2012/05/20 Annular Solar Eclipse Composite
This is my first annular eclipse experience. Though the annular would not be as stunning as the total, I decided to set out another eclipse expedition (my first was 2009 total eclipse in China), as the next annular opportunity will probably be 20 years later.
About a month prior to the eclipse, I did some search on possible sites along the center line. Some people preferred the beauty of baily’s bead, but I would stay on the center line to enjoy the perfect “ring of fire”.
This was the first time I used Google Earth. In addition to Street View, Google Earth could also show the Sun’s position in the sky at any given time. Both were used to determine whether the western horizon would be clear from trees, buildings or mountains during entire eclipse.
I selected about 6 sites, from Redding, CA to the Fallon, NV, through Nixon (Pyramid Lake area), hoping to get at least one or two sites which would be clear on the eclipse day. My most favorite site was Shasta Dam where I had visited less than a year ago. It was easy to access, and had a nice lawn near the visitor center where the telescope could be set up. But the weather did not corporate, the forecast showed that the high cloud of a cold front would move in N. CA on Sun afternoon, possibly ruined the eclipse viewing.
So my choice would be somewhere in NV. I arrived at Cason City, NV on Sat night with my kids. On Sun morning, I checked local weather forecast, NOAA Reno favored Reno, Pyramid Lake and Central West NV area. I was not too sure about Reno, because it was too close to Sierra Nevada so the weather could change any time. Further more both SkippySky and CSC indicated that the region north of Pyramid Lake, and south of Fallon would have some clouds. I decided to drive to Fallon to stay away from the mountain ridges, meantime I would still have time to drive around (either to the Nixon on the N, or to HW121@HW50 on the S) based on the local weather. On my way to Fallon, there were some annoying high clouds to the North (presumably over Pyramid Lake), so I headed directly to Grimes Point, which was a few miles southwest of Stillwater Reservoir which was on the center line.
While waiting for the eclipse, we took a short (~1/2 mile) hike to the ancient Indian petroglyph site. The site was relatively small and most petroglyph have been weathered, but it was interesting to see it as a side trip.
My kids at Hidden Cave
The scattered clouds to the West and South started to develop at 2PM, hanging over the mountains. I paid my attention particularly to the South, because both CrippySky and CSC forecasted mid clouds, though CrippySky was a little bit optimistic. For the next two hours (actually till the end of eclipse), all the clouds were confined over the mountains but developed quite a bit, esp the one to the south, which merged to a big bank and covered the entire mountain ridge there.
Fallon’s weather was not always promising. I had been checking the satellite image for about a week poor to the eclipse day, and noticed that the clouds developed in the afternoon over the maintains to the east, and moved either further to the east (great), or to the west (bad) and covered Fallon and Reno, depending on the wind.
The weather on the eclipse was proved to be perfect for such expedition. The sky was crystal clear, and the high clouds near horizon did not interfere the eclipse except for last 10 minutes. The seeing was great, details of the sun spot and brighten area near the limb were easily visible.
To my surprise, there were only about 20 people showed up in the parking lot, one with a short tube refractor telescope and camera, 2 or 3 of them with tripod and camera, rest with eclipse glasses, I was wondering how it would be different for them to view the eclipse here than at their home. Almost all the people seemed to be impressed by my setup.
My Kid and My Setup
CGEM mount, AT111EDT (white) for imaging, AT72ED (black) for visual with 24mm Panoptic EP
It was hot and breezy when the eclipse started. But as the eclipse progressed (~30 mins), the wind subsidized and the temperature became cooler, and the conditions remained comfortable until the end of the eclipse. However I had a hard time to view the laptop screen due to sun light, next time I would need to bring something to block the sunlight.
As time went by, the moon crept over the sun, and the crescent sun looked more like a moon. You would not notice moon’s moving at all at first, but as the 2nd contact approached, the crescent sun seemed to look different every second. Finally the moon completely moved inside the sun and the fire of ring was hanging in the western sky – a beautiful scene that one would never forget. It was so beautiful that everyone seemed very excited. The annular eclipse lasted about 5min, after which people started trickling away.
When the moon finally moved out, it was almost 19h40m. The sun was low in the western sky and blocked partially by the clouds over the mountains.
On 8:15pm, the final part of the expedition began – 5-hour drive back to the home. It was a tough drive, after 3-hours tireless observation under the schoching sun.
Overall the expedition was a great success, after a month planning and preparation.
The most difficult part of the eclipse planning has always been how to beat (not really) the weather .It is always a tough decision when the forecast is not perfect. I use the following information available to make the final decision:
– Aviation forecast: most accurate but only for 24-hours, and should always be checked first if there is an airport nearby
– CSC and SkippySky: it is hard to tell which one is more accurate, so I check both to see if they agree with each other
– Satellite image