Sunday, 3 September 2017

The Great American Solar Eclipse of 2017 – As Seen from Idaho Falls

The Great American Solar Eclipse of 2017 – As Seen from Idaho Falls

August 21, 2017

We took the long drive from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to Idaho Falls, Idaho, USA, to observe the solar event of the decade, the total solar eclipse which cut a swath through America, from Lincoln City, Oregon to Cape Romain, South Carolina.

The 2017 eclipse was extraordinary for being exclusively in the United States.  Its location meant that the event got a lot of publicity, as well as much scientific scrutiny.  The paths through the U.S.A. and the state of Idaho are shown in the accompanying maps.

Eclipse Path through the U.S.A.

Eclipse Path through Idaho


It’s  quite a long drive from Edmonton to Idaho Falls, especially for an event that would only last a couple of hours and for which the main show was less than two minutes.  But, as most people who have experienced an eclipse would agree, it was worth the effort.

We stayed at a Super 8 motel in Idaho Falls.  Due to an unanticipated change in travel plans, we had to book that motel in the final few days before the eclipse.  That meant the motel room cost $800 U.S., instead of the normal price of about $100.  That’s a good indication of how popular a total eclipse really is.

Below are a couple of shots of the river walk in Idaho Falls, from the evening before the eclipse.  It seemed like a pleasant and friendly community.

Opening  - Partial Eclipse (about an hour)

The photos below show the first half of the eclipse, with the moon gradually covering the sun.  It is interesting to observe an eclipse from beginning to end.  One thing that I noticed was that the sun didn’t really look different to the naked eye, until totality.  Even when the moon covers most of the sun, leaving only a smile-like crescent, a glance at the sun didn’t show it to be different from normal, unless one looked through a solar filter of some sort (the green colour was from a #14 welding glass, while the orange colour was from solar filter material, used in the ubiquitous “solar glasses”).

The change in light levels and temperature were very noticeable, however.  This, in turn, had an effect on the smallish crowd, with which we watched the eclipse.  People’s chatter increased, with more and more “wow factor” as the light levels dropped.  Some of the smaller children began racing around.  Birds got chirpy.  Light levels were low, in a cloudless sky, though the sun was high and shadows were short. That certainly lent the scene an air of spookiness, or cognitive dissonance.

Total Eclipse (about 2 minutes)

The big show, of course, it totality –when the corona of the sun becomes visible and the disk of the sun goes dark.  At our location, which was somewhat off of the center line of the eclipse, that lasted just under 2 minutes.

And, true to form, it was an awe-inspiring two minutes.  It is hard to describe – if it weren’t for the fiddling with cameras, one would be entirely transfixed by the sight in the heavens.  Certainly, the crowd was quite awed, with plenty of “wow” and “fantastic” comments.

Here’s a picture that gives a sense of the scale of things.  Note the telephone pole at the bottom of the photo, and the sun, with full corona, at the top, indicating that the sun was quite high in the sky.  It was about ninety minutes or so from local noon when totality arrived.

One interesting feature, is the fact that some stars do come out during the eclipse.  Venus is the main unexpected visitor, but I noted another star in one of my photos.  The astronomy program Stellarium indicates that the second star (planet, really) was probably Jupiter.

The iPad let in a lot of light during the exposure (automatically adjusting exposure and aperture), so the original photo (on top) looks much brighter than the actual scene.  The sun’s corona actually saturated the nearby pixels, making it look like a more or less normal sun.  It also had a prominent internal reflection, close to the sun, above and to the left.  

However, with a careful inspection, you can see the bright points of light where Venus and Jupiter were located, shining brightly in the daytime sky.  In the bottom picture, I made some quick adjustments to portray the scene to be more like what it actually looked like.  I took a bit of artistic license (and did a sloppy job, at that), but it is much closer to the actual scene, as captured by the naked eye.

Here’s a shot of the computer program Stellarium, showing the simulated scene in Idaho Falls during the eclipse.  I didn’t notice Sirius, during the actual event; perhaps is was behind a tree or building.

Closing  - Partial Eclipse (about an hour)

Like a blow-out football game, not everyone sticks around for the last half of a total solar eclipse.  Since the second half is a near copy of the first, a lot of people left shortly after totality, to beat the traffic out of Idaho Falls.  Nonetheless, we stuck around and got several shots of the second half, as shown below.

Speaking of traffic, we met up with it an hour or so later, as we headed north.  Most cars were heading south, from further upstate, nearer the center-line of totality.  A waitress in a local restaurant said that most of the eclipse visitors were from Utah, since the fairly large urban center, Salt Lake City, is only a few hours south.  Indeed, one of the groups that we chatted with during the eclipse was a math professor and his wife, from Utah. Here is a shot of the traffic jam, heading south in the opposing lane, as we headed north.  By the way, that traffic jam lasted for dozens of miles.

Some Reactions of People Viewing the Eclipse

We lent some eclipse glasses to this family, which were much appreciated.

The little kids knew something different was happening, as the light grew dimmer.

Watching the eclipse from the lawn of the elegant Super 8 motel.


The solar eclipse is, of course, caused by the shadow of our moon, as it blocks the sun.  In the Dodecahedron Books series described below, moons also play a major role.  The planet Kordea has 7 moons, which would give the inhabitants plenty of opportunities to observe eclipses.

Better yet, one of the moons stays permanently in the night sky, as it is in the Lagrange point that allows for that, the so-called L2 point.  But that very feature, makes it extremely vulnerable to a special kind of planetary attack.  You can read about that, and more, if you give the series a try.

Love and Intrigue Under the Seven Moons of Kordea

Helena Puumala's SF Romance series features the planet Kordea, home to a race of beautiful and powerful psychic aliens, known as the Witches of Kordea.  The planet has seven moons, an extraordinary arrangement for a terrestrial sized planet in its star's habitable zone.

In fact, the moons of Kordea are a central element in Book 2.  The cover below actually borrows the moon Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter 

The Witches’ Stones Series

The Witches' Stones, Book 1 - Rescue from the Planet of the Amartos

Young Earth woman and spaceship mechanic, Sarah Mackenzie, has unwittingly triggered a vast source of energy, the Witches' Stones,  via her psychic abilities, of which she was unaware.  She becomes the focal point of a desperate contest between the authoritarian galactic power, known as The Organization, and the democratic Earth-based galactic power, known as The Terran Confederation.  The Organization wants to capture her, and utilize her powers to create a super-weapon; the Terra Confederation wants to prevent that at all costs.  The mysterious psychic aliens, the Witches of Kordea also become involved, as they see her as a possible threat, or a possible ally, for the safety of their own world.

A small but fast scout-ship, with its pilot and an agent of the Terra Confederation, Coryn Leigh, are sent to rescue her from a distant planet at the very edge of the galaxy, near space claimed by The Organization.  Battles, physical and mental, whirl around the young woman, as the agent and pilot strive at all costs to keep her from the clutches of the Organization.

The Witches' Stones, Book 2 - Love and Intrigue, Under the Seven Moons of Kordea

Sarah has taken refuge on the planet of Kordea, where she is also learning how to control her psychic abilities, through the tutelage of the Witches of Kordea.  Coryn Leigh has now taken up the position of Confederation diplomat to the Kordeans, but he is also charged with keeping the Mackenzie girl safe at all costs.  During their time on the planet, an attraction between them grows, though they try to deny it, to themselves and each other.
But The Organization has plans of its own, including threatening the destruction of the planet Kordea, via destabalizing the orbit of Lina, one of its many moons.  The Organization proves that its threats are in deadly earnest, so, ultimately Sarah, Coryn and the Witches of Kordea must take the fight to the enemy.  Thus is borne a dangerous mission, to  a planet where their foe has based the weapon that threatens Kordea, and ultimately, the balance of power throughout the galaxy.  Sarah and Coryn agree that the machine must be destroyed, even at the possible cost of their own lives and growing love.

The Witches' Stones, Book 3 - Revenge of the Catspaw

Sarah and Coryn have become married, under the traditions of the Witches of Kordea.  But the marriage is performed by the Eldest of the most important coven, a rare honour, that comes with a blessing and a curse.  The slow working out of this blessing and curse forms the backdrop to the story.

Having come so close to their goal of enhancing their weaponry via Witches' Stone power, The Organization will not give up.  In order to lure Sarah into their trap, and thus have her become their Catspaw (someone who is forced into helping another, against their will) they need bait, and Coryn becomes the bait.  He also comes under the domination of a particularly nasty Elite of The Organization, one "Evil Evilla" Copoz.

Sarah, and a picked group of companions, must re-enter The Organization space, this time to the very heart of the empire, to rescue her husband, as he has done for her in the past.  They do so at great peril, but nothing can stop the terrible Revenge of the Catspaw.