The American eclipse turned out to be all it was hyped to be. I first started planning my trip 2 years ago, being a little worried that local accommodation would sell out fairly quickly along the path of totality. The safest option was to book with a tour company, who opted for a location around 20 miles North of Idaho falls to view the eclipse. Whilst it would not be the longest eclipse duration (around 20 seconds shorter than the 2 min 40 sec maximum), it had one of the best probabilities of clear skies.
We set off from Idaho Falls just before 6am, expecting traffic jams, but the roads were clear so arrived well in advance at 6.30am. Along the journey we had a great view of the ‘Belt of Venus’. This is where the pink scattered light of the sunrise (or sunset) sits above a dark belt caused from the shadow of the Earth.
Of course we all had our protective eclipse glasses so that we could look at the Sun during the early stages when the Sun is partially eclipsed. By 10:20am there was clearly a small ‘bite’ taken from the Sun’s disc by the Moon. There was a real party atmosphere for the event as totality slowly drew nearer. One of the presenter’s from ‘The Sky at Night’ programme had set up his imaging equipment nearby, while others used a tea strainer to project the partial phases onto white paper.
By 11:15 most of the Sun’s disc was covered and the light had taken on an unusual hue as the sky slowly darkened and the temperature began to drop. When we could see that only a tiny slither of Sun was visible through our protective glasses we knew that totality was about to occur and we would soon be able to look directly. The Moon’s shadow raced across the ground and darkened all around us, with the temperature falling at least 10 degrees. Venus was visible overhead and the few birds that were around started to sing.
Just as the Sun was about to disappear I look up to see the ‘diamond ring’, a bright flash of light on the limb of the Moon. The diamond ring soon vanished and we were in totality. There were gasps as the Moon appeared to be a dark disc surrounded by a silver ring. The Sun’s corona could be seen flailing out from behind the Moon, this is the outer atmosphere that is not normally visible. There were some prominences also visible, hot streams of gas larger than the Earth coming off the Sun’s surface. The pink from the Sun’s chromosphere (upper atmosphere) was not so evident as the 2015 eclipse, but still there. All too quickly the second diamond ring appeared with a flash marking the end of totality and our prompt to put protective glasses back on.
There was still the partial phases to see after totality, but this tends to be the least viewed part of the eclipse as people are still iawe struck by totality. Once the Moon had moved away from the Sun the crowds dispersed, as did my companions and me, ending this show of astronomy’s most spectacular occurrence. Now it’s a wait until July 2018 and the next eclipse in Chile!