Monday’s Magnificent Eclipse In Photos And Video


Join my family and I in Nebraska for this video of Monday’s total solar eclipse in real time from just before to just after totality. Credit: Bob King

Honestly, I’m already thinking about going to Chile in July 2019 to see the next eclipse. That’s how inspiring Monday’s eclipse was. I have a hunch a few of you are contemplating future totalities, too. Outside of being so excited that I forgot to remove the solar filter on my telescope — yes, the one taking closeups of the sun’s corona — my eclipse experience was one of the best of the (now) four totals I’ve witnessed.

My good friend Rick captured this superb image of the totally eclipsed sun from eastern Oregon. It matches the naked eye and binocular appearance very well. The long, rounded rays are called helmet streamers; the feathery, radial filaments near the sun’s poles are plumes. Credit: Rick Klawitter

I got to be with my family in a spectacular setting in the Sand Hills of northwestern Nebraska. A cool breeze blew across the big field we observed from, and a million-mile view to the northwest made for perfect viewing of the oncoming moon’s shadow. Recalling the scene with the corona blazing so beautifully in the deep blue bowl of the moon’s shadow makes me want to tear up. This eclipse was by far the most emotional of any I’d seen.

The scene on our arrival at our site in a big field south of Alliance, Neb. on eclipse morning. Great weather! Credit: Bob King

Clouds came out of nowhere just before totality, adding an element of tension which dissolved into euphoria a minute later as they quickly passed by, leaving the black ball of the moon and pearly corona in the clear. Even before the moon quenched the last beads of sunlight along the left side of the sun, the inner corona showed through the clouds. But viewing the corona with both naked eye and binoculars was the best part for me.

How strange to see the sun’s atmosphere and source of the solar wind, that blizzard of particles that streams away from the sun every second. Some days, it possesses the strength and orientation to lock into Earth’s magnetic field and spark the auroras we so love. And there it was, right before our eyes.

It was fun to watch the moon “bite” into sunspots as it progressed across the sun’s face. Credit: Bob King
Robbie Sternenberg took this colorful photo of the sun’s chromosphere and prominences (pink flames) during totality just outside of Stanley, Idaho. The chromosphere is a layer of hot, red-hued hydrogen gas between the sun’s visible surface (photosphere) and the corona. Credit: Robbie Sternenberg

What the heck is the corona anyway? What were we looking at? Like the rest of the sun, the corona is made of mostly hydrogen and helium, but it also contains other elements like carbon and iron. The temperature there is several millions of degrees Fahrenheit, several hundred times hotter than the surface of the sun. That’s hot enough to strip the atoms of their orbiting electrons and turn the atmosphere into what physicists call a plasma or ionized gas.

This composite image shows the International Space Station — with a crew of six on board —  crossing in front of the eclipsed sun as seen from near Banner, Wyoming on Monday. The station crosses near the top above the sunspots. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

All these zillions of free electrons align with the sun’s magnetic field much like iron filings do around the magnetic field of a bar magnet to create the delicate and richly detailed arcs, plumes, streamers and needle-like rays we saw during totality. Sunlight scattering off the electrons makes these structures visible to the eye.

The umbral shadow of the Moon on Aug. 21, 2017 darkens the clouds as seen from the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

We actually saw two coronas during the eclipse, the inner, structured part made of electrons called the K-corona. Beyond that, the F-corona or dust corona begins. Here, sunlight scatters off comet and asteroid dust that lies in the plane of the solar system. The F-corona expands into the zodiacal light — a glowing, thumb-shaped wedge of hazy light — that we see every fall before dawn in the east or in the west on spring evenings.

The diamond ring effect came in full force at the end of totality as the first bit of sunlight shone through a lunar valley. Credit: Gary Johnson

A total solar eclipse knits all these elements into a cosmic quilt of understanding. Looking up at that terrifying but life-giving star at the center of the solar system, we see with our own eyes how the sun’s magnetism provokes structures of great beauty from the tiniest of particles, how tendrils of solar wind paint auroras and how the absence of the sun — even for a few minutes — can change both temperature and behavior.

A time-lapse from NASA’s DSCOVR satellite shows the umbra crossing the face of the Earth during Monday’s eclipse. Credit: NASA/DSCOVR/EPIC

Crazy, isn’t it, that witnessing the disappearance of the sun makes our connection to it that much more intimate.

One of the biggest surprises for me was sensing the dimming of daylight much earlier than expected. It first became obvious when just under 75-80% of the sun was covered. By 90%, you could feel it evaporate steadily right before your eyes. While I have no T-shirts or other souvenirs from the event, I think I’ll be OK.

Ian and Maria catch the Diamond Ring the moment the sun reappears. Credit: Bob King

Thanks Dan, Sally, Linda, Katherine, Maria, Nova, Ian, Roy and Olivia for a great time!

My daughter Maria got this great shot of the sun’s inner corona and bright prominences (lower left). Nice job, Maria. You’re smarter than your dad! Credit: Maria King


Very nice total eclipse time-lapse from Gary Johnson who watched and photographed the eclipse from Carbondale, Illinois

16 Responses

  1. It was amazing how such a simple alignment stirred so much emotion. And all the hype and shared excitement made it extra special. Seeing it through the clouds in Duluth was an unforgettable experience.

  2. Mark Machacek

    Bob- I took my family out to Arthur, just a little East of where you were. It was my first total solar eclipse and was more exciting than I could have ever imagined. I was also surprised at how cool it got prior to totality, and then just how quickly it got dark as we went into totality. Absolutely amazing and worth the trip.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Mark,
      We almost went to Arthur but changed plans to go NW toward Alliance. How about that fog that morning, eh?

      1. Mark Machacek

        Nerve wracking, that’s for sure. We almost started driving your way, but Laura had gotten a bottle of tea the day before with a fortune in the bottlecap: “A misty morning does not signify a cloudy day.” We went with it, and luckily it worked out!

  3. Wayne Abler

    Hi Bob,

    Thanks for all the great articles. My wife and I spent the weekend in Rapid City, South Dakota with plans to go to Carhenge outside of Alliance. I happened to wake up early Sunday morning and realized that the moon would be rising shortly. My wife an I went out to the hotel patio to be greeted by some clouds low on the horizon. Luckily the clouds thinned out in time for us to see the thin sliver of the waining crescent moon just 31 hours before we would witness the eclipse.

    Because of the iffy cloud forecast for Alliance we drove down to Glendo, Wyoming very early Monday morning. The skies were perfect and we didn’t see a cloud from first contact to last contact.

    Totality was 2:28 of pure joy and fascination. It certainly was worth the trip from Wisconsin.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Wayne,

      Thanks! And thank you for sharing your experience. We were in Lewellen and had planned to drive northeast toward Arthur, but the forecast seemed iffy, so we drove toward Alliance instead. Weather was great about 15 miles south of Alliance until 5 minutes before totality when dropping temps created a cloud swarm up toward the sun. Fortunately, these cleared off after the first seconds of the eclipse and we got a great view. I learned later that Arthur was excellent, too.

  4. Joe Culler

    Hi Bob

    I also saw totality in Clayton Ga. Im an astronomical enthusiast. My tolerant wife not so much. At the moment of totality I looked over to her and she had tears streaming down her face and I too had a lump in my throat because nothing could have prepared me or obviously her for the emotion of the suddenness, weirdness, and intensity of a totality experience. Why is that? ive seen pics and videos but NOTHIN prepared me for what I witnessed..

  5. Hi Bob!

    Thank you for maintaining this blog; my students and I love it and use it a lot.

    There were clouds in Carbondale during totality and we got a very brief break to be able to see the diamond ring at the end of totality. I am not sure how Gary Johnson was able to get a picture of totality? Lucky dude!

    This was my son’s and my first total eclipse experience ever and it was magnificent!

    Thank you and take great care! 🙂

    Nadji

    1. astrobob

      Thank you, Nadji! So happy to hear you and your students enjoy the blog. Give them my best! Gary got the photo by driving a couple miles out of the clouds at the last minute. I’m sure it was wonderful to spend the eclipse with your son. I was very happy to have my daughters along.

  6. David Wilford

    My wife and I drove from New Richmond, WI to Lusk, Wyoming to see the eclipse and we had a nice clear sky there and found a great spot on a low rise to view it all from. It was an astounding experience that we were both glad to directly experience. We’re already planning on seeing the 2024 eclipse!

    1. astrobob

      Hi David,

      Glad to hear it. I remember on the morning of the eclipse looking in the direction of Lusk thinking it would be a good way to go.

  7. Bob, Thank you again for preparing us all so well on the Totality. Because of your advice and hints, I saw and understood so much more than I would have during our brief (65 sec) Totality. Wow, what an experience. I can hardly wait for 2024! Downside is I will have to travel for the next one. This one came to us.
    I wonder if anyone else is experiencing what I can only call a GOOD form of “Eclipse PTSD”? Every time the sunlight gets a certain light to it at the end of the day, I find myself thinking- “Okay, Totality is about to happen” before I realize an instant later, it will not happen here again, at least not in my life I suspect.
    Maybe best of all was witnessing how many people were unified in their enthusiasm, awe and excitement over this celestial gift to each of us “in the path of Totality”. Lynn

    1. astrobob

      Thanks so much for writing, Lynn. As always, your comments are illuminating just like the fireflies you love to study. I almost finished with yours and Sara Lewis’s books on fireflies — I’ve been reading both simultaneously. I’ve learned so much! Thank you for all you’re doing to learn more as well as protect fireflies and their habitat. I really have to get down to the Smokies to see the synchronous flashers someday. Like an eclipse, it’s something we all must see at least once in a lifetime.

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