Witnessing the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse Across America Mesmerizes Millions: Photo/Video Gallery

Solar corona and prominences during the total solar eclipse across America on Monday, August 21, 2017, as seen from Santee, South Carolina and 4.8 miles from the centerline. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SANTEE, SOUTH CAROLINA – Witnessing ‘Totality’ during Monday’s ‘Great American Solar Eclipse’ was a truly mesmerizing experience far beyond anything I imagined and something I will never forget -That’s a sentiment shared by millions upon millions of fellow gushing spectators.

I was stationed in Santee, South Carolina, near Lake Marion and close to the centerline of Totality, along with space journalist friend and colleague Jeff Seibert. And we could not have asked for clearer skies to enjoy this awesome natural event made possible by a uniquely rare confluence of miraculous celestial mechanics.

Check out our expanding gallery of personal photos and videos as well as many more gathered from friends and colleagues herein.

Totality was mesmerizing! Although I fully hoped to see a science spectacle (weather permitting) – I wasn’t really prepared for the majesty of the ‘coronal fire’ of Totality on display in the sky that started with what seemed like a startling electric flash – – The sun was alive far beyond anything I imagined beforehand. An out of body experience truly beyond my wildest dreams.

And we really lucked out with the weather – – as the odds of good weather are apparently better near Lake Marion, local residents told me. Just 15 miles south in Saint George, SC where I held a well attended eclipse outreach event at my hotel the night before, it was sadly socked in.

Solar corona bursts out during the total solar eclipse across America on Monday, August 21, 2017, as seen from Santee, South Carolina and 4.8 miles from the centerline. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Despite a less than promising weather forecast, the threatening Carolina storm clouds obscuring our sun as we awoke and got our camera gear together Monday morning, fortunately scooted away.

Just in the nick of time the rainy gray breakfast clouds miraculously parted as eclipse time approached and almost completely disappeared by lunchtime – fully an hour prior to the eclipses beginning from our viewing location in Santee; near beautiful Lake Marion, South Carolina, which intersects the heavily traveled I-95 North/South Interstate highway corridor.

Like tens of millions of others, I’ve seen several partial solar eclipses, but this was my first total solar eclipse and it did not disappoint!

And there is just no comparison between seeing a partial and a total solar eclipse – sort of like a family before and after having a baby.

Solar corona and multiple prominences visible during the total solar eclipse across America on Monday, August 21, 2017, as seen from Santee, South Carolina and 4.8 miles from the centerline. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

A few hundred excited people from across the East Coast including some families with kids had coincidentally gathered at our Santee location by the Water Park.

At Santee, SC, we enjoyed unobstructed totality for all 2 minutes, 34 seconds – very close to the longest possible duration of 2 min 43 seconds experienced by folks congregated in Carbondale, Illinois.

Overall our eclipse experience began at 1:14:55 p.m. EDT and concluded at 4:08:01 EDT – nearly three hours.

Totality started at 2:43:42 p.m. EDT and concluded at 2:46:16 p.m. EDT.

View shows partial solar eclipse as the moon begins obscuring the sun on the way to totality during the 2017 total solar eclipse on August 21, as seen from Santee, South Carolina and close to the centerline. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

At lunchtime it was a boiling hot, skin stinging 95+ degrees F. But barely half an hour into the eclipse and with the sun perhaps only a third covered the area noticeably cooled and darkened and the sunburn was gone.

As the eclipse deepened, the sky really darkened to the point we almost needed a flashlight and it was downright comfortable temperature wise.

I’m over the Moon so to speak and still replaying the totality event in my mind from start to finish.

You can follow along by watching this thrilling solar eclipse video produced by Jeff Seibert, and listen to the cheering crowd to get a sense of our Carolina Totality adventure:

Video Caption: Total Solar eclipse from Santee, SC on August 21, 2017. We were 4.8 miles South of the Umbra center line, and had clear weather until just before last contact. Credit: Jeff Seibert

At Santee we were 87% into the umbra with a 70 mile wide (115 km) lunar shadow path width, at 136 feet elevation above sea level.

There is just nothing like ‘Totality’ in my experience as a research scientist and journalist – working with and seeing cool science and space hardware up close.

Totality is a natural wonder of the Universe and it was an electrifying event.

At the moment that totality commenced, day turned almost instantly to night as though someone threw a light switch.

I distinctly heard crackling sounds burst through the air, akin to a thunderbolt clap at that very moment – heralding our sudden jolt to totality.

Cheers broke out. Everyone and myself were so totally in awe of totality. And the sun’s brilliant while corona suddenly became visible, alive and in motion as the solar surface was completely blocked, hidden behind our moon. So I just stared at the stunning beauty, barely able to function as a photographer.

The planet Venus quickly and suddenly and incredibly popped out brilliantly from the darkness of the daytime sky. Some stars were also visible.

You absolutely must experience this incomparable wonder of nature with you own eyeballs.

Focus on the fleeting moment.

Because in a flash of just 2.5 minutes #Eclipse2017 was gone & done!

The all natural light switch had been turned back on by mother nature herself.

If only a replay or restart were possible – someone in the crowd yelled in glee. And we all thought the same way.

Totality, like rockets and science can be addictive in a very positive way.

Furthermore, we also saw the famed partial solar crescents reflecting through trees onto the ground during the partial eclipse phases.

A sliver of the sun reappears after totality concludes during the 2017 total solar eclipse on August 21, as seen from Santee, South Carolina and close to the centerline. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

We very luckily enjoyed virtually perfect weather and clear blue skies for the entirely of the eclipse – from first contact, through totality and the last limb of contact of Earth’s moon covering the sun.

Only a few scattered cloud patches dotted overhead at the start and rapidly exited.

And very happily we were not alone.

The Aug. 21 ‘Total Solar ‘Eclipse Across America’ was enjoyed by tens of millions more lucky spectators, including many friends lining the solar eclipses narrow path of Totality from coast to coast.

The 70-mile-wide (115 km) swath of the Moons shadow raced across America from Oregon to South Carolina in a thrilling event that became sort of a communal experience with all the explanatory news coverage foreshadowing what was to come.

Everyone in North America was able to witness at least a partial solar eclipse, weather permitting- and many did either on there own or at special solar eclipse events organized at towns and cities at museums, parks and open spaces across the country.

12 million people live directly in the path of 2017 solar eclipse totality as it passed through 14 states.

It was the first total solar eclipse visible from the United States since Feb. 26, 1979. And it was the first such coast to coast eclipse crossing the entire continental United States in 99 years since June 8, 1918 during World War 1.

The umbra (or dark inner shadow) of the Moon moved west to east at 3000 MPH in Oregon and 1500 MPH by the time it reached our location in South Carolina.

The 2017 solar eclipse began on the west coast with the lunar shadow entering the US near Lincoln City, Oregon at 9:05 PDT, with totality beginning at 10:15 PDT, according to a NASA description.

Totality ended along the US East Coast in the coastal city of Charleston, South Carolina at 2:48 p.m. EDT. The last remnants of lunar shadow departed at 4:09 p.m. EDT. Charleston is about an hour or so east of my viewing location in Santee and folks there enjoyed stunning views too.

For as long as I live the 2017 Solar Eclipse Totality will be burned into my mind!

Partial solar eclipse as seen from Port Canaveral, Florida where a maximum of about 86% of the sun was covered during the 2017 total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. Credit: Julia Bergeron

“I’m pretty sure it was not nearly as epic as the total eclipse. It was fun to watch with teenagers though. I think what was unique to me was that I was capturing the equivalent of a crescent sun. Did it get dark here, of course not, but there were a few minutes where the Space Coast went a bit dim. The most fun was looking for the shadows,” writes Julia Bergeron from Port Canaveral, FL.

Partial solar eclipse as seen from Port Canaveral, Florida where a maximum of about 86% of the sun was covered during the 2017 total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. Credit: Julia Bergeron
The 2017 Total solar eclipse as seen from a cell phone through eclipse glasses and reached about 86% of totality in this view from Titusville, Florida on Aug. 21, 2017. Credit: Ashley Carrillo
The 2017 Total solar eclipse as seen from a cell phone through eclipse glasses and reached about 86% of totality in this view from Titusville, Florida on Aug. 21, 2017. Credit: Ashley Carrillo

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite Minotaur IV ORS-5, TDRS-M, CRS-12 and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The 2017 Total solar eclipse as seen through eclipse glasses reached about 86% of totality in this view from Melbourne, Florida on Aug. 21, 2017. Credit: Julian Leek

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Learn more about the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse, upcoming Minotaur IV ORS-5 military launch on Aug. 25, recent ULA Atlas TDRS-M NASA comsat on Aug. 18, 2017 , SpaceX Dragon CRS-12 resupply launch to ISS on Aug. 14, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Aug 24-26: “2017 Total Solar Eclipse Minotaur IV ORS-5, TDRS-M NASA comsat, SpaceX CRS-12 resupply launches to the ISS, Intelsat35e, BulgariaSat 1 and NRO Spysat, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew capsules from Boeing and SpaceX , Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, ULA Atlas/John Glenn Cygnus launch to ISS, SBIRS GEO 3 launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, Juno at Jupiter, InSight Mars lander, SpaceX and Orbital ATK cargo missions to the ISS, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, Curiosity and Opportunity explore Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Solar crescents projected on the ground after sunlight funnels through trees during the partial eclipse phases on Aug. 21, 2017. Credit: Julian Leek
Solar crescents projected onto the top of a picnic cooler and pine needles on the ground after sunlight funnels through trees during the partial eclipse phases on August 21 in Santee, SC. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
2017 Total Solar Eclipse as seen from Red Bank, SC. Credit: John Gould
Solar crescents projected on the ground after sunlight funnels through trees during the partial eclipse phases from Red Bank, SC on Aug. 21, 2017. Credit: John Gould

“Astonished at the vivacity and brightness of the corona, and the contrast with the infinitely dark moon. Through binos it almost had me in tears,” writes John Gould from Red Bank, SC.

2017 Total Solar Eclipse and Bailey’s Beads as seen from Santee State Park, SC. Credit: Patrick Hendrickson/HighCamera Photographic Service
Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 as seen from Tennessee. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor
Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 as seen from Tennessee. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor

NASA Live-Broadcasting 2017 Solar Eclipse!

Today, the NASA TV Public Channel is live-streaming their coverage of the totality of the 2017 Solar Eclipse as it covers a path reaching across the continental United States – from Oregon to South Carolina. The event, titled “Solar Eclipse: Through the Eyes of NASA“, begins at 1 p.m. EDT (11 am PDT). Be sure to check it out by following the link below:

https://www.nasa.gov/eclipselive/#NASA+TV+Public+Channel

Also, NASA has promised a plethora of information on this eclipse, which will include “images captured before, during and after the eclipse by 11 spacecraft, at least three NASA aircraft, more than 50 high-altitude balloons, and the astronauts aboard the International Space Station – each offering a unique vantage point for the celestial event.”

If you’re just reading this now, there’s still time! Head on over and see it all unfold!

Further Reading: NASA, NASA -Eclipse 2017

A Weird West Tale and the Hunt for Planet Vulcan

One of the most fascinating stories in modern astronomy involves the pursuit of a world that never was.

Tomorrow marks the 135th anniversary of the total solar eclipse of July 29th, 1878. With a maximum totality of 3 minutes 11 seconds, this eclipse traced a path across western Canada and the United States from the territory of Montana to Louisiana.

A curious band of astronomers also lay in wait along the path of totality, searching for an elusive world known as Vulcan.

Long before Star Trek or Mr. Spock, Vulcan was a hypothetical world thought to inhabit the region between the planet Mercury and the Sun.

The tale of Vulcan is the story of the birth of modern predictive astronomy. Vulcan was a reality to 18th century astronomers- it can be seen and the astronomy textbooks and contemporary art and culture of the day. Urbain J.J. Le Verrier proposed the existence of the planet in 1859 to explain the anomalous precession of the perihelion of the planet Mercury. Le Verrier was a voice to be taken seriously — he had performed a similar feat of calculation to lead observers to the discovery of the planet Neptune from the Berlin Observatory on the night of September 23, 1846. Almost overnight, Le Verrier had single-handedly boosted astronomy into the realm of a science with real predictive power.

An 1863 photograph of Lescarbault's country house observatory. (Wikimedia Commons image in the public domain).
An 1863 photograph of Lescarbault’s country house observatory. (Wikimedia Commons image in the public domain).

The idea of Vulcan gained traction when a French doctor and amateur astronomer Edmond Lescarbault claimed to have seen the tiny world transit the Sun while viewing it through his 95 millimetre refractor on the sunny afternoon of March 26th, 1859. Keep in mind, this was an era when solar observations were carried out via the hazardous method of viewing the Sun through a smoked or oil-filled filter, or the via safer technique of projecting the disk and sketching it onto a piece of paper.

A early right-angle solar viewer from the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia, South Carolina. Note the vent holes in the back to disappate heat and word SUN stenciled on the side! (Photo by author).
A early right-angle solar viewer from Robert Ariail collection at the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia, South Carolina. Note the vent holes in the back to dissipate heat, and word SUN stenciled on the side! (Photo by author).

A visiting Le Verrier was sufficiently impressed by Lescarbault’s observation, and went as far as to calculate and publish orbital tables for Vulcan. Soon, astronomers everywhere were “seeing dots” pass in front of the Sun. Astronomer F. A. R. Russell spotted an object transiting the Sun from London on January, 29th, 1860. Sightings continued over the decades, including a claim by an observer based near Peckeloh Germany to have witnessed a transit of Vulcan on April 4th, 1876.

Incidentally, we are not immune to this effect of “contagious observations” even today — for example, when Comet Holmes brightened to naked eye visibility in October 2007, spurious reports of other comets brightening flooded message boards, and a similar psychological phenomena occurred after amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley recorded an impact on Jupiter in 2010. Though the event that triggered the initial observation was real, the claims of impacts on other bodies in the solar system that soon followed turned out to be bogus.

Possible "target zone" for the existence of Vulcan, and later Vulcanoid asteroids.
Possible “target zone” for the existence of Vulcan, and later Vulcanoid asteroids. (Graphic in the public domain).

Still, reports of the planet Vulcan were substantial enough for astronomers to mount an expedition to the territory of Wyoming in an attempt to catch dim Vulcan near the Sun during the brief moments of totality. Participants include Simon Newcomb of the Naval Observatory, James Craig Watson and Lewis Swift. Inventor Thomas Edison was also on hand, stationed at Rawlins, Wyoming hoping to test his new-fangled invention known as a tasimeter to measure the heat of the solar corona.

Conditions were austere, to say the least. Although the teams endured dust storms that nearly threatened to cut their expeditions short, the morning of the 29th dawned, as one newspaper reported, “as slick and clean as a Cheyenne free-lunch table.” Totality began just after 4 PM local, as observers near the tiny town of Separation, Wyoming swung their instruments into action.

Such a quest is difficult under the best of circumstances. Observers had to sweep the area within 3 degrees of the Sun (six times the diameter of a Full Moon) quickly during the fleeting moments of totality with their narrow field refractors, looking for a +4th magnitude star or fainter among the established star fields.

Map of the path of the total solar eclipse of July 29th, 1878. (Credit: Fred Espenak/NASA/GSFC).
Map of the path of the total solar eclipse of July 29th, 1878. (Credit: Fred Espenak/NASA/GSFC).

In the end, the expedition was both a success and a failure. Watson & Swift both claimed to have identified a +5th magnitude object similar in brightness to the nearby star Theta Cancri. Astronomer Christian Heinrich Friedrich Peters later cast doubt on the sighting and the whole Vulcan affair, claiming  that “I refuse to go on a wild goose chase after Le Verrier’s mythical birds!”

And speaking of birds, Edison ran into another eclipse phenomenon while testing his device, when chickens, fooled by the approaching false dusk came home to roost at the onset of totality!

Vulcan search map for the Smithsonian Obervatory's 1900 eclipse expedition. (From the collection of Michael Zeiler @EclipseMaps, used with permission).
Vulcan search map for the Smithsonian Observatory’s 1900 eclipse expedition. (From the collection of Michael Zeiler @EclipseMaps, used with permission).

But such is the life of an eclipse-chaser. Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity explained the precession of Mercury’s orbit in 1916 and did away with a need for Vulcan entirely.

But is the idea of intra-Mercurial worldlets down for the count?

The search strategy for NASA's high-altitude mission to hunt for Vulcanoids in 2002. (Credit: NASA/Dryden).
The search strategy for NASA’s high-altitude mission to hunt for Vulcanoids in 2002. (Credit: NASA/Dryden).

Amazingly, the quest for objects inside Mercury’s orbit goes on today, and the jury is still out. Dubbed Vulcanoids, modern day hunters still probe the inner solar system for tiny asteroids that may inhabit the region close to the Sun. In 2002, NASA conducted a series of high altitude flights out of the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California, sweeping the sky near the Sun for Vulcanoids at dawn and dusk. Now, there’s a job to be envious of — an F-18 flying astronomer!

One of NASA's fleet of high-performance F-18 aircraft. (Credit: NASA).
One of NASA’s fleet of high-performance F-18 aircraft. (Credit: NASA).

NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft was also on the lookout for Vulcanoids on its six year trek through the inner solar system prior to orbital insertion on March 18th, 2011.

Thus far, these hunts have turned up naught. But one of the most fascinating quests is still ongoing and being carried out by veteran eclipse-chaser Landon Curt Noll.

Mr. Noll last conducted a sweep for Vulcanoids during total phases of the long duration total solar eclipse of July 22nd, 2009 across the Far East. He uses a deep sky imaging system, taking pictures in the near-IR to accomplish this search. Using this near-IR imaging technique during a total solar eclipse requires a stable platform, and thus performing this feat at sea or via an airborne platform is out. Such a rig has been successful in catching the extremely thin crescent Moon at the moment it reaches New phase.

Libya
Mr. Noll explains the aspects of an eclipse during a 2006 expedition to Libya. (Coutesy of Landon Curt Noll, used with permission).

To date, no convincing Vulcanoid candidates have been found.  Mr. Noll also notes  that the European Space Agency/NASA’s joint Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft has, for all intents and purposes, eliminated the possibility of Vulcanoids brighter than +8th magnitude near the Sun. Modern searches during eclipses conducted in this fashion scan the sky between wavelengths of 780 to 1100 nanometres down to magnitude +13.5. Mr. Noll told Universe Today that “Our improved orbital models show that objects as small as 50m in diameter could reside in a zone 0.08 A.U. to 0.18 AU (1.2 to 2.7 million kilometers) from the Sun.” He also stated that, “there is plenty of ‘room’ for (Vulcanoids) in the 50 metre to 20 kilometre range.”

Vulcanoid search diagram
The modern day Vulcanoid search strategy. (Diagram courtesy of Landon Curt Noll, used with permission).

Mr. Noll plans to resume his hunt during the August 21st, 2017 total solar eclipse spanning the continental United States. Totality for this eclipse will have a maximum duration of 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Circumstances during the next solar eclipse (a hybrid annular-total crossing central Africa on November 3rd, 2013) will be much more difficult, with a max totality located out to sea of only 1 minute and 40 seconds.

Libyan 2
Mr. Noll talks with a local reporter during the 2006 total solar eclipse expedition to Libya. (Photograph courtesy of Landon Curt Noll, used with permission).

Still, we think it’s amazing that the quest for Vulcan (or at least Vulcanoids) is alive and well and being spearheaded by adventurous and innovative amateur astronomers. In the words of Vulcan’s native fictional son, may it “Live Long & Prosper!”

–          Read more about Edison vs. the Chickens & the eclipse of 1878 here.

–          For a fascinating read on the subject, check out In Search for planet Vulcan.

–          Read more of Mr. Noll’s fascinating search for Vulcanoids here.