Thursday, August 24, 2017

Out of this world

How do I describe a rare beautiful sight so it becomes a better memory? I also want share my experience with others? Posting my thoughts about the event here on my blog will help. So here is that post.

We made it to totality and watched the best shadow I’ve ever seen.

On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017 the shadow of the moon zipped across the continental United States (coast to coast) in about 1 and ½ hours. I heard the shadow’s speed was over 1400 miles per hour.

On the ground experiencing it the speed is not really noticeable. Only when I think about the size of the shadow and the distances do I realize this shadow is moving fast.

But I shouldn’t get ahead of myself so let’s back up a few months. I had heard of this solar eclipse coming seven years ago. Back then I thought maybe Missouri would be a great location since my brother has a place down there. At the start of this year I looked over the predicted path of totality (see an earlier post) and noticed my brother’s area was not that close. My wife has a relative in Oregon so that location was considered for awhile.

The site I used for eclipse info also offered approved viewing glasses. I ordered 15 for the family early in the year.

After we decided against the more extensive Oregon trip, I started study the path of totality (love that phrase) in southern Illinois. Early on I knew to avoid Carbondale. The crowd would be large there since the Chicago paper and TV stations mentioned Carbondale in all their eclipse stories. Amtrak even setup a special round-trip train from Chicago to Carbondale for a day trip. It sold out in 22 hours (400+ riders).

I settled on Vienna IL. There is a trail station for the Tunnel Hill State Trail on the edge of town. Another thought was to go further down to Paducah KY. As I checked the few hotel choices in that area it was apparent their prices had been raised. I found a normally priced room in a small town close but outside of the totality zone. The hotel was the Cobblestone Inn & Suites in Altamont IL (sold out, very nice and recently built).

We drove down to Altamont on Sunday with time for a tour of their National Register of Historic Places Wright House. We had stopped in Urbana for a nice lunch at a local diner. Having rode down I-57 back in February I could tell the traffic was not typical. On the motorist alert sign over the highway flashed "Solar Eclipse 8/21 .. Expect delays". I had not worried much about the traffic until then.

Eclipse day - after a quick minimal free hotel breakfast it started to become apparent most travelers around us were eclipse focused. The TV in the breakfast lounge was set to the weather channel. Cloudy weather is always an potential eclipse killer. Now I added traffic to the problem list.

I tried to capture the corona with my smartphone

After a nice start down straight country roads we merged into the traffic of I-57 again. Since I was not taking the route to Carbondale, I guessed/hoped about 50% would leave my route. I was wrong in a good way. I think about 90% left.

Pulling into the Vienna trail station we were pleasantly surprised that it was also a community park. When we stopped to ask the man directing the traffic how much it was to park, he replied with the best answer - free.

We found a nice spot under a tree to wait for the eclipse start. We were settled in about 2 hours ahead of the big event. We shared the park with about 500 (800 ??) people. The family sitting behind us were from Israel. I enjoyed talking to them. I also met two ladies from Oklahoma. I wondered why they just didn’t stop in Missouri. Their answer was better weather and more totality time.

It was hot and humid and a bit cloudy. The visitor center was air conditioned and had a “real” indoor toilet. The location is also on the Trail of Tears and some Union soldiers camped there during the Civil War.

a head turning experience

You could feel the crowd waiting for the big totality event. The moment at both the start and end was filled with cheers and gasps. Even though I knew it would darken I was surprised by how dark it became. I would say about the darkness of an hour or so after sunset.

The corona and diamond ring - phenomenal, rare, stunning, magnificent, astounding, stupendous, awesome, marvelous, ok you get the idea.

My smartphone pictures didn’t capture the corona but that’s alright with me because the experience of seeing the corona with my eyes was a treasure. I was awestruck staring at the corona and almost forgot I had brought binoculars. With the binoculars I could see the star Regulus. With just my eyes I could see what I think was Venus (might have been Sirius).

Just before totality I spotted two high flying jets. They may have been the NASA jets. Being involved in an eclipse experiment would be rewarding. However, unless the equipment was running on full automatic I probably would have messed-up.

I was surprised by a shadow spectacle.

visited Cave In Rock park afterwards

Two interesting NASA clips about the eclipse:

Oh one last thought about the experience - they had live musical entertainment. While it provided an enjoyable background while we waited, my preference would have been more pop/jazz type music. This one by Diana Krall would have fit the occasion well (better than Stormy Monday).

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