The Eclipse Expedition


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Road Ranger Truck Stop, Rochelle, Illinois July 29, 2017

I apologize that I  have been extremely busy with the “task-at-hand” of interstate logistics operations and have not written in a while.  In what few spare moments I have had, there have  also been thoughts and effort put into preparation for my first break in two months, planned for August 19 through the 25th.  I regret that I will not be in Houston at that time to visit with those of my readers who abide there.  Instead, yet more traveling lies in wait.  Fortunately, the First Mate will be joining me.  It took a lot of convincing to get her to agree to a long road trip, with few comforts.  So, for those of you who see here often – just make like it’s a Big Deal that you would love to have the opportunity to attend, OK? 😉


Captain Walkabout’s First Mate

I have been fascinated by Astronomy from an early age.  In the early Sixties, the library at Louisa May Alcott Elementary School was my first source of literature about stars and planets. In 1980 I graduated from the University of Texas with a Bachelor’s Degree in Astronomy.  In between, I read most everything I could find on the subject.

While Stars had their own fascination, I desired nothing more than to study the Solar System Planets.  I had wanted to be Carl Sagan – but they already had one.  By the time there was an opening in the position, that energetic upstart (and admittedly, talented) Neil DeGrass Tyson beat me to the job.

As I have discussed elsewhere, my career was to be in Geophysics. I remind you that it is still the study of Planets.  We just happen to be standing on the planet I studied for all those years.  I was fortunate to attend the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference for many years on behalf PGS of my seismic exploration company employer.   I will admit, it took some considerable lobbying on my part to get them to sponsor me.  Even then, I took vacation time and paid my own room and board.

This narrative reminds me that I wrote an article for the PGS newsletter about comets.  I will post that here, soon.

Solar Eclipses

One of the first things a student learns about is eclipses, when the shadow of the moon falls upon the Earth and covers the Sun completely.  This happens roughly every 18 months – somewhere on Earth.

“So, what’s the big deal?”, You may ask.

The opportunity to witness a total solar eclipse is a rare only because the shadow falls on a very small fraction of the Earth’s surface and you have to be there to see it happen.  Most people live their entire lives without witnessing such an event.  I know, because I am one.  There was a total eclipse across the Norther parts of the US in 1979 that I missed because I had injured my back at work and I did not have any vacation time to spare.  Seeing TV coverage (while muscle-relaxed in a recliner) on TV just ain’t the same.  All the people in the live broadcast were gasping and shouting in delight.  What inspired those reactions simply did not make it through the screen.  Apparently, you have to be there – in person.

There is an opportunity in the US to view such an eclipse August 21, 2017.  As the Earth rotates under the moons shadow it make a “path of totality.  The link below is to a short video of this  celestial situation:

The path can be shown on a map.   You will see such a graphic below.

Totality_wholeUSPath of Totality for the August 21 Solar Eclipse.

Inside the shaded path, the Sun winds up completely covered.  The black dot over by Nashville is where the totality happens at local noon.  The center of the  path – marked with a blue line – is where the time of totality is at a maximum of about two and a half minutes.  Away from the blue line but still in the shaded zone, the totality is briefer.  For viewers anywhere outside this path, there is only a partial eclipse – a bit of full sunlight will still be about.

I can’t tell you much about totality, because I have never seen it.  But I have been near partial eclipses.  The dim light is perceptible but not like an overcast day, in fact the shadows are sharper and more distinct.  There is an eerie quality to the light that I cannot quite describe –  not just in the sky, but reflected by everything around you.  Any viewing of the Sun itself must be through protective glasses.  Regular sunglasses are inadequate.  Special “eclipse glasses” are available for purchase and advertised everywhere.  Here is the key to their use:

Never look directly at the sun without the Eclipse Glasses on.  Look away from the Sun, put the glasses on then look at the partial eclipse.  This condition is described as FILTERS ON.

For totality, I have only what I have read.  There should be an effect of bands of dark and light caused by interference fringes as the Sun becomes a sliver at the edge of the Moon. Just at the beginning of totality, there is an effect called “Baily’s Beads” around the edges of the moon where remnants of the now dwindled light from the Sun is shining down through valleys on the edge of the moon.  This will become a “Diamond Ring” with a single bright spot.  It is after this event that the eclipse can be viewed with the naked eye.  Not BEFORE and not AFTER totality.  The same applies to cameras!


They tell me that at totality, planets will become visible in what had been the daytime sky.  Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter should be there to see, if you know where to look.  The Sun’s atmosphere, the “Corona” is obvious and extensive.  The local wildlife (as well as the local people) will have strange reactions to the sudden darkness. The darkness is local.  Will I see a reddened horizon by the light from beyond totality?  I simply don’t know.

Descriptions and pictures here:


So – BEFORE totality:


Partial eclipse views

Bailey’s Beads

Diamond Ring


Views and photos of Sun’s Corona behind the full moon

Planets in the daytime sky

Interference fringes

Red horizon?

Animal / Human Reactions.  Temperature. Wind.

First sign of Diamond Ring returning


Reverse sequence

I said it is not like an overcast day.  That is, of course unless it IS an overcast day.  The weather is the main problem associated with eclipse viewing.  Weather is what makes this a moving target.  Statistically, the fewest cloudy days are to be found in Nebraska and Wyoming portion of the path and that is where we should aim.  I had it in mind to start straight North from Dallas to Kansas City.  But, now I think it might be better to head for that stretch of Interstate 27 in Wyoming that I have had my eye on.

EclipseDallas-to-CasperWYShade.pngThe route to Wyoming and Totality – to be followed by Your Captain and the First Mate

It might be a crowd scene.  People will be coming from all over the world to see this, but there is also a relatively large area where it will be visible and I would think that the crowds would be in the more urban areas. I don’t really know what to expect in that regard.

I will write about it, of course.

Ex Scientia, Veritas



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