Notes on the 2017 Solar Eclipse


The "Diamond Ring" Effect As the Limb of the Sun Moves Behind the Moon/ Snowbank Mountain, Idaho

The “Diamond Ring” Effect As the Limb of the Sun Moves Behind the Moon/ Snowbank Mountain, Idaho

As WC mentioned a while ago, he chased the solar eclipse. And caught it!

Now it’s not as if WC was the only one to take photos. Or write about it afterwards. The internet is saturated with photos and prose, ranging from pretty good to pretty dreadful, extolling the 2017 North American Eclipse.

The best writing? WC’s favorite is Annie Dillard’s brilliant essay on the 1979 eclipse from Yakima, Washington. WC isn’t a huge fan of Dilllard, who can be a little overwrought for WC’s taste, but she nailed the experience. If you haven’t read her essay, it’s on line over at The Atlantic and is worth your time.

The best photos? NASA’s, hands down. They have the best cameras, and they fly along the path of the totality, extending the too brief two minutes we groundlubbers got into some insanely long interval.

But for those who are curious, here’s a report from near the top of Snowbank Mountain.

Start of the 2017 Eclipse, Snowbank Mountain, Idaho

Start of the 2017 Eclipse, Snowbank Mountain, Idaho. Yes, Those Are Sunspots.

As the eclipse proceeds, the light becomes very odd. It isn’t that it gets dark; after all, it gets dark every night. But we are used to the warm, red-tinged light of sunset. During the eclipse, with the sun almost directly overhead, there were none of the reddish tones we associate with sunset and the onset of darkness. Instead, the intensity of the light slowly diminished without change of color. The light was weakened, diluted. The process was gradual. At first it was barely noticeable, maybe something only an artist or semi-pro photographer might detect. But the harsh summer mountain light of Idaho gradually leached away.

Only when the sun was perhaps 80% obscured by the moon did the color of the sunlight itself start to change. The light took on a silvery hue, completely different from twilight. Part of the intensity of the experience of a total solar eclipse, WC thinks, is the contradiction between the dim and eerie, pre-totality light and the more prosaic sunrise or sunset light. We marvel because it is so different.

But it’s when the last sliver of the sun vanishes behind the moon, when the “diamond ring” disappears and all that’s left is the corona, flaring around that black circle, that’s the magic. That’s what creates eclipse chasers; that’s why WC went through the whole experience. The sun is gone. Completely gone. In its place is an alien black circle with a truly bizarre ring of flame around it. Yes, people screamed. It’s understandable.

2017 Solar Eclipse Totality, Snowbank Mountain, Idaho

2017 Solar Eclipse Totality, Snowbank Mountain, Idaho

All around us, out on the horizon, was a 360 degree sunset, the light of the ordinary world, the area outside the eclipse, refracted and scattered. It’s very strange, and not at all reassuring, to have a sunset all around you. But it’s also hard to notice, because that bizarre, strange black circle commands your attention.

The View from Snowbank Mountain at Totality

The View from Snowbank Mountain at Totality

We humans aren’t the only ones confused. Snowbank Mountain was alive with birds. At the darkness of totality, they returned to their night time roosts, and their songs and calls diminished. And the air temperature fells 15-20 degrees there on the mountaintop.

And then, too quickly, the totality is over and in an extended anticlimax, the whole thing plays out in reverse. But the image of the totality says with you. An altogether astonishing experience.

Theologians take the absurdly unlikely configuration of our solar system that makes total eclipses possible as proof of the existence of whatever god they worship. WC takes it as proof that unlikely things happen. Either way, it was a great show.

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2 thoughts on “Notes on the 2017 Solar Eclipse

  1. I was hoping you’d write about your experience on the mountain and reading this delighted me, not only because of your photos but because of your “take” on things. It sure would have been fun to have been with you and Nancy at the time but it’s the “getting there and getting back” (especially via I-15 which is still expected to be a mess this morning) that prevented me from seeing totality. Annie Dillard’s account doesn’t have much on yours, at least for me…

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