The Great American Eclipse 2017

My first total solar eclipse was in 1999 - we travelled to France and had a camp-site in the path of totality, so had a good view and little to do on the day except get prepared, and enjoy the experience.

Although there have been a few reasonably accessible total eclipses since then, the 2017 total eclipse which was due to travel across the whole width of the country seemed like too good a chance to miss. And if it could be combined with a holiday even better.

Various plans and itineraries were considered, but the chance to holiday in Canada first and visit my sister became a determining factor. So the general plan was to fly to Calgary, have some holiday days in the Rockies, and then drive down to somewhere in the US for the eclipse. After spending some time on driving routes, I decided a good place to view would be from around about Baker City in Oregon. Looking into possible hotels to stay over at, I found the closest place I could get overnight stays was in Pendleton, about 90 miles from totality. So a morning drive was required. In early January this year, I had booked the hotel, but not made much in the way of other preparations. But eventually flights, cars and other hotels were booked - the plan was coming together!

The eclipse track.

The eclipse track.

A couple of months back, though, I was reading reports that the US would run out of petrol, roads would be grid-locked and there would be general mayhem. Also I could not find out any specific information about viewing spots in Baker City - so I started some intensive research (googling) and found this small town south of Pendleton with about 2 minutes of totality called Long Creek, and the local school had organised a viewing field and was providing parking pitches. So this seemed like a good option. I pre-booked a spot, which although sounding expensive at $25 the profits were going to school funds, so all for a good cause.

Our flight to Canada was pretty uneventful, and holiday in Canada very nice, though forest fires were a problem and the atmosphere was a bit smoky for several days. On the Saturday before the eclipse, we set off to the US for our first stop-off, Spokane in Washington state. The next day we drove down to Pendleton. It has to be said, the countryside that we drove down from Spokane to Pendleton in particular was pretty boring!

I was surprised to hear that Mike Frost from the BAA who has spoken to the CAS in the past was also staying in Pendleton, and we were able to meet up for diner in the evening. And as we walked back to our hotel, the sky was almost perfect, the Sun was setting, and the prospects for the next day were looking good. We ended up chatting, looking at the sky, with a few Americans who had travelled up from Oakland California.

Pendelton, Oregon, the morning of the eclipse before sunrise - Venus shining bright.

Pendelton, Oregon, the morning of the eclipse before sunrise - Venus shining bright.

Onto eclipse day our expected drive was to be at least two hours, but what would the traffic be like. The eclipse was due to start (first contact) at around 9:08 Pacific Time. We got up at 4:30 aiming to leave at 5:00am. Venus was bright in the east and sun-rise was vaguely starting. In fact the drive down to Long Creek went without any hold-up and we got there around 7:00am. We were directed to a spot to park the car, and made our way to the school canteen for coffee and breakfast (one of the advantages of being based at the school was the food laid on, and use of the facilities!).

I had plenty time to get set up for the eclipse - my plan was to use video mode on my Canon 600D camera with a 70-300mm lens at 300mm. The camera was on a SkyWatcher Star Adventurer Mini (SAM) set to track at the solar rate. Of course polar aligning is pretty difficult in the daytime, so I had set the latitude correctly, levelled the tripod, and then used a phone compass app to find north. Although I had practised this in UK before going, it seemed to not track quite so well on-site. But it was certainly good enough. For the partial phases I used a DIY Baader Solar Astro Film filter over the camera lens - the one I had actually made from the transit of Venus many years ago.

Our observing site at Long Creek. My camera, mount and tripod shown at the right.

Our observing site at Long Creek. My camera, mount and tripod shown at the right.

The site was quite busy, and it was good to chat with the many that were viewing the eclipse from there. Some had travelled great distances like from San Diego in California. There were also some French students with a variety of gear for recording the eclipse.
Excitement gathered as totality approached; the weather was completely perfect. I did not want to be bothered too much with the camera during totality, so I set it videoing live a couple of minutes before totality was due. The sky was getting dark, and to the west the Moon's shadow was rapidly approaching. Possibly we were the only people looking in the opposite direction just before totality. We did forget to look for shadow-bands, though I am not sure we really had a good place to view them, but at other sites they were well seen.

A huge shout went up when totality started, so filter came off, and I had to adjust the shutter speed on the camera. But the eclipse itself was a fantastic experience. The corona in particular was really nice, and I had brought binoculars this time to look at it in more detail. Venus was brilliant, and Mercury was easy to see below and left of the eclipsed Sun. And there were a couple of easy prominences to see. Two minutes of totality is all too short a time. So as third contact came, filter went back on the lens, and it was over.

Many of the Americans that had come for the eclipse then headed off. But we planned to stay until 4th contact, and then have some lunch, and return to Pendleton in the afternoon so as to avoid any traffic jams. Needless to say, the there were still traffic jams, and the trip back to Pendleton took and hour more than our trip out.

Just a frame grab from the video at maximum eclipse.

Just a frame grab from the video at maximum eclipse.

Returning to our hotel I had a chance to view the video footage. The focus was a bit soft, which was a pity, but not too bad. I clipped a few screen shots from the video to post on Facebook. I cut up the video clips to make a short movie. If you want to view the movie you can find it on YouTube:

Over the next week I tried to do some image stacking and got a better result.

A stack of some video shot during totality, and wavelet processed.

A stack of some video shot during totality, and wavelet processed.

In fact the eclipse seemed to be well seen across it's whole track - the weather did play ball. Though there did seem to be a few cloudy places.

And what about another one? There are a couple coming up in South America (Chile) in 2019 and 2020 - though these will probably be pretty expensive trips. Antarctica in 2021 is probably out of the question. But in 2024 there is another eclipse over Mexico and into the USA again - which should be fairly easy to get to, though the weather on April 8 may be a little dodgy. 2026 is the next European one, but Spain and Northeast Portugal are the landfalls at the end of the eclipse, but there may be sea cruises available. And again in 2027 Spain is on the track.

It was a real treat to see another total solar eclipse, and one that will be fondly remembered for many years to come.