Sunday, August 27, 2017

Solar Eclipse Boulder Creek 2017

Illinois fifth-graders observe 1963 eclipse with pinhole projectors (NatGeo photo)
The much-awaited all-USA total eclipse of the Sun on August 21, 2017 sent many residents of Boulder Creek to Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming to abide in the path of totality for two glorious minutes -- a nationwide personal pilgrimage to witness the temporary Death of the Sun. Those of us in the Bay Area who stayed behind hoped to observe through clear skies a fairly ample 75% eclipse.

Eclipse was expected to start at 9 AM local time, reach maximum some time after 10, and return to normal around 11.

In the tradition of legions of legendary Moslem astronomers, I assumed the guise of Doctor Jabir and rigged up a simple solar projector in the parking lot of the Boulder Creek Post Office. When I got there, a guy named Gene from Bear Creek Road had already set up a powerful filtered telescope on Main Street in front of Liberty Bank. I recognized Gene and his telescope from previous eclipses and remembered viewing, through his instrument, images of the partially eclipsed Sun so large that you could count its sunspots.

Gene's eclipse-viewing telescope
 However, contrary to predictions of clear skies, the weather was extremely cloudy with morning fog filling the valley rim to rim as high as the summit.

Doctor Jabir and his godson, Alex DeCaro, wait for the clouds to clear
Despite the cloudy weather, about half a dozen stalwart spectators gathered in the parking lot to await the upcoming Death of the Sun. Sheila and Jerry Delaney, owners of one of Boulder Creek's longest-running businesses,  Blind Pilot Jewelry, showed up with a box of Eclipse Cookies -- which consist of the common Oreo with upper black layer displaced to expose a crescent white filling. Jerry brought a welding helmet to filter the intense rays of the sun -- if it ever came out from behind the clouds. Reno DeCaro and his son Alex came to photograph the event for posterity. Long-time BC resident Judy Reynolds came by, followed by a woman in a wheel chair and her companion, whose names I did not get. All of us stood around in the fog (which was so thick it was almost drizzling), awaiting a lucky break in the clouds.

From right to left: Jerry, Jabir, Judy, Sheila and two unknowns
And, then, yes, it happened! At a time close to totality, the clouds briefly thinned for a few minutes, long enough to view and photograph the eclipse without filters or instruments (the fog itself spontaneously provided us with a wholly natural solar filter). We snapped a few shots with our digital cameras before Nature quickly shut us down. The fog lasted till noon, after which the day quickly turned sunny and hot.

Cloud-filtered eclipse near maximum: Ahlgren Vineyard iPhone
Even as late as 10:30 AM, the valley was still filled with fog. About 1000 feet above the Boulder Creek Post Office, Val Ahlgren at Ahlgren Vineyard snapped a picture with her iPhone of the cloud-filtered Sun near maximum extinction, similar to the lucky pictures we took in the parking lot.

Many local viewers gathered at Crest Ranch on Empire Grade which was above the fog belt and were rewarded with a full-spectrum solar eclipse experience viewable only through dense sunglasses -- which were provided by local libraries and some hardware stores.

Meanwhile, some of our Boulder Creek friends, notably Allan and Sun Lundell (aka Doctor and Mrs. Future) traveled to the Symbiosis festival in central Oregon where they joined 70,000 other eclipse pilgrims to observe the Sun's temporary demise.

Symbiosis Festival, Big Summit Prairie, Oregon
 Using a filtered iPhone, Dr and Mrs Future captured this beautiful "diamond-ring" photo of the total eclipse of the Sun from the Big Summit Prairie in Oregon.
"Diamond Ring" eclipse:  Allan & Sun Lundell, Symbiosis, Oregon
This year's total solar eclipse was billed as the "most photographed event in human history". So I clicked on my favorite science website, NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) to discover, of the millions of pictures that were taken that day, which one would be chosen for the APOD gallery. Here's the link to the APOD prize eclipse photo. Earlier, in preparation for this year's solar eclipse, APOD had previously published photos of former eclipses plus diagrams of the path of totality for the current eclipse. My favorite photo from APOD's eclipse science foreplay was a time-lapse eclipse movie, TAKEN FROM ABOVE THE EARTH by a Japanese satellite in geosynchronous orbit, showing the Moon's shadow passing across the surface of the globe.

National Geographic magazine also got into the act by publishing on the web a series of 24 historic pictures from their files that featured various past eclipses, including the famous solar eclipse that made Albert Einstein a celebrity, during which Arthur Eddington was able to verify the deflection of starlight by the Sun that Einstein had predicted in his General Theory of Relativity. The picture of school kids wearing pin-hole boxes that heads this post was taken from that Nat Geo collection.

But, among all the eclipse pictures, some taken by scientists, some by satellite and some by enthusiastic amateurs, my vote for favorite eclipse photo is for a snapshot made by a couple in Santa Rosa, CA, that used a household implement found in almost every kitchen.

2012 Eclipse through a colander: David & Cynthia Janson, Santa Rosa, CA

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