Your first total eclipse is always special! Let's hear about how our distinguished panelists became "Umbraphiles" for life!
Well, my first eclipse was the March 7th eclipse in 1970, that ran up the east coast of the US. And at the time, I was a high school student, and I had known about this eclipse for several years. And I thought this might be my one chance in a lifetime to see a total solar eclipse - I'd read quite a bit about them, and I managed to convince my parents to let me take the car and drive 600 miles to get into the eclipse path. I think I'd only had my driver's license for a few months at that point, so that was a major, major undertaking. But I got down to North Carolina, and got into the eclipse path. And... thought I was prepared for the eclipse after reading all kinds of articles in Sky & Telescope and various books, but the eclipse was far beyond my expectations. It was just absolutely astonishing. Those two and a half minutes or so flew right by, and as soon as they were over, I knew that I had to see another eclipse as soon as possible.
We all know that feeling! Thanks, Fred!
As a teenager, you know, I had practiced what I was going to do for this roughly two and a half minutes of totality for months on end - what I was gonna do with various cameras and the time I was going to allocate looking through a small telescope, and I'd rehearsed, and gotten myself all ready for it - and then, when I was actually there, and just as the Moon's shadow came over, it was just... It numbed me, I couldn't move. I stood there with binoculars dangling around my neck, and a telescope beside me, and I just stood there, open-mouthed, staring up at the sky. I mean, months of preparation had just evaporated. I have to this day no regrets, because it was something that - I understood the phenomenology, even at that age, I understood kind of what was going on with the celestial mechanics and all that. But, there's nothing that you can read or hear about that really prepares you for actually experiencing or witnessing that. And, and it froze me, it did; it was just, I was just stupefied, literally, and it was just, an uncountable amount of time in that two and a half minutes that I experienced. The experience did change my life; it turned me into a dedicated eclipse chaser. Of course, it's a great opportunity for pursuing various scientific aspects of it - but it's not why I do it.
Oh absolutely, I don't even have to close my eyes, it's just etched into my brain, it was just burned there. The image of that corona, and the shrinking of that diamond ring, was just so, so amazingly spectacular to me. It was - ah, it's more than an image, I mean, it's - it's just, it is just ingrained. I've seen 27 and a half total solar eclipses, every corona's different. I remember every one, and they're sorted out, there's no mixture. But that first one that I saw in 1970, I mean it just, it's become part of the fixture of my memory, as almost anything that I've seen in my life.
I bet a lot of people will feel the same way about the 2017 eclipse,
even on the other side of 2050! Thanks, Glenn!
Oh, the first one - that was a good one. That was in 1979, and of course it came right over top of me here - so all I had to do was go out in the countryside, and park underneath the center of it, and take a little one-hour trip, and there it was - ah, I had a nice little C8 in those days, and plugged it in, and just said "OK, let me know what's happening!" I guess I had an advantage over most people, I kind of knew what an eclipse would do, at least from a book. But as you're aware, it's not a book - it's something else indeed. It was - the build-up and the eventual event, starts a year ahead and then a month ahead and then a week ahead and a day ahead - it's like a - a really good mystery novel, and then all of a sudden Bang! There's the answer and, there it is.
Well, the main impression that it made on me was, well, it's sort of a multi-faceted thing, one was the spectacle itself - that prominence hanging over the limb of the Sun. And up till that point, I'd never seen prominences, and then, the sort of forest of prominences and transition to red along the edges, because you had a fairly large telescope I could watch it in a lot more detail than somebody just doing it visually. And what happens when you do that is you see the technical detail, you know the little loops that represent the magnetic field, the way the prominences alternately hang off the surface or attach to the surface and the way the chromosphere changes - you don't quite get the same environmental impact that you do if you sit back and watch it come over you - wash over you. And so, in later eclipses, I've changed the way I watch them. But certainly from that point of view I was an amateur astronomer already; it revealed to me a lot of things I hadn't seen before, like the first look at Saturn or Jupiter - and so, in some respects the emotion was not there quite so much as the wonderment.
Thanks for that, Jay - I know you've stirred up a lot of interest with that description!
Well, the first eclipse that I ever saw was the eclipse that occurred over northern Ontario in 1963, and I was 12 years old at the time. And it was just luck that I was in the right place to see it. But that sort of gave me the bug. And since then, I've developed into an eclipse chaser, and been able to combine my astronomical and my professional interests as an optometrist, looking at eye safety problems.
And we are so much the better for your having done that. Thank you, sir!
That was on March 7, 1970; I was about 15.
I think [that] every solar eclipse I've seen is, is etched into my memory - completely unforgettable.
That's a very powerful message. Thanks, Jim!
My first eclipse was in 1991. I had learned about this eclipse from Sky & Telescope magazine; I'd been an avid amateur astronomer all my life, and I knew that I had to see a total solar eclipse. So this was the best, earliest opportunity for me. So I went down to Baja California, in a little fishing village with a hotel, north of Cabo San Lucas, and - talk about a first eclipse! This eclipse was remarkable in several aspects: It was, of course, a very long-duration eclipse, just under 7 minutes long. And what also was amazing about this eclipse was some prominences around the side of the Sun during the glorious seven minutes that we had. I was smitten with eclipses - I just knew that I had to see more. So that was my first, in 1991.
Each eclipse - the shape of the corona is seared into my memory. So that, when I look at a photograph, I know exactly which eclipse it is, if I've seen it.
At least for your first one, I think it should be a social event. You should be with your loved ones,
and just share this moment together. I really think so.
Thank you for sharing that, Michael - I have to say I agree completely!
I'm an astronomer who got my start when I was a freshman at Harvard, in that there was a freshman seminar to bring the senior professors together with the new students. And I had the good luck of being in a seminar with Professor Donald Menzel, who was a noted solar scientist, who had done a lot of important professional work on eclipses. Further, we had the good luck that a couple of weeks after the beginning of the semester my freshman year, there was an eclipse of the Sun that came right near Harvard. And he borrowed an airplane to take us aloft; the 11 of us in that seminar plus some friends of his went up with him to see the eclipse from the air just off the coast north of Boston. It was a good thing we had the plane, because it was raining on the ground in Boston, where they did have a lot of public outreach going on, and a lot of people out to try to see the eclipse. And those poor people on the ground didn't see anything.
That's a great story - thank you, Dr. Pasachoff!
Well, the first one was in India, in October '95. And it was a very very short eclipse - it was 42 seconds long. But it was probably the most beautiful corona I ever saw, because it was at solar minimum and the streamers seemed to extend to infinity. Ah, it was really amazing, the eclipse. And it happened around 8:00 in the morning, I don't remember the exact time, but I remember it was early morning and it was a little bit on the cool side. It was my first eclipse, so everything was, all of a sudden... We were set up in the countryside, and all the birds had stopped chirping, and then the corona just appeared - and it was just magnificent.
I think the first time was in 2010, in Tatakoto. We developed our systems [to the point where they] were such that we could just push a button on the computer and let the program run. So we had to wait till then, and then - obviously you're not totally relaxed, but you can just take a peek at the Sun.
Well, it's hard to know what to expect if you've never experienced it. I think the experience is very personal and unique.
That is the truth indeed - we'll come back to that in just a bit.
Thank you, Dr. Habbal!
My first one - in Australia, '76, down in New South Wales. The eclipse came through, just clipped South Australia, went through Melbourne actually, and then southern New South Wales. This first trip, [I] drove down, and the weather was pretty dodgy, but I managed to drive in the last hour - find a clearing, and got to see it! Didn't do too well with photography back in those days, but enjoyed the thing anyway! From then on, I was absolutely hooked - and I was totally depressed when I found out that the next one in Australia was 2002! And of course, in '76 that was - that was a lifetime away!
Thanks, Terry - We know how fast time flies!
All right, in our next segment, we'll talk about something we've been hinting at:
Why is totality so spectacular?