images I took using my Canon EOS80D,18-135mm lens with a solar filter for the partial phases. As totality approached we noticed a change in the light the temperature dropped remarkably, and the shadows became strangely distorted – a phenomenon the young Canadians noticed. When the Earth was completely in the shadow of the Moon the wild horses huddled together, the dogs lay down and were silent and we all marvelled at the sight of the diamond ring which occurs as the Moon starts to fully covert he Sun, and then the totality – which is like a halo around the Sun and shows the sun's corona and any activity such as solar prominences.

Diamond Ring effect Photograph copyright Toner Stevenson

Fellow Aussie Glen Cozens observed three prominences and Melissa Hulbert’s images on her blog post show that this was the case – although I find it difficult to observe the prominences during the short time of totality which lasted just under 2 minutes. We were able to easily observe the planets Venus and Mercury during the eclipse and many stars including Sirius. It was all too quick and if time could stand still this is a moment I wish for that occurrence.After totality Mel, Ron and I continued to observe the eclipse.

Our observing party

We noticed that the horses returned to their grazing pastures and then we popped the cork on a bottle of delicious ‘Lunetto’ Prosecco and enjoyed a toast with our French observing friends Elisa and Laurent. I am pleased to report that we can all be calm that the Sun, Earth and Moon did align and that our solar system is acting as predicted.

This eclipse is testimony to the continual predictive nature of our solar system dynamics.The next total solar eclipse is not until 2019 so there is plenty of time to plan for an experience which you will always remember. Adriano Massatani also viewed the eclipse successfully and he will be showing some of his images at the next Skywatcher’s meeting on Monday night, 4 September.

All photographs in this blogpost are copyright Toner Stevenson and were taken with permission.

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