Total Eclipse 2017 – The experience

By now it’s already 5 weeks ago that the Total Solar Eclipse took place in the US which millions of people looked forward to for a long time. Now I’m finally finished with processing most of the data of the eclipse and I want to share the results here.

1999 Total Eclipse seen in France

About 1,5 years ago we decided to try to visit the solar eclipse in the US with my family. I myself experienced the total eclipse in 1999 in France and wanted to give my wife and children the possibility to experience this themselves. I can still remember very well the eclipse in France that was just visible between the clouds and that was already an unforgettable experience.

Therefor we started looking for a good location to experience the eclipse and found the Grand Teton NP in the middle of the eclipse zone. About 1,5 years ago I noticed a campsite that had places available and I directly booked our site.

Map of the area around our location near Grand Teton NP.

Before heading for the eclipse we toured through the US for 3 weeks and visited a lot of National Parks in this region. Two days before the eclipse we arrived in Yellowstone NP, just north of our eclipse location, and there it was very noticable that it started to be very crowded. The parking lots were totally filled and everywhere announcements for the eclipse were visible.

The day before the eclipse we went in the afternoon to Grand Teton NP and drove without any problems to the campsite. There we had a very nice spot, which showed upon arrival, a fully free view on the sky and the sun during the eclipse. That day I had set up all the equipment for a last test and all worked well. Furthermore I encountered Tom O’Donoghue, an great astrophotographer from Ireland who I know via Facebook and who decided to experience the eclipse in the same location.

I decided to experience the eclipse mainly visually with my family without being busy with cameras. But I did want to make images and so I decided to work with Solar Eclipse Maestro. This software automates the complete imaging process and calculates all exposures that are needed for all phases of the eclipse. In the end I decided to work with two cameras and have them image with a small time shift so that I could capture all phases of the eclipse in the best way. The software was synchronised with GPS to make sure the exact times were properly set for the images.

Myself ready for the eclipse together with my equipment.

On the morning of the eclipse I woke up early to set up everything and make a final check. Then it showed that the photographic filters that I bought let through that much light that focusing was almost impossible. Therefor I had to unscrew and change the filters just 10 minutes before the eclipse started with other filters that Tom had taken with him. Because of this I missed the first 10 minutes of the eclipse, but after that I could enjoy it fully and did the cameras do the work on their own.

During the first part of the eclipse the decrease of the light was hardly noticeable, but quickly it could be seen how the sun was slowly covered by the moon. The light started to change and colours changed. Under trees the crescent-shaped shadows of the leafs could be seen.

Crescent shaped shadows 5 minutes before totality.

Crescent shaped shadows 5 minutes after totality.

It seemed to get dusk slowly, but somehow the colours were wrong. About 5 minutes before totality Venus became visible in the sky. It gave a very surrealistic view, and the remaining sun kept slowly getting smaller.

In the last minute before totality everything seemed to fasten up a lot, which can be nicely seen in the movie taken by Tom. It was like somebody just dimmed the light and everywhere on the campsite the sounds of people cheering could be heard. The diamond ring became visible and shortly after the Baily Pearls were seen. Then totality arrived and the corona could be seen in its full glory. That was a great sight, while in the corona also the star Regulus could be seen.

My wife and children also enjoyed the view a lot and were deeply impressed. The eclipse was a very physical experience and could be felt through all the fibers in your body.

Also the children enjoyed the eclipse.

After 1 minute and 8 seconds the computer called out the ‘Maximum Eclipse’ and I realised we were already half-way. In the meantime behind me the sounds of the cameras clicking could be well heard as they were taking about 150 images in the 2:16 duration of the eclipse.

A minute later the pearls were visible again and then the sun returned from behind the moon. After that a small party with champagne was celebrated at the campsite with Tom.

Altogether it was an unforgettable experience. I really hope there will be more opportunities in the future to see this, because this unique natural phenomenon can only be truly understood if you ever experienced one yourself.

Of course this report is not complete without some of the images that I made during the eclipse.

The first image shows an overview of the eclipse from 3 minutes before till 3 minutes after totality. Clearly the diamond ring can be seen.

Overview of the totality from about 3 minutes before to 3 minutes after the eclipse.

Just before and after totality the Baily beads were beautifully visible that rise because of the last sunlight shining through the moon valleys.

Baily beads

The Baily beads are the last light of the sun that just shines through between the crater walls. Now you can use the images to make the lunar surface visible. In the image below I put all my images close to each other which generated a sort of a height map of the lunar limb. In the middle of the image a height map of the lunar limb, generated by the Solar Eclipse Maestro software can be seen to compare with the images. On the left and right of the image photos can be seen from just before 2nd and just after 3rd contact together with a simulation of the lunar limb generated by the Occult software of the International Occultation Timing Association that is specialised in observing occultations of stars by the moon. It’s nice to see how the predictions correlate with reality.

Height profile of the lunar limb together with images of the Baily beads caused by the last sunlight through the moon valleys.

Also I made a lot of images during totality of the solar corona to see how far I could catch it. I had a field of view of about 2 degrees and hoped I could catch the corona full size on the image. It was great to see that about 30 stars up to magnitude +9.5 could be seen and that the corona was visible up to a distance of about 4.5 million km from the sun.

Solar corona as visible during totality with about 30 starts up to magnitude +9.5.


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