Precious Totality

One of the great challenges I learned about eclipse photography is capturing the many phenomena that occurred before, during, and after totality. It wasn’t even possible to SEE all the amazing things associated with the eclipse, much less photograph them all. For me, it was simply overwhelming. I’m even having a difficult time sorting out everything now and writing about the event. There are numerous aspects I hope to share later, including the search for a location, the people who joined me and those who I met along the way, the excitement leading up to totality, the brief and precious moments of totality, the afterglow, the return to normalcy, and more. It may sound like hyperbole, but the 2017 solar eclipse was a life-altering event for me! If you also stood beneath the umbral shadow, then perhaps you share similar feelings about it. If not, then maybe some of the stories and images I plan to share in the future can provide a glimpse into the emotions I’m trying to convey.

For now, I’ll begin with totality. What a precious thing, totality! Prior to the eclipse, I studied totality a lot. I read books. I searched the internet. I read more books. I researched images and technical notes and scholarly articles written by the world’s leading solar scientists in peer-reviewed journals. And trust me, none of that prepared me adequately for my first personal witness to totality! It was amazing! It was visceral and inspiring and emotional and overwhelming and visually extravagant all at once. And all of it came together in a mere instant!

During totality, the corona blazed like a fiery crown around the sun. Initially, I stared at it through binoculars, later realizing from the video that I was screaming at the same time. I had no idea! I don’t know if the screams resulted from the intense release of pent up emotions forged from months of preparation, or if they merely resulted from my first exposure to umbral intoxication. But let me tell you, I screamed my head off! If you saw totality, maybe you know what I mean.

Standing in the lunar umbra, the only source of light was the corona. Compared to photosphere of the sun, the corona is dim, a million times more dim, as a matter of fact. From a practical standpoint, it was like standing in the twilight of a pre-dawn sky. Except! During the eclipse, the orange glow of twilight encircled the entire horizon! That’s right, it was like a 360-degree sunrise! The ultimate sunrise panorama you might say! And there I was, high on the plains of southeast Wyoming, standing with that view, with that orange halo around me ascending through millions of shades of pink and orange and cyan and blue (and even more blue!). And all those colors arcing toward the zenith and the glow of the precious corona! It was a moment of perfection. A thin layer of low clouds lined the horizon, accenting the scene like a painter’s brush strokes. I immediately began to hope against all hope that totality would last longer than the 2 minutes and 28 seconds destined for me. But this is exactly why I wanted to go west. I wanted elevation. I wanted long horizons. I wanted sky. The sky was the stage for this eclipse and I wanted as big a theatre as possible. Southeast Wyoming delivered. I wish I had an image to illustrate what I’m talking about, but I wasn’t able to photograph this aspect of the eclipse with anything but my phone. During my precious seconds in the shadow, I honestly didn’t know if I should fix my gaze upon the 360-degree glow, or upon the corona overhead. Trust me, for a landscape photographer, that’s a nice problem to have!

You may know that “corona” is the Spanish word for crown. Perfect description! Of course, the corona is always present around the sun, but it is hidden beneath the blazing photosphere. Consequently, the only time we can see the corona is during a total eclipse. It may interest you to know that the corona consists of highly-energetic, electrically-charged particles ejected from the sun in all directions. Since they have an electric charge, the particles are bent and twisted by the sun’s magnetic field. This is what creates the wispy, feathery appearance that we saw with the naked eye on Monday. Paradoxically, the faint corona is also extremely hot; much hotter than the surface of the sun. Scientists don’t really know why that is, but you can bet there was a lot of work put in to this eclipse trying figure it out! Maybe, just maybe, the mystery of the scorching corona will yield to understanding based on information collected during this eclipse. We’ll all have to stay tuned for that!

One of my dreams for this eclipse was to capture an image with the wispy, feathery details of the corona. Literally, I had dreams about this type of image. Looking at the one I have included here, I think I pulled it off! The details of the corona are stunning! As I better learn to process these images, I hope to tease out more minute details of the corona (even though this one is pretty good)! I also hope the poor resolution of this copy doesn’t degrade it to the point where you can’t see the wispy details. When I have the chance, I’ll share a high-resolution version of this image with my online community so you can see what I’m talking about. It is also my way to say thanks to everyone for the support and encouragement in the time leading up to the eclipse. The support from this community was overwhelming! Please know that this support – your support – helped in the creation of this image. In a real sense, we created this one all together!

OK, more later! Soon, I’ll share some very nice images of details like prominences, Baily’s Beads, and chromospheres. You’re going to love them! Until then, enjoy this shot of the corona! It makes me cry. I hope you enjoy it!

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