Witnessing the great transit
Some members and associates of PlanetS were lucky to be able to watch the solar eclipse in the US on 21 August 2017. Together with colleagues, Gavin Coleman, postdoc at the University of Bern, attended an exoplanet conference at Boise State University that included a trip to view the amazing spectacle.
By Gavin Coleman
We left for the small town of Weiser, Idaho, at 5am to make sure we got there before the eclipse started just after 10am. Fortunately the traffic was still light and so we arrived at 6.30am so plenty of time to wait. After walking around the town for a while and finding coffee, we returned to the high school where we were parked and set up for the main event.
The first contact point, the start time of the eclipse when the moon begins to “touch” the sun in the sky, was a bit underwhelming and low key. It was more like an announcement that the main event was going to start soon. Whilst we all waited for totality, we all took numerous photos of the Sun and Moon seeing numerous sunspots. Most had professional setups on their cameras, I however went very low tech and held the eclipse glasses we were given over the camera lens, which pleasantly surprised me of its effectiveness. As the moon moved further over the sun, it got noticeably colder, not so much the air temperature, more so the lack of feeling the Suns light hitting the skin.
As the time of totality approached everyone was getting more and more excited, with many people figuring out where the shadow of the eclipse was going to come from (over the hills to the west-north-west in our case). About 20 minutes before totality it was starting to get noticeably darker and a few minutes before, the streetlights automatically turned on. A couple of minutes before totality we could see the shadow of the Moon approaching. First in the cloudless sky over the hills then appearing on the top of the hills a few miles (~10 km) away. The shadow quickly enveloped us as the last slither of Sun disappeared behind the Moon giving us the main event we were waiting for. Everyone was completely overwhelmed at this point shouting and freaking out at the spectacle. As we waited for the Sun to reappear we all took numerous photos and videos and just enjoyed the experience. After 2 mins 11 seconds the Sun reappeared and everyone cheered, something I’m accustomed to being from England.
As we waited for the eclipse to finish some of us continued to take photos and discuss what we had experienced. Some had heard the crickets begin to chirp, obviously being confused as to why it was getting dark during the middle of the day. As the eclipse ended we had lunch and then got back on the bus to head back to conference venue in Boise.
All in all it was an amazing experience and something I would recommend everyone seeing at least once in their lifetime. I would also like to thank the organisers at Boise State University and the town of Weiser for hosting us all during the day. Also the weather for remaining nice and clear throughout the day.