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Watching the Totality – 2017 Total Eclipse

Posted September 06, 2017 3:16 PM by Mindful Monkey
Pathfinder Tags: eclipse totality

The idea of astronomy is much more appealing to me than the reality of it. Gazing at the stars, contemplating the meaning of life and our place in the cosmos, and exploring the time machine that is the night sky, is all fascinating until I have to leave my warm house (or bed) and stand outside in the dark, cold night. So the recent total eclipse – which happened in the middle of a summer day – was perfect for me.

My husband, Dave, started planning for this three years ago, long before anyone was talking about it publically. In fact, most of our friends thought he was a little ridiculous to be making such a big deal about something they all thought they’d witnessed before and that was so far in the future. Thankfully, he persisted.

To reach the path of totality, the 70-mile band where the sun would be 100% obscured by the moon for several minutes, we drove 4.5 hours to a campsite in Alliance, Nebraska. Because of reports of potentially horrific traffic jams and long lines at gas stations we left on Saturday, two days early, just in case. Fortunately, however, those reports (at least where we were) were greatly exaggerated. We had no traffic and no problem getting gas.

We arrived at the campground (read: large hayfield) at 5 p.m. and more or less had our choice of spots. The next day we watched the steady flow of cars, vans, RVs and campers of all shapes and sizes gradually fill the place. People were friendly, asking where we were from and when we arrived, and expressing excitement and anticipation for the big event. Many, like us, came from neighboring Colorado, but we met people (and saw license plates) from all over. Many brought their dogs and one family even traveled with their two lively cockatoos.

Sunday night into Monday morning, Dave woke up to heavy fog and a forecast of “mostly cloudy” for Alliance. We decided to implement our Plan B, which was to pack up and head to Agate, about 70 miles northwest of Alliance. We woke the kids around 5 a.m. and the four of us worked stealthily in the dark (except for a couple of headlamps) to take down the tent and load our belongings into the truck without waking everyone around us. We reached Agate Fossil Beds National Monument at about 9:00, just in time to get a place in the overflow parking lot, a field across from the visitor center. We had come from the east and didn’t see many cars along the way, but a steady stream of traffic from the west quickly filled up the lot, and even the roadside, behind us.

The area has some bluffs and rock outcroppings. Several eclipse watchers hiked up for an elevated view, some even hauling telescopes. Several more had multiple telescopes set up in the parking lot. The scene was like a tailgating event before a football game: chairs and picnic tables, canopies and coolers. It was a big party. A steady breeze blew in some light clouds and we all prayed they would not block our view.

As the eclipse began around 11:30, we sat in our folding chairs and donned our eclipse glasses. The sun was almost directly overhead, and we watched as the moon slowly passed in front of it, making it look a bit like Pac-Man and a bit like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. Little by little the sun disappeared until it was just a sliver. The temperature dropped noticeably as the light diminished. We made a mental note of how it looked at about 92% -- what we would have seen from home. Then we watched in amazement as the sky darkened and we could take off our glasses to look at the sun completely blocked by the moon with only its glowing corona visible. Venus appeared in the sky, and then a few stars. Most beautiful and otherworldly, however, was the 360-degree sunset. We contemplated what the ancients might have thought witnessing the same things. As the sun began to reappear, its light seemed sharper, brighter and whiter than normal.

What the experts had said was true. The difference between seeing a partial eclipse and a total eclipse is huge. It was only a couple of minutes (plus four and a half hours driving there, two nights of camping, two more hours of driving from Alliance to Agate, and seven hours driving home) but it is something we will never forget. I teared up. Even my teenagers were awed. Dave was overjoyed that all his planning paid off and he got to see this once-in-a-lifetime event.

Well, okay, maybe twice-in-a-lifetime. We’re already talking about going to see the next one in 2024.

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Guru

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#1

Re: Watching the Totality – 2017 Total Eclipse

09/06/2017 4:43 PM

Science is hard....but awesome! lol....congratulations on your successful conquest of observance of a rare celestial event that would have sent your ancestors running for their caves...

Please accept this small virtual token as a reward for your efforts...

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#2
In reply to #1

Re: Watching the Totality – 2017 Total Eclipse

09/06/2017 4:48 PM

Thank you! I know several people who would appreciate that shirt, including a few who had a much longer drive than I did.

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Guru

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#3
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Re: Watching the Totality – 2017 Total Eclipse

09/06/2017 4:58 PM

At least none of you guys put your eyes out!

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Guru

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#6
In reply to #3

Re: Watching the Totality – 2017 Total Eclipse

09/06/2017 7:09 PM

The thought crossed my mind how many people I would meet driving home with holes in their retinas (or still wearing their eclipse glasses).

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#4

Re: Watching the Totality – 2017 Total Eclipse

09/06/2017 6:00 PM

It was "totally" worth it. I saw it in SC, and I was almost put off by all the hype about traffic, etc. Hoping that most people would head to a city, I located the rest areas on the interstate in the path of totality and arrived at one about 5 hours early. It never completely filled up, was completely free, and had restrooms and vending machines available.

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#5
In reply to #4

Re: Watching the Totality – 2017 Total Eclipse

09/06/2017 6:06 PM

Sounds like you had a great plan. We almost cancelled the morning we planned to leave. So glad we didn't!

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#7
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Re: Watching the Totality – 2017 Total Eclipse

09/07/2017 1:15 AM

I left on Friday, and drove over 600 miles to see it, to a place in eastern Oregon that was well off the centerline of totality, choosing a shorter totality in order to avoid the crowds. It worked, and as others have said, it was totally worth it!

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#8

Re: Watching the Totality – 2017 Total Eclipse

09/07/2017 12:52 PM

Hurray for you! Glad you had a backup plan that worked. I had some friends whose primary and backup plans both fizzled. Luckily for me, my primary plan worked. After planning to see the eclipse for over 5 years, my only backup plan was copious amounts of whiskey.

For me the 2024 eclipse will be a thrice-in-a-lifetime event (assuming I'm still around in 7 years), or fourth-ish-ice, if you count one that got ruined by clouds. And yes, my plans for it are already in place - so long as neither of my 2 sisters moves in the meantime.

In case you missed them, I posted some of my photos here:

http://cr4.globalspec.com/thread/114647

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#9
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Re: Watching the Totality – 2017 Total Eclipse

09/07/2017 1:21 PM

...and those photos come highly recommended.

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#13
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Re: Watching the Totality – 2017 Total Eclipse

09/07/2017 8:29 PM

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#10
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Re: Watching the Totality – 2017 Total Eclipse

09/07/2017 1:48 PM

Most excellent photos.

As it turned out, our Plan A was (as far as we can tell) fine, too. But hubby wasn't taking any chances. We did get to see some cool stuff at the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument (which I hadn't even heard of prior to that, and probably have no reason to go to again). So, that was kind of a bonus.

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#11

Re: Watching the Totality – 2017 Total Eclipse

09/07/2017 3:09 PM

Welcome to the world of CR4 blogging, Mindful Monkey! An excellent first entry!

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#12

Re: Watching the Totality – 2017 Total Eclipse

09/07/2017 6:59 PM

I saw it from just north of prineville oregon. Traffic was a terrible. Got there thursday night to avoid traffic, good thing too. The wise governor of oregon declared all semi trucks had to stay off the road for the weekend, so no gas delivery. Two gas station in prineville ran out of gas. left for home on tuesday and avoided a lot of traffic. I really enjoyed watching the eclipse but became even more disenchanted with people when as soon as the sun reappeared the engines started and people were on the road, raising dust.

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#14
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Re: Watching the Totality – 2017 Total Eclipse

09/08/2017 10:42 AM

People generally are not considerate of others using the same area.

Too bad Oregon has a Hillbilly deficiency, or there would have at least been moonshine to use as fuel on the return trip.

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#15
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Re: Watching the Totality – 2017 Total Eclipse

09/08/2017 11:15 AM

I was around 80 miles east of there in the Malheur NF. I went up 395 Friday, and also came back Tuesday. Traffic was not bad either way. I was a bit concerned about the availability of diesel, not having driven in Oregon since getting a diesel car, but there was no problem. By staying well away from the centerline of totality, we accepted a shorter totality in order to avoid the worst crowds, and that worked. We were the only people in our section of the campground 'till Sunday evening, when one other couple arrived. Had a great experience, with no problems and all considerate people.

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#16

Re: Watching the Totality – 2017 Total Eclipse

09/11/2017 1:25 PM

What a wonderful experience this must have been! Though obvious, your anecdote is the first I've heard of a temperature drop in areas of totality. Very interesting!

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#17
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Re: Watching the Totality – 2017 Total Eclipse

09/11/2017 1:59 PM

We took temperature readings before and during the eclipse with a digital thermometer indicating to tenths of a degree Fahrenheit. Here are the results (The blue line with marked data points). No readings were taken between 6:15 and 9:00 AM, resulting in a straight line for that period. Had we taken readings during that time, all actual values would have been below that line, except at the ends. The red line is the temperature recorded automatically by my home weather station KCAPLACE21 (viewable online), altitude 2100 ft, with roughly 80% totality. .

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#18
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Re: Watching the Totality – 2017 Total Eclipse

09/11/2017 2:53 PM

So this was about a 10 degree drop, at 80 percent totality? Impressive. Impressive data collection and display, too.

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#19
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Re: Watching the Totality – 2017 Total Eclipse

09/11/2017 3:50 PM

I remember the eclipse in Salt Lake City, back in the latter day 1970's, as I recall, and I recall this being a warmish spring day, until totality kicked in, and then it was rather brisk.

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#20
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Re: Watching the Totality – 2017 Total Eclipse

09/11/2017 5:23 PM

Right. It is impossible to be precise, but here is the same graph, with the previous (cyan) and following (yellow) days' home temperatures superimposed. Average these two, and you do indeed get close to 10 F° difference due to the eclipse at home. All of these graphs were carefully scaled to have the same horizontal and vertical scales.

I didn't think to take previous or following day readings at the campground...

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