We don’t usually plan well enough to arrive in specific locations during special events. We always seem to just miss festivals and cool cultural goings on. So it was a little surprising when we discovered that our travels took us directly in the path of the first solar eclipse to hit North America since 1994.
We decided to stay a couple of extra days in Holbrook, AZ, so we could take in the event at Petrified Forest National Park. We’ll have a ton more to say about this park in future blog posts, but suffice it to say, there is far more here than just a bunch of rocks that used to be trees. It’s a surprisingly awesome national park and a terrific place to have watched this unusual occurrence.
Last night’s show was what is called an annular eclipse, which is a special type of partial eclipse. Unlike a total eclipse where the moon completely blots out the sun, in an annular the moon is far enough away from the earth that it leaves a visible ring of fire (and it burns, burns, burns.) It really does, too, if you stare at it with unprotected eyes.
Same too with unprotected camera equipment. Zooming in on an eclipse can fry camera sensors as easily as it can fry your retina. Bad planning (see above) left me without a proper solar filter and a good 100 miles away from the nearest photography shop. Fortunately, the fine folks at the National Park Service were kind enough to hand out protective glasses that enabled us to watch the eclipse without going blind.
Before we arrived I imagined we’d get heavy goggles fitted with #14 welder’s glass. I was surprised when the Ranger handed us something that looked identical to the old 3D movie glasses made of light cardboard and film. You wouldn’t see much of a movie wearing these, though. In fact, they were dark enough to blot out everything but the sun.
Never magnify direct sunlight into your eyes
The glasses also gave us an unexpected demonstration of the sun’s power. More than one person accidently burned holes in them while trying to view the eclipse with binoculars. It can be done, but you have to put the glasses in front of the binoculars rather than wearing them on your head. Otherwise, the binoculars magnify the direct sunlight into dangerous laser beams. Never a good idea when those lasers are focused at your eyeballs.
I used the same technique to capture the images above. The film on the glasses was too small to shield my DSLR lens, so I used my point-and-shoot instead. I have to say I’m pretty happy with the results considering I shot these with a five year old pocket camera, through dark plastic film, at an object 93 million miles away.
If you missed this eclipse, don’t fret. A true full eclipse will cross the country from Oregon to South Carolina on August 21, 2017. That gives you more than enough time to plan ahead (see a map of its path here). Or, if you’re like us, to completely forget about it until you see it on the news two days before.