Monday, June 11, 2012

Ring of Fire! The Annular Solar Eclipse of 2012

Better late then never.  I've been so busy since the Annular Eclipse last May 20th, I haven't had a chance to work on the images, but I finally have them done.  I created a video of the event, which can be seen on YouTube.

My wife, Gloria, and I left Castle Rock, Colorado bright and early at 4:30 Sunday morning, the day of the eclipse.  We arrived in Sante Fe, NM around noon, where we ate a great lunch at the Tune-Up Cafe, a very small cafe we wanted to try after watching a TV show about it on the Food Network show Drive-ins, Diners and Dives.  The small, clean diner was getting crowded, but we got a table before the lunch crowd came in.

A few more miles further south we arrived in Albuquerque to a clear blue sky, although I could see some clouds starting to build over the mountains to the west of the city.  I called Elizabeth Brown, a fellow Astronomical Society of Kansas City club member, to see where she and other club members were.  Elizabeth and the rest of the group rode a train from Kansas City and were now driving back to Albuquerque from visiting the Very Large Array.  The VLA is a set of very big radio telescope that you may remember were prominently displayed in the movie "Contact" starring Jodie Foster.  I've never been to the VLA, and I had no time to visit this time around.  Hopefully some day.

I told Elizabeth that we were going to drive west of the city into the country side in search of a better looking horizon instead of buildings .  I drove along I-40, which is also the old Route 66 highway.  I ended up in the town of Laguna, where I took a side road going north closer to the center line of the eclipse.  About 15 miles later I ended up in Seboyeta, a very small town and a dead end and nothing I liked for a good horizon.  We headed back to Laguna and then further west staying on a side road next to I-40.  A few miles before we got to Grants, NM, I turned south on a road to the entrance of El Malpais National Monument, where we quickly saw a view of a huge valley with mountains off in the distance.

El Malpais is a huge area of molten lava trenches, caves, cinder cones and shield volcanoes.  I wold love to visit this place some day, but not on this day.  Instead, I parked and set up my tripod and camera.  I used my Canon 300mm f/4 with a 1.4 extender making the final focal length 420mm at f/5.6.  Focus is pretty simple with this lens.  I use the camera's auto focus mode on the edge of the sun, but then turn of auto focus, otherwise, once I center the sun the focus points of the camera may not be near the edge anymore and the camera will try to find focus and never find it.  This was the scene looking west, with plenty of clouds, but no time to look for a better place.

Soon after I was set up, a young woman drove up and set up a tripod and camera a few yards from us.  Gloria went over to talk to her for a bit.  When she came back she told me that she was also planning on taking pictures of the eclipse, but she did not have a solar filter.  I'm pretty sure she didn't get anything, because the sky was just too clear to shoot the Sun without a solar filter.

The first bites of the sun by the moon came right on time, but a few clouds also took some bites right near first contact.  You can see this on the video.  A few more clouds came and went, but for the most part, it was clear.

Some time before the mid-eclipse a car drove up with a young couple stopping to get a view of the eclipse.  They did not have solar filters so we let them use some extra solar filter glasses that we had.  Second contact came right on time, but just as the Moon was moving to the center of the Sun some clouds ruined our view and my pictures of a perfect ring of fire.  You can see the clouds breaking up the ring on the video.  They did not go away until after third contact.

Just as the couple drove off, another car showed up.  A woman, a man and a young girl were using solar filter glasses.  I invited them over to have a look at the eclipse through my camera, which gave a much better view.  They were local people who said they drove here for a better view of the eclipse as it set in the west.  It was nice to be under the shadow of the Moon and share one of natures great events with them.

We watched the rest of the eclipse cloud free and soon the Sun was touching the edge of the far mountains in the west.  Watching the partially eclipsed Sun slide behind trees along the mountain horizon until the last bit of Sun disappeared was worth the whole trip.  Below is an image of that scene.

By the time we got back to Albuquerque it was dark.  If you've ever driven east into Albuquerque in the dark, you'll know that the the city lights spread out in the valley below you is a fantastic sight.  It's like watching the city lights from a low flying airplane.

It was a very good Annular Eclipse, but now I can't wait for the Total Solar Eclipse in 2017.  Total eclipses are far superior to an annular.  This is because during a total, you don't need a solar filter to view or photograph it.  Watching a total solar eclipse is one of the greatest sights you will ever see, which pictures can't do justice to the feeling of seeing a twilight sky with stars visible and a dark hole where the sun should be.  The horizon all around you has the color of one huge sunset.  One can see why people in the far past would be afraid when they saw the Sun disappear being replaced by a round dark hole surrounded with a streaming corona and pink prominences.  Click here to see the track and where you need to be in the Moons shadow.

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