The eclipse is over. I’ve been home for just over a week and I’m back on the road again. This time at 36,000 feet heading west. The 4Runner is emptied, but it is still filthy. It is always filthy. The files of the images I captured of the eclipse with four different cameras are safely backed up and I’ve made my initial attempts to process everything from a time lapse sequence, to a video, to composite images, to high-dynamic range images of the corona. I suspect that I’ll be working on these images on and off for quite some time. I really like them and I wouldn’t change a thing about the entire adventure.
Now what? Great question! Before I begin the next adventure, I still have some things I’d like to finish while the eclipse fire burns warm within me. First, I have an idea for a book that I’d like to explore. The working title for it is “Dark Star” and I’ll probably model it in a similar style to a book I wrote several years ago entitled “Dark Forest.” In addition, I’d like to start planning my next eclipse adventure. It probably doesn’t come as a shock that I need another chapter or five in my eclipse log book while I can still turn those pages.
As I reflect on this experience – my first foray into the umbral shadow of the moon – I am fascinated by the question of what it means. Why did it mean so much to me? Part of the answer to that questions lies in the effort expended on this expedition. It was an expedition in the truest sense of the world. When I headed west from my home in Knoxville five days before totality, I didn’t know where I would spend the night, or where I would see totality, or if I would even see totality. I had everything with me that I needed: food, water, telescope, cameras, and desire.
Another part of the answer lies in the naturally inquisitive fabric that makes Steve. That is just what I do: I get into stuff. I’m not completely sure how that aspect of my personality evolved, but it certainly has its roots in my days growing up in the Midwest. I suspect a very strong connection to the camera that my uncle gave me in the early 70s, as well as the partial solar eclipse that passed over our farm sometime back then. It took me a while, but 2017 was the time when I finally brought together those two pivotal moments. Better late than never!
But more than any of that, watching the moon slowly devour the sun reminded me how small we are in the grand scheme of the earth and the sun and the moon and the solar system and the galaxy and the universe. The magic of the occasional and precise alignment of our moon with our star is but a miniscule serving of the celestial marvels that await the eye that seeks to see, the heart that is open to feel, and the mind that struggles to comprehend. And those sights, feelings, and understandings remind me of our insignificance. And that is really significant. I’ve written about the significance of insignificance before and I have struggled to explain what I mean. I don’t mean to trivialize the human condition or the eons of evolution or centuries of progress that have allowed us to have epiphanies like this, but in the vast expanse of the universe, we are truly insignificant. Sure, the science behind something like the eclipse is amazing. If the eclipse did anything, it reminded us that science works. The same science that predicts the location of the moon’s shadow to within half a second on a little patch of grass in southeast Wyoming is the same science that explains many more phenomena in the world and the universe around us. Yet, on the scale of the 14-billion-year-old universe, this eclipse and our planet and our moon are nearly nothing. Truly insignificant! And, to my way of thinking, there is nothing more significant than knowing that!
So, now what? What will the next adventure be? Probably nothing as dramatic as my first experience in totality. But that doesn’t matter: I’m sure it will remind me of my insignificance. And that is all the fuel I need to keep going!
I call the sequence in the attached image “The Totality of Totality.” The sequence begins before the start of the eclipse, passes through totality, and then finishes after the end of the show. The partial phases were taken with a solar filter, while the diamond rings and totality were taken sans filter. While you enjoy it, ponder what’s next for you!