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Eclipse!

posted Aug 28, 2017, 9:19 PM by Jeremy Drake   [ updated Aug 28, 2017, 9:26 PM ]
It was the first time I saw the solar corona with my own eyes.  Having worked in the field of stellar coronae for more than two decades, the eclipse of 2017 August 21 was quite special to me. 
In 1991, Wilton Barnhardt—a friend from Oxford days—and I travelled to Mexico on an extensive Kerouac-esque (well, perhaps at times...), road trip designed to take in the 1991 July 11 eclipse. The southern end of the Baja Peninsular, close to La Paz, was predicted to be the best spot to see it from. But it's quite a long drive down—900 miles or so from Tijuana—and we would have missed some places in northern Mexico we wanted to stop at. While Baja's Valle De Los Cirios was appealing, the ferry to the mainland would have taken an additional day, and considerable cash that was not in great supply. So, we opted for Mazatlan on the mainland that also made a good stopping point for continuing the trip.
The morning was clear, with blue skies and a smattering of clouds toward the horizon.  The early partial phase was nicely visible, starting around noon, through my number 14 welders' glass held more precariously than I'd like to admit by a complex but not entirely convincing web of elastic bands to my binoculars.  But, as noon turned to afternoon, we watched with mounting dismay, like Macbeth beholding the rise of Birnam Wood to Dunsinane, as clouds rolled in to blot out the remainder of the eclipse.  Totality under clouds is horribly disappointing—it got darker, street lights came on, and then the light gradually returned again. That's about it.  We hit the road and moved on, me as the astronomer feeling a bit self-conscious about having earlier talked up the damp squib eclipse so much to my friend.  I would not get a good chance to see another one until last week.


Of course, it's an utterly fatuous exercise to try and photograph the eclipse—hundreds, thousands, of eclipse experts with telescopes and fantastic professional-grade gear will do an infinitely superior job to a naive tourist with a consumer-level camera, and will plaster their beautiful images all over the web for anyone to get hold of.  What's the point of me doing it? I suppose its a bit like wearing that old "Beckham" number 7 shirt while playing football (soccer, if you must!) rather poorly at lunchtimes, before I did my knee in.  Or muddling through Agustin Barios' La Catedral on classical guitar, making a hash of it in the same places every single time, and the other side of the Universe from the brilliance of Ana Vidovic's rendition that is so dazzlingly beautiful it brings tears to my eyes.  The pictures are indeed a bit rubbish in the grand scheme of eclipse photography, and at the time of writing I've not had time to do anything but download a couple of them straight from the camera. But they are mine, and I took them at that place and time when I actually got to see the solar corona.


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