Tuesday, August 22, 2017
I am still completely and utterly blown away. An emotional and visceral experience that was unimaginable, even after reading and watching videos and posts describing past total solar eclipses. An event so profound, awe-inspiring, spiritual, immersive and overwhelming that it left me shaking with excitement for a half hour after it ended with tears in my eyes. Even today, waves of emotion wash over me as I try to describe what I saw. The now obvious and undeniable fact is you must be there to witness totality. Only then will the event be seared into your consciousness for eternity.
A friend and I left Steamboat Springs around 5 am, 21 August 2017 and headed for an area south of Casper, Wyoming. The early morning clouds did dissipate as forecast, though they highlighted a spectacular sunrise driving north from Walden towards Centennial, Wyoming.
The view looking south from our remote eclipse viewing area when we first arrived, about 30 miles south of Casper, Wyoming.
A view of our observation deck. Very low-tech, though there was a telescope with a solar filter behind us. The couple there were kind enough to let us view the partial eclipse phase both before and after totality. We could literally see the moon moving past the sunspots at around 50% coverage, as well as some solar prominences.
A view to the north shows Ice Cave Mountain just south of Casper, with its stunning white cliffs, and the lunar-looking intervening landscape.
As totality approached, the sun, as viewed through the eclipse glasses donated by a gracious friend the night before, became a thin crescent that steadily grew smaller and fainter until only an amoeba-looking remnant winked out of view. The valley winds suddenly died, the temperature dropped, and an eerie quietness enveloped the prairie as I removed the glasses to see a still-dazzlingly bright sun. At that point, the phenomena associated with totality began.
Frankly, I forgot about the camera for the first half of totality as I was overwhelmed by the spectacle, but managed to take the following three pictures during the few seconds around the end of totality. You can see the star Regulus, Leo the Lion’s brightest star, shining through the corona in the southeast quadrant of the first picture. At this point, the Shadow Bands, also present for a short time as the eclipse first dipped into totality, reappeared and danced across the landscape, even as a 360 degree sunset/sunrise surrounded us. These diffuse and eerie bands of light are caused by the few remaining rays of sunlight diffracting around the moon, and are mixed in with the impossibly sharp shadows present around totality.
Now we are just a split second past totality when a brilliant flash of white light, termed the Diamond Ring, briefly appears. This is also present just before totality, when the last ray of sunlight slides around the moon, and seeing it flash felt like a hammer-blow to the head; a sledgehammer to the soul. I mean, I expected to see something, as the effect is well discussed, but I was not expecting an infinitely bright and compact flash of dazzlingly pure white light that was immediately followed by the deep blackness of the moon covering the sun at the start of totality. An instantaneous change between blindingly pure white and infinitely deep black that took my breath away. Not that I was looking, especially as a scientist, but as totality ended, I could not imagine a more literal interpretation of Let there be light.
The Diamond Ring below is still in the process of expanding, even though the flash of light appears vanishingly brief.
We just sat there for a half hour, in befuddled amazement, trying to make sense of what we had just witnessed, while reveling in the final phases of the eclipse. Finally, we grudgingly left our observation deck and, looking to escape the traffic, took the gravel road less traveled by. The Bighorn Mountain Range frames the serpentine escape route with this northeast view.
Some nice granite outcrops while we were avoiding traffic on the 60 mile loop of gravel roads.
Back in time for sunset in beautiful Steamboat Springs.