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August 21 was a happy day for eclipse viewers in Riverton, Wyoming. We stayed in the Riverton RV Park, a Good Sam park right in the town of Riverton. Riverton was not exactly on the center line of the eclipse but was well within the band of totality. We were giving up about 8 seconds of totality staying at that location as opposed to setting up at a remote location somewhere. It was nice to be able to get up, walk out the door and set up to observe the eclipse just outside the door of our motor home. At sunrise, there was a veil of thin cirrus clouds moving in from the northwest. The forecast called for occasional smoke from fires in Oregon but we never saw evidence of that on Monday. We were sharing the campground with many other eclipse observers. Telescopes were set up at many sites. It was fun to watch individuals scurrying to set up equipment. I also was scurrying. I carry a small telescope, a Meade 5" scope and a large tripod to support it. I had various camera gear, my still camera is my main tool. I've been experimenting with video and had a GoPro set up and also a regular video camera. Neither of the video efforts were useful. It's a learning process. An event like the total solar eclipse is not a good time to be experimenting. With just 2 minutes and 20 seconds for the show, there is no time to make adjustments or change things in mid stream. So I set those things up and just let them run, hoping for some level of success. There was a film crew in the campground and they had a compliment of complex, high end cameras to document the corona, the outer layer, of the Sun. Similar crews were stationed across the US in a coordinated effort to get something like 90 minutes of continuous video of the corona. There were also observers who had only the solar glasses to view the eclipse. They were relaxed, lawn chairs set up was the extent of their preparation. One couple we met was in a rental RV. They were from Belgium and had made reservations at this RV park in early 2016 as soon as they began taking reservations. As mentioned previously, we paid a premium fee to stay in the park and we were lucky to get a site following a cancellation by someone who had made reservations long ago. As part of our fee, we got a number of perks that aren't part of a normal RV park stay. A pair of solar glasses, a Moon Pie, root beer floats Sunday afternoon and a catered dinner on Monday evening helped give us more for our money and helped build a campground community. The camp owners were out and about visiting with all their guests and we enjoyed many a conversation with them and other guests. The partial phase of the eclipse began at 10:40 a.m. with a shout of "first contact" from someone in the campground. People continued to visit, wandering from location to location, discussing the eclipse, visiting as friends. Every so often, people put on the solar glasses and looked up to check the progress toward the big show. A herd of about 30 cows and calves were bedded down in the shade of some trees just across the fence from the campground. As the eclipse proceeded to about 75% the entire group got up and headed off toward the barn. We all had a good laugh. As the Sun became a thin crescent, my eye was glued to the telescope. It gave me the most precise view of the final moments before totality. As the eclipse became total, I backed away from the telescope and looked up at the eclipsed sun. The view through the telescope might seem to be a better choice but its field of view would contain only the entire Moon or Sun when at lowest power. It works fine for the partial phases but for totality, nothing beats the naked eye or a pair of binoculars. My preference is just the naked eye. Nothing is like just standing in the shadow of the Moon and looking at the amazing corona. After a minute or so, I began snapping pictures with the still camera. I wasn't making adjustments, just taking a number of photos. Looking around I was able to see Venus high overhead. I never was able to see Jupiter or any other stars. I did seem to catch a star or planet in my still photos, I haven't been able to identify it yet. As totality ended a cheer went up across the campground. The thin veil of clouds had moved off as totality began and we were able to see a beautiful total eclipse of the Sun. There followed a period of conversation among all the observers, sharing impressions and feelings about this event. I had a host of equipment to pack away but that could wait. There was a tremendous emotional charge that needed to be savored and shared. Slowly we began packing away our equipment and returning to more normal activities. Before the following partial eclipse some people began leaving the campground. Throughout the afternoon, more RV's made their way out of the campground. In mid-afternoon we left the park in the toad to go in search of eclipse T-shirts. We were amazed to see traffic backed up in Riverton. Cars would move from one traffic light across an intersection into line for the next traffic light. We took back streets to the campground in order to avoid the traffic jam. Later in the afternoon we had a conversation with a fellow camper who had left the campground for home. They got through town and then encountered a traffic back-up several miles out of town and were down to a crawl, 2 mph or so. They decided to turn around and stay overnight to leave on Tuesday. We also left on Tuesday morning. There was no traffic jam in town or on down the road. Traffic was almost certainly a little heavier than normal but on a 80 mile stretch of two lane highway we seldom had more than two or three vehicles behind us. We were never slowed down by slower traffic, plenty of opportunities to pass when we needed to do so. The next total solar eclipse will occur in 2024. That eclipse path crosses from Mexico into the US near Del Rio, Texas and cuts across the country to the northeast, exiting into Canada from Maine. Once again there will be millions of people who will gather to observe the total eclipse of the Sun. We found the remote area of Wyoming to be an easy place to get to the path of the total eclipse. We were far from large cities, the nearest were Salt Lake City and Denver. We were at least a two hour drive from the nearest interstate highway. This made for an area where crowds were manageable. We were pleased with the readiness of the small communities to serve the influx of eclipse watchers. The local merchants were promoting and accommodating eclipse crowds. There were activities in the park, a shuttle was set up to transport people from one location in town to another. Thinking of the next solar eclipse I don't think there will be a place this remote. The population of central Texas, San Antonio, Austin, Temple and Waco are all just off the line of totality so there will be huge crowds headed for west Texas to observe. To the north and east there are no good remote locations, huge population centers will be nearby along the entire eclipse path. Let's hope that some good lessons were learned from this event. Start planning for the next if you didn't get to see this one. Make reservations early and hope for good weather.
This will be a short note to let all know where we are located and what conditions are in Riverton, WY. On Saturday we set out from Fort Morgan, CO for Idaho. We spent Saturday night at Little America, a fuel and food stop on I-80 in SW Wyoming. Sunday morning I checked weather conditions along the line of totality and found the forecast for Riverton, WY to be about the same as Boise or Pocatello, Idaho. Since Riverton was closer to Colorado where we would return, we decided to head for Riverton, WY. This morning I am up because the internet here was not accessible. As I explained to a fellow camper, the local system was probably designed to handle 1000 connections and now it is getting hit with 10,000 connections. Nothing works when the system is overloaded. Anyway, back to Sunday morning. As we left I-80 in Green River, Louise called a campground in Riverton. They had a cancellation and we got a full hookup site. We arrived about 2:30 p.m. and were welcomed to our eclipse home. There are several astronomers in camp. One couple we've met is from Belgium. Our rate for two nights stay was well over double the rate posted on the office board. The fee includes a pair of eclipse glasses, a mini moon pie (label says since 1917 how appropriate, 100 years old this year), tickets for a root beer float here in camp and also a Sunday night dinner. So we get more than just a site. The forecast here calls for clear skies but there will be patchy smoke from the fires in Oregon. I saw some of that last evening. Boise has clear skies - sunshine, no mention of smoke. Pocatello has patchy smoke. Casper, WY which was also on our option list has patchy smoke. Our other option for viewing was to stay in Colorado at Fort Morgan and then drive to Scottsbluff, NE. There the skies are forecast to be sunny. When we made the decision to leave Colorado on Saturday the forecast called for storms in Scottsbluff. We should see the eclipse, perhaps not under the best skies but it will be visible here. There are a whole set of activities going on in the city park and the town is positively humming with activity. There is even an eclipse shuttle. They were well prepared for the crowds, everyone here seems to be well informed. The casino in town has lots of dry campers and they have a program for those saying with them. There is a county-wide newspaper with a schedule of all the activities going on and information about viewing the eclipse including times for a number of locations within the county. It's going to be a memorable day.
In a previous entry I described the total eclipse of the sun which is happening next month, August 21, 2017. Total solar eclipses are rare. How rare? It has been 26 years (July 11, 1991) and that was only seen in only one state, Hawaii. The next solar eclipse for the US will be April 8 2024. This one enters from Mexico into Texas and slices northeastward through New England exiting the US in Maine, continuing on through New Brunswick, and Newfoundland. There have been many partial eclipses, but the difference between a partial eclipse and a total eclipse of the Sun is night and day if you will pardon the obvious. The eclipse next month can be seen from the entire US as a partial eclipse but only those who are in a ribbon that is 71 miles wide at it's widest, will be able to see the total eclipse. That ribbon of totality enters the US near Portland, Oregon and exits on the east coast of South Carolina. If you are exactly in the center of the ribbon of totality, you will get about 2 minutes of darkness before the Sun reappears. Standing near the edge of the ribbon the length of the eclipse could be just a matter of a few seconds before the Sun reappears. It is going to take some planning to see this eclipse. Millions of Americans will flock to that ribbon. They will be joined by many thousands of visitors from all over the world. Now some details. States with larger populations are already issuing travel alerts and making provisions to handle the millions of people who will see the eclipse. States with smaller populations will have fewer locals to deal with but they also are states that have widely spaced roads which will concentrate crowds on the few roads in those states that cross through the ribbon of totality. RV parks, motels and hotels along the ribbon of totality are already sold out in many locations. Those of us with RV's are fortunate, we travel with our motel. I would not plan to take your motor home into the ribbon of totality unless you have already secured a campground. My personal planning is to watch the weather as the eclipse approaches. I'll start watching the weather weeks before the eclipse. I plan to get close to the area with the greatest probability of clear skies with the motor home and then use the toad to get to the clearest skies with the toad. I'll try to be at my chosen observing site by sunrise and will watch the entire eclipse from that location. We'll pack food for the day, liquids and perhaps a celebratory bottle of Champagne. Once totality passes, many people will start for "home." This can create tremendous traffic jams so plan to sit tight and watch the whole show before departing your observing site. Where do you find specific details? I gave several references in my entry several months ago. More are available now as the eclipse approaches. There are good sites that show details of the ribbon of totality so you can position yourself precisely on its center line. Many of the sites have eclipse glasses for sale. These protective glasses, some with aluminized mylar are quite cheap but very effective, are necessary for the partial phases of the eclipse. Once the sun is completely covered the glasses can be put aside and you will be looking at one of natures most spectacular displays. The Moon is the dark spot, silhouetted against the light of the corona of the Sun. You may discern a drop in temperature as totality approaches. Birds will be singing as though it was sunset coming on. Listen during totality, can you hear any birds chirping? At totality, the sky becomes dark enough that planets and bright stars can be seen. Using binoculars (during totality only) you can get a good look at solar prominence which look like small red "flames" rising from the Sun. If we are lucky we may even be able to see other features. Large solar ejections and flares can cause the corona to have strange shapes. Whatever you see, it will be an event you will never forget. Just a few links: The Great American Eclipse - Fantastic traffic and crowd information Eclipse 2017 - Great video of the shadow sweeping across the US NASA - As only NASA can do it. Great images of the Sun. What to look for. A great set of nine regional, detailed maps of the path of totality. How to photograph. Weather prospects. Much more... Space.com - Great detail, how to photograph, what to look for. Each link has it's own special information, most have eclipse glasses for sale, as does Amazon. Order soon, don't be disappointed. Your eyes are way too important to take chances with someone's home-made eclipse viewer. I ordered 50 glasses for less than $1.00 each.
August 11, 1999 Louise and I traveled to Paris to see a total solar eclipse. The trip was our first adventure to Europe and was a wonderful adventure that helped convince us that there was much to see in the world. Our trip was a success, we saw the total eclipse briefly as the clouds parted during totality. The sight was spectacular, something that many people may live a lifetime and never experience. I had traveled with my family to Hawaii July 11, 1991 to see the total solar eclipse there. Spending the night alongside the highway in the desert on the western side of the big island, Hawaii, we were clouded out and sat through the eclipse in a light drizzle. Then, June 21, 2001 Louise and I traveled to Zambia in southern Africa to see the solar eclipse once again. It was another great adventure filled with African wildlife and many memorable experiences. Once again, we were successful and were able to observe the total eclipse of the sun. This time the sky was smoky as it was the season for burning off old crops in preparation for the coming planting season. I describe all this to emphasize the importance many people attach to chasing the shadow of the Moon. The total eclipse is only visible when you are within the total shadow of the Moon. You can see an eclipse in the partial shadow but it will only be a partial eclipse. I would never pass up a chance to view a partial eclipse but the real prize is the total solar eclipse. The thing about a total solar eclipse is that the full shadow of the Moon from which you can view the total solar eclipse is a very narrow band. For the eclipse in Paris, it was about 70 miles wide at its widest point. The eclipse in Hawaii had a shadow width of 160 miles at its widest point. The African eclipse was almost 125 miles wide at its widest point. To experience the longest possible time in the Moon’s shadow you must be near the centerline of the path of the shadow. Given all that, Monday, August 21, 2017 you will have a chance to see the Great American Eclipse. It has been many years since a total solar eclipse could be seen in mainland US. This eclipse will cut a swath across 12 states starting in NW Oregon at about 10:18 a.m. PDT and will exit the US at 2:48 p.m. EDT in Eastern South Carolina. Other states that will see the eclipse include Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, extreme northeastern Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, northeastern Georgia and the western North Carolina. You won’t have to travel to a distant country, this eclipse is coming to a state near you! All areas in those states won’t see totality, the shadow is only going to be 71 miles wide at its widest point. You will need detailed information to get as close to the center of the shadow as possible. In an article on the History of FMCA from May 2004 FMCA Magazine there is a reference to a meeting of motor homes at a total solar eclipse at Hinckley School in Hinckley, Maine on July 20, 1963. Out of this gathering of 26 “coach owning families” grew the present organization. That eclipse was one of a series of eclipses in a sequence that astronomers call a Saros. From one eclipse to the next in a Saros is 18 years, 11 days and 8 hours. It happens that this eclipse was number 19 of 77 eclipses in Saros 145. Its path came onshore in North America in western Alaska, crossed Canada and exited the continent as it passed across Maine. Alaska and Maine were the only states where the total eclipse could be seen. There have been several other eclipses in Saros, 145. In July 31, 1981 number 20 in that Saros crossed Russia. It was not visible in North America. On August 11, 1999, number 21 of Saros 145 crossed Europe, the Middle East and exited into the Indian Ocean from the eastern coast of India. Louise and I traveled to Paris, France to observe this eclipse. There were clouds around and we drove frantically across northern France looking for an opening in the clouds as totality approached. When I took a wrong turn at a roundabout and then attempted a U-turn on the road the wheels mired down in mud when I pulled onto the shoulder. We slid into a ditch. A passing couple from Belgium stopped and said (in perfect English) they would call a wrecker. We watched as the clouds parted and the partially eclipsed sun became visible. The wrecker arrived just as the shadow of the moon was within seconds of reaching us. We shared our Mylar glasses with them and then put the glasses aside to watch the total phase of the eclipse. We weren’t on the centerline but were well within the path of totality. It was our first total solar eclipse and we were hooked. During the total eclipse the corona or outer atmosphere of the Sun becomes visible and any prominences (loops of solar material) or flares will show up. All these can be viewed without eye protection. Looking at the rest of the sky, planets and bright stars will be visible. Being aware of other circumstances, the temperature will drop as if the sun has set, birds may sing and then grow silent as they roost for the short night caused by the eclipse. Right at the beginning of the eclipse and again at the end you may observe the diamond ring, the last glint of direct sunlight through a lunar valley as the rest of the Moon is surrounded by the faint light of the corona. If you are hampered by thin clouds you may be able to watch the shadow of totality sweep across the clouds. That brings us to the Great American Eclipse of 2017. This eclipse occurs on August 21, 2017. It is number 22 in Saros 145, 54 years and one month after the eclipse in Hinckley, Maine. This total solar eclipse will cut a swath across 12 states starting in NW Oregon at about 10:18 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time and will exit the US at 2:48 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time in eastern South Carolina. Do the math, that is about one hour and 30 minutes, coast to coast across the United States. At any given location, the eclipse will last for about two minutes to as much as 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Other states that will see the eclipse include Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, southern Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee and the northeastern tip of Georgia. All areas in those states won’t see totality, the shadow is only going to be 71 miles wide at its widest point. You will need detailed information to get as close to the center of the shadow as possible. You should make plans to see this eclipse in person. You can watch it on TV, view it a hundred times on YouTube but there is nothing like standing in the Moon’s shadow. Everyone in the US, part of Mexico and Canada will be able to see a partial eclipse but only those in the narrow total shadow of our Moon will see the total eclipse. That path is widest and the eclipse will last longest in western Kentucky. More important will be the weather across the country. Watching weather patterns as the eclipse approaches may give you a general idea where to set up to see the eclipse. Then plan to take the toad to the actual observing point. Expect to be joined by throngs of people from around the globe who are also scrambling to see this spectacle of nature. As the eclipse draws closer, I’ll fill in more suggestions for observing the eclipse. In the meantime, consult some of these websites to find information on your own. Some RV parks near the path of totality were already taking reservations for the time around August 21, 2017 last summer. References: NASA Accuweather Great American Eclipse Eclipse 2017