Eclipse Road Trip

The Astro Babes took part in the Great American Eclipse last week, although we split up and observed from two different vantage points close to the centerline.

Amy chose to go West with Astronomy Magazine and several of the NPMAS members to St. Joseph’s, MO, while Mars Barbie, Judy (an eclipse buddy), and I headed south to the centerline in Carbondale, IL.

Judy started the trip by saying that she’d read that 12.2 million Americans lived inside the path of totality, over half the nation lives within 400 miles of the path of totality, and 80% of Americans live within 600 miles. We joined those last two statistics as we headed out Sunday morning on our 582 mile trek to the center line.

Along with many other eclipse goers, we spent Sunday night at a Walmart Superstore.

The Carbondale Walmart turned out to be a good choice for us for a number of reasons:

    1. It was a safe place to sleep.
    2. It had warm running water and indoor toilets.
    3. It was air conditioned.
    4. They had all our eclipse needs, including Darkest Hour Black Cherry Eclipse Soda, tee shirts, Moonstock Wine, and eclipse cups and shot glasses.

As the sun rose on 8/21/17, we were still debating where we were going to view the eclipse. Most of the action was at Southern Illinois University where they had a Comic-Con, a marketplace, a craft fair, a carnival, and NASA scientists on hand to answer questions. We had a parking spot there, and it was still possible to buy a ticket to the guided eclipse experience that would include 14,000 other people at Saluki Stadium. Heck, Mat Kaplan of Planetary Radio was going to emcee the event that we could also watch live on the Saluki Stadium scoreboard. NASA was going to stream the eclipse coast-to-coast live from SIUC, and there were tons of news trucks with 300 journalists from 80 news outlets there.

Saluki Stadium had to be the center of the eclipse universe, right? But if that wasn’t exciting enough, we could have driven just north of Carbondale to a vineyard called Walker’s Bluff and joined a four-day music festival celebrating the eclipse. Who wouldn’t want to experience the total eclipse of the Sun while listening to Ozzy Osbourne sing “Bark at the Moon” during totality?

But Judy and I opted for a quieter, more outdoorsy experience, so we headed eight miles south to the centerline and Giant City State Park.

According to these guys, who were part of the Continental-America Telescope Eclipse Experiment (CATE), the park was on the actual centerline at the PLD, the Path of Longest Duration, at 2 minutes and 42 seconds, which is why they were there.

The CATE project hoped to capture images of the inner solar corona using a network of 68 telescopes operated by scientists, students, and volunteers. Along the 2,500 mile path of totality, each clear site hoped to produce more than 1,000 images, beginning with a partial solar eclipse and ending with 2 minutes of totality. The resulting dataset would create 90 minutes of continuous, high-resolution, and rapid-cadence images of the Sun’s inner corona.

Judy and I were just outside of Makanda, IL, a village where the eclipse was expected to last 2 minutes 40.2 seconds. Our location was 2 minutes and 40 seconds – close enough. Giant City State Park filled to capacity as the eclipse start got closer.

We also appreciated the shade (rather than the sun-baked aluminum bleachers at Saluki Stadium) because it was 93 degrees and humid that day. I took this picture from the spot where we ended up.

While waiting for the eclipse to start, we wandered around the park and talked to a lot of people from all over the country who were really excited about the eclipse. Turns out that many of them had joined us in the Walmart parking lot the night before.

About 40 feet from our spot, we found this guy. Pete was a bagpiper from Virginia, and he took a break from playing jigs to explain how his bagpipe worked.

As the eclipse began, I started getting organized, finding all my times and securely taping filters onto my binoculars. Mars Barbie took the opportunity to catch some eclipse rays.

Judy and I ended up sitting next to these three guys from Chicago. They didn’t know much about the eclipse, but were interesting companions during the wait for totality.

I’m sure that everyone has seen these by now, but to me it meant that totality was approaching, and I felt my heart rate increasing by the second. When I first noticed the crescent shadows, I looked around and saw that everyone was either talking or looking up – hardly anyone noticed the crescent-shaped shadows on the ground, so I made it my mission to point them out to as many people as possible.

A few minutes before totality, Judy, Barbie and I settled down on a blanket to wait for the show. Here’s Judy and Mars Barbie waiting for totality.

I laid on this blanket and watched the approach of totality through my binoculars, which turned out to be a blessing because the magnification made it easy to see the beads and the ring. When totality did arrive, it took my brain a few seconds to realize that I could now look at the sun directly. I moved the binoculars away and was blown away just like everyone else in totality.

A minute or so into totality I realized that I could also remove the solar filters that I had so securely taped onto the binoculars, and had to literally rip them off to get a look at totality with the binoculars. It was indescribable.

I’d been warned not to bring a camera or worry about taking pictures, but at the last moment, I pointed my phone at totality and took only one shot. Here it is!

As soon as totality ended, I raced to our white car parked nearby, and looked for the elusive Shadow Bands. They were faint, but I did see them. So we saw it all – Baily’s Beads, the Diamond Ring, the Corona, the Shadow Bands – we saw them all from that small state park in Illinois. What a treat! Our neighbors to the north in Carbondale weren’t quite as lucky – Carbondale was clouded out during totality, although I read that the clouds did give way for a partial diamond to appear.

Barbie wasn’t too happy with all the traffic we had to deal with on the way home, which also included a two-hour nap in a BP gas station somewhere north of Champaign, but we made it in one piece. It was quite an adventure – can’t wait for 2024!!

–Lynn