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Thursday, 01 July 2010


I'm not sure how a bookmark is going to last 7 years on any machine I use, but this is bookmarked nevertheless.

Fascinating, thanks for this post.

I was just wondering the other day when the next chance at seeing a total ecplise in North America was coming. This is perfect; the path of totality runs <1 day drive from any city in which I might conceivably be living, and my son will be 7 years old and able to appreciate it (at least on some level).

If there are clouds that day, I will stab God in the eye with a sharp stick.

Also be prepared to be disappointed by the weather as I was in 1999 when I travelled to Cornwall in England.

I ended up just taking a video of how dark it got under the clouds at totality and recording the sounds of the birds as they got confused by the sudden passage of a very short night.

It was also memorable for the thousands of flashes of light that came from point and shoot cameras with auto flash on, that were in the darkness of totality along the headlands that we could see from our position.

The late Arnold Gassan, my photo professor in grad school, recommended that I read Annie Dillard's "Teaching a Stone to Talk". I bought the book on his suggestion.

In the book is an essay about watching a total eclipse, and how deeply it affected otherwise rational people. She watched the eclipse from a hillside and observed this:

"People of all the hillsides, including, I think, myself, screamed when the black body of the moon detached from the sky and rolled over the sun. But something else was happening at the same instant, and it was this, I believe, which made us scream."

"The second before the sun went out we saw a wall of dark shadow come speeding as us..."

In the book she continues to explain that the shadow approaches at 1,800 miles per hour, and this huge, speeding wall of darkness prompted an instinctive reaction.

Ever since reading that book, I've wanted to experience a total eclipse for myself. I hope I can make it.

@ Ctein: "Folks, this is a not-to-be-missed opportunity"
Listen to the man. It was eleven years ago I saw a total eclipse, in Cornwall. Mere words are not enough. Just go.

After seeing both the 1979 total eclipse in Montana, and the 1991 total eclipse in Baja, I can tell you Ctein is soooo right! I got some decent photos of totality, but I didn't enjoy either one as much as I should have. I was just too busy. Watch the show. Let someone else shoot it!!

There's a "Twilight" joke in there somewhere ;)

My first total was at Minot, ND, sometime back in the 80s, and I agree about the shock and awe aspect. The best way to get really good photos might be not to look at the eclipse. Set up, go through your routine without actually looking at it...eclipses, I sometimes think, might be the real foundation of religions. Something this spectacular, and at the same time so improbable, seems like it must have an intelligence behind it.



thanks for this. I read about the 79 eclipse after the fact, and was sorry I hadn't gone to see it. Now I have ample time to plan for this one. I'll have to start location scouting now.

I have to agree with Ctein - I have only seen one total eclipse, and it is quite simply the most awe inspiring natural phenomenon I have ever seen. I didn't try to take any photos, just stared at the sky and took it all in. If you have the opportunity to see one for the first time you simply must go. But I would leave the camera at home - some things are best seen with your eyes.

This is not a technical question as you did not go into great technical depth, more of a series of connected synapses firing in remembrance.

What's the name of those nifty gold filters you stuff on top of a lens before burning a hole in the back of the camera? We'll need those in 7 years, right?

Hmmm, all of these comments make me wonder about the premise of Asimov's "NightFall."

My first was the '91 in Hawaii; second was last year's in China. Like everyone's saying Ctein speaks the truth.

My setup for 2017 will be thus: fully automated Celestron CGEM + Megrez 90 + DSLR in auto multi-bracketing mode during the entire totality, and a DSLR (maybe digital MF cam) shooting landscape in full auto multi-bracketing mode during the entire totality.

Me? I'm just gonna stand and stare at the black hole that opens up in the sky, in awe, mouth agape, during the entire totality.

BTW, weather makes and breaks a total solar eclipse. I was extremely lucky to be in the 25% of the big island in '91 that got to see the entire totality without clouds. I was kind of lucky last year that my group had the determination to leave Shanghai the day before the eclipse to a city further west (Wuhan). Wuhan wasn't optimal as it was overcast during totality:


but much better than Shanghai where exactly zero people got to see it at all. More determined people moved even farther west (e.g., to Chongqing) where they got a treat to an unobstructed totality.

I suggest that if you are really determined, then choose an area of the country that will give you the best possible chance of clear skies AND be prepared to drive like mad the night before or even the morning of if your location of choice happens to crap on you.

I remember the 79 eclipse in Montana, seen from the playground of my junior high with a bunch of screaming kids. We all had those little boxes but there was a thin cloud cover and everyone just stared at the sun like they weren't supposed to.

This post should come with a medical disclaimer :)


I saw the 1983 Total in Victoria, Australia, and can concur with everything Ctein and others say about the experience. We tape recorded our conversation and it's all just Ooooh's and "Oh my God-WOW!'s" and I haven't see another. Might just try to get to US for this one! My photos were ordinary, but the experience remains. A bit like seeing "Tane Mahuta", the huge Kauri tree in northern New Zealand for the first time.

I was very fortunate to have a dad who was into astronomy and photography and he twice took me with him to see a solar eclipse. I remember the first one best, in 1973 in a small town in the Canadian Northwest Territory called Tuktoyaktuk. It was the most exciting, impressive, and awe-inspiring thing I have ever seen. Even now, 37 years later I can feel some of the emotion and excitement of those few minutes. Thanks for the advance notice. You can bet I'll be watching from somewhere in 2017.

Sorry, but as majestic, awe-inspiring and unforgettable as the event will be, I'll still be there with my camera - particularly if the really, really dark bit passes over Stonehenge. Can you imagine the capture - all those nerds formerly called something like Nigel Smith, who'll have given turned their backs on chartered accounting, changed their names to Uther Pendragon, Gorlois or Hengest and turned up in their new white frocks? Priceless. I'll be doing a print sale myself, I expect.

If it's not too early to start planning: What dynamic range will 2017's high end digital consumer cameras be able to handle?

Anyone know of a reliable weather prediction service...? JK.

More seriously, are there total eclipses at more frequent intervals if one is prepared to consider the entire globe? Is there a website that can tell where on earth the next total eclipse will be? I don't live in the US, but split my time between the UK and Australia. From either, it's not too hard to travel to somewhere that may have a total eclipse before 2017.

@James: "Is there a website that can tell where on earth the next total eclipse will be?"

NASA has a few interesting resources. For example: Five Millenium Catalog of Solar Eclipses, which shows there will be 67 total eclipses during this century. In fact, in Nov 2012 you will have one passing through north Australia.

Dear Carsten,

Best consumer cameras today are around 12.5 stops exposure range. Best professional cameras are around 13.5 stops.

Dunno what it'll be in seven years; don't recall seeing a trend analysis for this characteristic.

pax / Ctein

If you would convince others, you seem open to conviction yourself. What do you think?

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