Monthly Archives: Aug 2017

Moments Before the Eclipse

An eclipse is far and away the most powerful and stunning of all the celestial phenomena.  Seeing the sun’s corona is a life-changing experience.  But in the seconds leading up to totality, there will be plenty more to see… if you know where to look.  In anticipation on the August 21st solar eclipse, I sat down with Mark Bender – filmmaker, eclipse chaser, and director of our original series, Eclipse Across America – and asked what advice he would give to our readers before the event.

Mark Bender, Eclipse Chaser

Train your eyes for darkness

It may sound crazy, but if you are looking to heighten the experience even more, blindfold yourself for an hour before totality.  Remember, the totality only lasts for just over 2 minutes.  It would take your eyes more than that to really adjust to the darkness.  Think of walking into a dark movie theater: at first, you can’t see a thing, but as your eyes adjust, the steps and seats become more clear.  Imagine having your eyes fully adjusted to darkness for the entire time of totality.  What you see will be even more stunning!

Look out for shadow bands

Right before totality, some very lucky eclipse watchers may see the shadow bands.  I thought they were just a myth, until I got lucky one time.  Right before a total eclipse, little snake-like shadows from the moon crossing the sun appear to be slithering and shimmering across the ground.  But they are so faint, the contrast has to be just right to see them.  Some people will lay down a large white sheet to try to catch sight of them.  In 2015, I saw the eclipse in Svalbard, Norway, just 800 miles from the North Pole.  I was standing on a landscape covered with ice – just like an enormous white sheet.  And there they were!  It’s all about being at the right place at the right time.

Keep an eye on the forecast

Some of the biggest surprises are often weather-related.  During the eclipse of 1999, I was watching in Cornwall, England.  It was a completely overcast and rainy day.  Leading up to the eclipse, you couldn’t see the sun at all.  Three minutes before totality, the sun started to peak though, and with one minute to go, clouds dissipated and the entire sky opened up.  We lucked out, but the best was yet to come.  Even though the rain had stopped, there was still so much water vapor in the air.  When the sun eclipsed, the corona was full of tiny rainbows!  Imaging seeing the stunning corona in full color!  I have never seen that since, but anything is possible.  You just don’t know how it will play out.

Stay aware of wild animals

Animals in the wild take their behavioral cues from the Sun and the Moon, and the eclipse will affect that for sure.  Watching the 2012 annular eclipse in West Texas, wolves started howling as darkness fell…and I won’t admit to joining in!  Just remember, if they think it is nightfall, then you’re a visitor in their space until the Sun re-emerges.

It may get emotional

Above all, I am most fascinated by human behavior during a total eclipse.  Tears, shouts of joy, stunned silence, experienced astronomers and scientists stuttering with a total loss of words.  There is truly no way to describe it.

 

Watch the Eclipse Across America series trailer here:

All four episodes of Eclipse Across America are available now in Ultra HD 4K, only on CuriosityStream.

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Beyond the Black Disk

On August 21st, 2017, the United States will be treated to an event that hasn’t been seen in 99 years: a coast to coast total solar eclipse.  By that night, photographs of the blackened sun and its extraordinary corona will fill the Internet, but for those looking for something a little different, there are more eclipse day wonders to look out for ‘beyond the black disk.’

Enter our exclusive, original 4-part series, Eclipse Across America In anticipation of the once-in-a-lifetime event, our film crew teamed up with leading eclipse chasers, astronomers, and NASA scientists to travel and explore the path of the August eclipse.  What they returned with is a preview of the different eclipse phenomena that
will be on display that day and an inside look at how scientists are using this event to help us understand not only our home star, but the countless others in our Universe.

Inside an approximately 70-mile wide track stretching from Oregon to South Carolina (known as the path of totality), millions of lucky people will have a chance to witness the fully-eclipsed sun and its corona glowing around its edge.  This view of the sun’s outer atmosphere is truly one of a kind in our Solar System, making this August’s eclipse a “can’t miss” event for citizen scientists and astronomers alike.  But in the seconds leading up to the corona coming out, there will be plenty more to see… if you know where to look.

The experience of a total solar eclipse is really the experience of being in the shadow of the moon.  As serene as those moments of totality may appear, this shadow is actually traveling more than 1000 mph!  That motion may be difficult to sense from ground-level, but from a high point within the path of totality–a mountaintop, a butte, or even a hill with a clear, wide view of its surroundings–you will have a chance to look down and witness that shadow racing across the surface…weather permitting, of course!

As that shadow speeds toward you on the ground, the so-called ‘diamond ring’ phenomenon will be revealed up in the sky.  The moon’s cratered surface yields a bumpy, uneven silhouette so when it passes in front of the sun on August 21st there will be a moment when one final beam of light finds its way through one of these imperfections on the moon’s edge.  From Earth, this beam will glow like a sparkling gem on
the edge of a dimly lit ring.  But even this tiny fraction of the sun’s light will be far too bright to observe with bare eyes.  Make sure you’re still wearing your eclipse glasses for this one.

While the diamond ring will only be visible from inside the path of totality, Baily’s beads will be best experienced just along the edge of that path.  One example–at the Gateway Arch, in St. Louis, Missouri, the alignment between the observer, the moon, and the sun will be ever so slightly shifted off center.  Looking up from the base of the Arch, the moon will cover more than 99.95% of the sun’s surface, and similar to the diamond ring effect, trickles of light will find their way through the moon’s canyons and imperfections.  But instead of a single gem of light, the result here will be the appearance of a luminous, beaded edge that you will be able to see through your eclipse glasses far longer than anyone stationed near the center of the path of totality.

And then, for those in the path of totality, comes the corona.  It will be stunning, guaranteed.  Even seasoned eclipse chasers don’t always have the words to describe the power of the experience. Will you?

 

Watch the Eclipse Across America series trailer here:

 

All four episodes of Eclipse Across America are available now in Ultra HD 4K, only on CuriosityStream.

Read More