Last weekend Stuart and I headed to the USA with the kids in tow to experience our first ever solar eclipse as part of Virgin Galactic’s Camp Eclipse gathering. A huge amount of planning by the team had gone into the event, firstly working with eclipse experts on identifying the best possible location and then figuring out all the logistics of accommodating and catering for a couple of hundred people in a remote location in the Teton Valley in Idaho.
It’s fair to say the sigh of relief from the Virgin team was audible when we woke up to the view below on Monday morning – no amount of advance planning can ensure clear skies, and after months and months of preparation it was obvious that the weather was not going to cause any last minute hiccups for them in executing a brilliant eclipse experience.
I loved that Snapchat had created a set of eclipse filters that allowed me to time stamp my photos so I could record the sequence of events and how far away from totality they were.
We all set ourselves up in position, ready for the moment to arrive. A number of people had fantastic camera set ups, ready to record amazing images which they generously shared with us, and everyone had their eye protection ready. Telescopes also fed a live stream to screens, allowing us to follow the moon’s progression across the sun with crystal clear accuracy.
Sam had attended a fantastic workshop conducted by Enrico Palermo, EVP of The Spaceship Company, on the Sunday where he’d made his own eclipse viewer, so he was busy showing us how to use that – and totally impressing us with how well it worked!
Some of the tips that I found particularly useful came from Debbie Moran who has been chasing eclipses for over 30years now. She told us that it was easy to just stare at the sun for the period of totality, but that if we did that our brains would recall it as a duration of about 8 seconds despite totality lasting 2 mins for this particular eclipse. Instead she advised us to look away periodically and observe what was happening around the event, which would not only add to the richness of the experience but would also ensure that the memory recorded matched the actual duration, rather than the brain auto-condensing the same image to an 8 second memory recall.
She also suggested jotting down notes in the lead up to totality, recording what changes you observed, which I did and am sharing here.
30mins out, light changes, temperature starting to drop. Light almost starts to flatten, intensity of sun drops
2mins out light is flat, shadows are really sharpened
The final moments immediately before totality happened so quickly. The light dropped and the temperature fell even further, and the moon’s shadow swept over the face of the sun.
It’s really difficult to describe the intensity of the two minutes that followed. Jean Oelwang, President of Virgin Unite, probably summed it up best as ‘feelings of awe, connectivity and hope’ and the sense that ‘an eclipse allows you to experience a moment of global consciousness’. It was incredibly powerful, and there was a real sense of the power of nature, the vastness of the universe, and how little control or influence we as humans ultimately have over either.
These photos were taken at Camp Eclipse by Paul Williams, and truly reflect what we saw.
On the other hand, this is a pretty terrible photo (taken by me), but I wanted to capture this bird’s really marked response to the eclipse – it sat dazed on the table almost as if in a trance during the period of totality, then as the sun came out again it shook it off and flew away. It did make me laugh that it chose to take its moment next to a champagne bottle, it was a Virgin event after all!
As the sun remerged the jet stream of a plane was clearly visible across the sky, and we all shared our experiences with a sense of euphoria about having been part of something incredibly special.
It’s easy to see how eclipse chasers get hooked and want to relive the experience in new and different environments. This one might have been our first eclipse but I’ll be very surprised if it’s our last!