A total eclipse probably shouldn’t happen. I say “probably” because the probability is too small. After all, we are the only known planet that has a moon just the right size and distance to provide a perfect total solar eclipse where the moon just barely covers the sun, allowing the viewer to see the corona and prominences. It also happens to be the only place where there is someone to see it.
The moon is 400 times smaller than the sun, but it is also 400 times closer, making them roughly the same apparent size in our sky, depending on eccentricities of the orbits. This has allowed us to discover so much about the sun, moon, our own planet and the universe long before we had the technology of modern telescopes and spacecraft. If the size of the sun or moon, or the distance to the moon and sun were off even a bit, a perfect total eclipse would not be possible. Yet, perfect total solar eclipses happen because of this perfect combination. This alone should give us pause as we watch in wonder. But not only are they astounding and awe-inspiring for this fact alone, total eclipses are strange and beautiful and they are wonderful to experience!
After 14,327 km, or 8902 miles, we finally arrived in Wyoming for the eclipse! This was the final stop and a major highlight on our Epic Road Trip.
I have been interested in astronomy since I was just a boy. I’ve seen many lunar eclipses and probably 6 partial eclipses, but never a total eclipse. I had been planning for this for at least a couple years and so was very excited to finally be on site, in the path of totality. Several times on the journey we crossed the path of totality and the anticipation was building for us and the communities along the shadow’s way.
In preparing for viewing the eclipse I came across a description that basically said that the difference between seeing a partial eclipse and a total eclipse was like the difference of being in the parking lot of the Super Bowl and being in the stadium. After finally experiencing a total eclipse, I can attest to the truth of that statement.
Casper and the surrounding area was one of the hot spots for viewing the eclipse. It had a generally favorable forecast for clear skies, high altitude, and an eclipse time when the sun would be high in the sky. So many people were predicted to descend on the area, many local people opened their property for others to stay. We were thankful to secure a spot to camp near Douglas that was within the path of totality. It was a great spot, with lots of wide open sky and a beautiful view of the surrounding landscape. We really appreciated our host’s hospitality.
The details for our location
Lat:42.77371 Long: -105.50395
Elevation: 1,545 m (5068 ft)
1st Contact: 10:23:26
2nd Contact: 11:44:12
3rd Contact: 11:46:34
4th Contact: 1:11.03
Totality Duration: 2m 23
This was the day to get ready and test the gear. I had hauled two small telescopes, four tripods, filters, eyepieces and other equipment the whole trip, all tucked away somewhere in the van. Ben had a small hydrogen-alpha telescope, a Coronado PST, for looking at the sun too. My filters are white light filters, blocking 99,999% of the light of the sun, whereas an H-alpha filter only lets in one particular spectrum of light. This lets you see the sun in a very special way with solar prominences, filaments, sunspots and other features are visible. I spent several hours testing cameras and other gear and was very pleased to see several large sun spots right in the middle of the sun.
This next image is from NASA on August 22 and shows the size of the sunspots compared to Earth and Jupiter. Most of these sunspots are at least the size of Earth.
We then drove to Casper to check out the festivities happening there. Several blocks of the main street were shut down and we wandered from booth to booth, picking up a few t-shirts as we went.
The star of the show has arrived!
Beautiful clear skies and a wonderful view.
Time to get the gear set up and get ready for the show! I positioned my van directly behind the gear to help block the wind, which was initially quite strong and gusty. The weather was forecast to be clear, and there was a bit of a haze near the horizon, but thankfully the show in our area would be high in the sky.
I had my 60mm Meade ETX AT set up with a sun funnel (a fancy way to describe an oil funnel, cheap eyepiece, and a sample piece of rear projection screen material. This would allow several people to see the progression of the eclipse at once. This ended up being very popular.
I also had my 120mm Sky Watcher refractor and15x80 binoculars set up, all protected with Baader Solar Film.
People began to gather as first contact approached.
Someone brought along a particularly high-tech eclipse observational tool that I bet very few other people had access to: The Colander of Science!
Things we observed:
- The edges of our shadows getting sharp as the light source shrank in size.
- The sun’s heat lessened quickly. A few minutes before it was very hot standing in the sun, but it soon became quite comfortable, and the temperature started to drop.
- As the heat from the sun decreased, so did the wind. By totality, the air was very still where earlier on it was quite windy, enough to shake the telescopes around.
- Coyotes began howling just before totality and small insects began flying around us that are normally only seen at dusk.
- The light got very weird! A typical sunset casts long shadows as the sun gets close to the horizon and has a reddish glow. This was overhead and the light had a very strange quality.
I had a camera (Nikon D300 with a 24-200mm lens) set up to take one photo every 30 seconds. Here is what it recorded through totality.
Since the filter was still on this image didn’t capture the first diamond ring or Bailey’s Beads.
Here are some other pictures from totality:
Early totality with the sun having just disappeared on the lower left.
Late totality with a few prominences and the outer edge of the chromasphere visible.
End of totality!
I wasn’t able to capture a good image showing the corona, the wispy outer atmosphere of the sun. It streamed outward from the sun in uneven ways, looking like fine grey threads, slowly fading out. The corona stretched a surprisingly long way away from the sun.
This next image hints at how large it was, but is too bright to show the fine details. You can see the star Regulus shining next to the sun.
I also used a Sony A7SII (with a Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 and a 1.7x teleconverter) to record totality in 4K video so I wouldn’t have to fuss with it, and another camera to record us. I pulled the filter off the Sony just after totality and put it back on just after the diamond ring.
Unfortunately, The Colander of Science stopped working during totality…
Third to Fourth Contact
It was over too soon. It seemed to get brighter faster than it had darkened before totality, and I assume that is because our eyes had adjusted to the dark for the previous 2 minutes.
We all stood around amazed after totality for awhile, sharing our thoughts with each other. Before some of us started to leave to battle the traffic, everyone at our site gathered for some group photos, we who shared the experience of the shadow.
I mentioned at the top about how unique this is. This is a clip from a video I found a few years ago that shows how special an eclipse really is!
Next one I can drive to, April 8, 2024. Hope to see you in the shadow!