eclipse, Lander, luggage, Math, solar, sunspots, totality, travel, Wind River Indian Reservation, Wyoming
I was fortunate enough to have the time and cash to go to Wyoming for the August 21 eclipse. It was truly wonderful,. in large part due to the fact that I had made a 6″ diameter, f/8 Dob-Newt travel telescope that could play three roles: as an unfiltered projection scope onto a manila folder before and after totality; with a stopped-down Baader solar filter during and after totality; and with no filter at all during the two minutes or so of totality.
No photographic image that I have so far seen comes anywhere near the incredible details that I was able to see during those short two minutes.
Here is my not-very-expert drawing of what I recall seeing:
The red rim on the upper left is the ‘flash spectrum’, or chromosphere. It was only visible for a few seconds at the very beginning of the eclipse. The corona is the white fuzzy lines, but my drawing doesn’t do them justice. On the bottom, and on the right, are some amazing solar prominences — something that I don’t recall having seen in 1994, my first successful solar eclipse. The bottom one might not have been quite that large, but it really got my attention.
Here are a few photos I took before and after totality:
I started planning this expedition over a year ago, and hoped to attend the Astronomical League meeting in Casper, WY. I quickly found that there were absolutely no rooms to be had there, even a year in advance.
Wyoming has fewer people than my home town (Washington DC), and not many populated places in the path of totality. However, I did find a motel in tiny Lander, Wyoming, very close to the southern edge — a location that I had previously found to be very good for viewing eclipses. One of the fellows in our telescope-making workshop, Oscar O (an actual PhD solar astrophysicist) decided he would bring some family and friends along and camp there to view it with me. So he did (see the group photo).
The night before, we went to a site near Fossil Hill, WY to look at stars. The Milky Way was amazing, stretching from northern to southern horizon, and the sky was very, very dark. We met a baking-soda miner (actually, a trona miner) and his 10-year-old daughter; she had a great time aiming my telescope, via Telrad, at interesting formations in the Milky Way. My friends from DC whipped up an amazing dinner on their tiny camp stove. There were LOTS of people camping in the back country there; I bet most of them were there to view the eclipse!
On the eve and morning of the eclipse, after consulting various weather ‘products’, we decided that the predicted clouds in Lander itself would be a problem. (I had been clouded out before, with my wife and children, back in 1991, in Mexico! It really spoils the experience, I assure you!)
So we drove north and west, through the Wind River Indian Reservation, and picked a spot just east of the tiny town of Dubois at a pulloff for a local fish hatchery. Along the drive to that location, we saw lots of folks had set up camp for the event at various pulloffs and driveways to nowhere. (If you didn’t know, Wyoming is mostly devoid of people, but has lots of fields and barbed wire fence. Many of those fields have driveways leading to some sort of gate, most of which are probably used at least three times every decade, if you get my drift….)
Not only is Wyoming largely empty (of people), but the path of totality in the United States was so long that I estimated that if the ENTIRE population of the USA were to decide to go view the eclipse, and somehow could magically spread themselves out evenly over the 70-mile-wide, and 3000-mile-long, path on dry land, that there would only be about 3 people per acre!
Here’s the math: 70 miles times 3000 miles is 210,000 square miles. The population of the USA is about 330,000,000. Divide the population by the area, and you get about 1600 people per square mile. But there are 640 acres in a square mile, so if you divide 1600 by 640, you get less than 3 people per acre, or 3 people on a football field (either NFL or FIFA; it doesn’t matter which).
(…looking to the future, the next decent eclipse doesn’t seem to occur anywhere in this hemisphere until 2024, when it will cross from Texas to Maine…)
As you can see from my photos, the little travel scope I made, called Guy’s Penny Tube-O III, performed very well. Before and after totality, we used it both for solar projection onto a manila folder, through the eyepiece. I also had fashioned a stopped-down solar filter with a different piece of cardboard and a small piece of Baader Solar Film. With both methods, we could clearly see a whole slew of sunspots, in great detail (umbra and penumbra) as well as the moon slowly slipping across the disk of the sun. Having the sunspots as ‘landmarks’ helped us to watch the progress!
Then, during totality, after the end of Baily’s Beads and the Diamond Ring, I took off the filter and re-adjusted the focus slightly, and was treated to the most amazing sight – a total eclipse, with coronal streamers to the left and right; the ‘flash spectrum’ appearing and winking out on the upper left-hand quadrant (iirc); and numerous solar flares/prominences.
I got generous and allowed a few other people to look, but only for a few seconds each! Time was precious, and I had spent so much work (and airfare) building, and re-building, and transporting that telescope there!
Planets? I didn’t see any, but others did. Apparently Regulus was right next to the Sun, but I wasn’t paying attention.
The corona and solar flares were much, much more pronounced than I recall from 1994.
That afternoon, the town of Lander had the largest traffic jam they had ever had, according to locals I talked to. Driving out of there on that afternoon was apparently kind of a nightmare: the state had received a million or so visitors, roughly double its normal population, and there just aren’t that many roads. I chose to spend the night in Lander and visited from friends I had gotten to know, who are now living in Boulder, on the night after that. Unfortunately, on that next day, I got a speeding ticket and a citation for reckless driving (I was guilty as hell!) for being too risky and going too fast on route 287, trying to pass a bunch of cars that I thought were going too slow…
When I did fly out from Denver, on Wednesday, all the various inspections of my very-suspicious-looking and very-heavy luggage caused me to miss my flight, so I went on standby. It wasn’t too bad, and I was only a few hours later than I had originally planned. And my lost suitcase was delivered to my door the next day, so that was good.
I am now in the process of making this travel scope lighter. I have removed the roller-skate wheels and replaced them with small posts, saving several pounds. I have begun using a mill to remove a lot of the metal from the struts. And I will also fabricate some sacks that I can fill with local rocks, instead of using the heavy and carefully machined counterweights! (Rocks are free, gut going over 50 pounds in your luggage can be VERY expensive!)
By the way: unless you like to travel with no luggage at all, NEVER use Spirit Airlines! They may be a few dollars cheaper, but they will even charge you for a carry-on bag! What’s next? Charging you for oxygen?