The eclipse of August 21, 2017 was more than an astronomical event. In South Carolina there was no store without a sign referring to the event and it was the perfect excuse for all the parties the days before the key date. The luminous signs of the huge interstate highways warned of the eclipse. If you went through a town and there was a street market, you could find a place explaining the event or promoting an event. In Columbia, the capital of South Carolina and practically at the center of the total eclipse band, had scheduled more than 120 events for the day of the eclipse.
South Carolina, being the easternmost state, was the last chance to experience the eclipse in the moon journey standing in the sun at 2300 km / h crossing from west to east in the USA. This state had interesting advantages, some little related to astronomy: direct and cheaper flights, the charm of southern cities full of history and authentic American flavor, as well as an environment of very attractive nature. But it also had an astronomical advantage by offering the longest phase of the totality of the eclipse with up to 2.36s, and may seem exaggerated, but to enjoy 30 seconds extra in such an extraordinary experience is not negligible. But at the same time, South Carolina was a risky state, with unfavorable cloud statistics at that time of the year compared to other states, and the dates of the eclipse coincided with the beginning of the hurricane season in the Atlantic.
In the US, some 8 million visitors were expected to the central band that defined the area in which the total phase of the eclipse could be enjoyed, and the state with the most visitors expected was South Carolina, with about 2 million. Columbia is the capital and most populous city of the state, right in the middle of the band of totality, and that was our destiny.
When making the registration in the hotels the obligatory question was, ¿you come to see the eclipse, right ?, and in many of the hotels they received you with the gift of some protective glasses. In Columbia in particular and in South Carolina in general, 99.9% of those who came to the central strip of the eclipse were Americans, and everyone was surprised that a family traveled from Spain to see the eclipse.
The day before the eclipse it was not easy to make a decision on where to observe it, and not for lack of options or planning, but they threatened clouds and moving within the strip a few dozen km east or west could mean the difference between seeing it or not see it However, the update of the information regarding the local weather was not dynamic and the decision was to go to the Sesquicentennial State Park, known locally as "Sesqui", a wonderful natural space of 1400 acres of pine trees with an incredible lake, and located few km from the hotel. The park provided an incredible environment to spend the day, with open spaces between the huge pines to see the sun without any artificial light that could disturb during the eclipse. In the place there were thousands of families, in a festive atmosphere, with cameras, telescopes, or homemade contraptions for observation like cards with "pinhole".
The clouds were playing with the sun throughout the eclipse, respecting it almost all the time until about 10 minutes before the key moment, hiding it completely to the despair of all. Fortunately, a few seconds before the start of the total phase, the sun reappeared and let us enjoy and photograph the incredible event except for the last seconds when the sun went down again to reappear about 20 minutes later.
When the sun came out of the clouds a few seconds before the phase of totality, everyone began to shout with enthusiasm and the excitement of the show was added when it began. It is not possible to describe the emotion of seeing the diamond ring, the pearls of Baily, the crown or the protuberances at a glance. In two and a half minutes that they spend as seconds, you do not give credit to what you are seeing, hearing (people shouting "oh my god!") And feeling that it is night, seeing stars appear (Regulus could be seen perfectly), the remarkable lowering of the ambient temperature, ...
The equipment used for observation and photography was a very light and portable iOptron CubePro azimuth mount, a TSED70Q tube equipped with homemade solar filter made with Baader film, and a Canon 60Da camera. I took pictures throughout the eclipse, from the beginning, through the whole phase to the end. Some between clouds, the last between the huge pine trees of the park when the sun was already lower. All photos are taken with the filter except those in the whole phase.
Before the eclipse, this was the aspect that showed the sun, being able to distinguish several groups of sunspots. The orientation of the sun is not exactly correct because when using an azimuth mount the sun is shown rotated depending on its position. The photos shown have been rotated roughly to compensate for this effect, but no perfect orientation has been sought. This photo, which occupies the entire field of view of the camera, is taken with a Barlow x2 lens, which was not used for the rest of the photos.
Below is a composition of the first part of the eclipse, from its beginning to the total eclipse:
Just when the total eclipse was ending, clouds completely interposed, which did not allow to see the end of the phase of totality, but they left some very spectacular images:
As of this moment, the eclipse ceased to interest 100% of the thousands of people who had come to the "Sesqui", with the only exception of the one who writes this blog who wanted to have a photographic record of the partial phases until the end. The composition shown below is the summary of the last hour and a half of the eclipse.
The first two photos of the sequence are affected by the clouds, but again the sky cleared and the partial sequence of the end of the eclipse could be photographed. The last photo looks like an effect of the clouds, but it is not like that, and its appearance is due to the fact that the sun was already low enough to be semi hidden among the towering pines of the park. The photo shown on the right attests to this.
In the following photo the complete composition of the eclipse is shown:
However, to appreciate the central moment of the eclipse, the phase of totality, it is necessary to show full-sized photos of the most relevant instants. The first photo shows the ring at the beginning of the total phase:
The following photo shows the just moment of the total eclipse, but highlighting the protuberances, with a pink color, as it was seen at a glance:
Also at the time of the total eclipse, the picture shown below highlights the crown:
The difference between the two previous photos, both taken during the total eclipse, differ only in the exposure time.
One of the most incredible sensations of the eclipse was to feel that it was done at night, both visually (although I expected greater ambient darkness than there actually was) and because of the drop in temperature. And one of the aspects I was curious about is if you could see stars around the sun. In fact, it was very easy to see at least one star on the left and under the sun, which I later found out was Regulus:
During the total eclipse what we see is the moon in front of the sun completely dark, but is it really like that? Can you see any detail of the moon ?. At first glance of course not, but if we try a bit the image, we can reveal some details of the moon surface, since the darkness is not total because the brightness of the earth is able to illuminate very dimly. The following photograph is the same as the previous one of the crown but treated to highlight the contrast in the dark tones of the moon's surface. If you look (you have to make a little effort to see the faint gray differences), you will see that the darker areas coincide with the seas of the lunar surface.
During the days before the eclipse and let alone the morning of the 21st, the obsession was the threat of clouds. Undoubtedly, a cloudy sky can completely ruin the expected eclipse experience. But if the clouds make their game appear and disappear, it may be the case that with a bit of good luck you can enjoy the eclipse and at the same time allow to obtain some special photographs in which the eclipsed sunlight combines with the clouds or obstacles such as pine needles to create games of light, shadows and unrepeatable colors.
Every 18 months or so there is a total solar eclipse somewhere on the planet. I did not know and I had not even stopped to think that there are people who dedicate themselves to "pursue" total eclipses, and of course, count them as trophies. The truth is that after experiencing the first one, I understand that this passion can exist!
According to the eclipse hunters ...
"You never forget your first kiss ... you always remember your first time in the shadow"