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Totality from 8 mi south of Alliance, Nebraska

Mark Perry

8 miles south of Alliance, Nebraska

2017-09-03

I was making for the municipal airport south of town in hopes of a flat stretch blacktop to set up the telescope and publicly-accessible bathrooms nearby for the kids. As I got nearer Alliance, however, I could see that with increasingly heavier traffic it would be iffy getting to the airport before the show started. There appeared to be a highway widening project underway on the highway we’d been traveling (Nebraska state highway 385) making the 2-lane highway into a 4-lane divided highway, and the construction had been shut down and the equipment cleared so that people could pull off of the paved highway on to the packed, smoothed, future south-bound lanes to park and watch the eclipse without affecting traffic. We stopped around 8 miles away from Alliance and set up.

As the initial partial eclipse phase started it was pretty windy, and seemed to get windier and windier until I was starting to get worried our shade canopy and/or my telescope might blow over. There were also patches of clouds obscuring the sun off and on. The wind was making it difficult for me to keep my own body stable while adjusting the telescope and was causing the telescope’s solar filter to ripple and distort the image. Between the wind and the clouds it was next to impossible to keep the telescope aimed at the sun much less take decent pictures. I decided to pack away the ‘scope and just watch the show with the family.

The clouds cleared off, and the wind did settle a bit as the eclipse approached total. Watching the eclipse reach total, we, along with goodness knows how many people nearby, took our eclipse glasses off at almost exactly the same time. To say the experience of watching totality is next to impossible to describe, while true, isn’t helpful to anyone else who hasn’t had the experience. So, I’ll try my best to describe it.

First, I don’t believe I’ve ever before experienced dozens of people within earshot, and probably thousands more within a ten minutes drive, collectively gasp and cry out in utter awe at what we were all witnessing. That sound of collective wonderment sent a chill down my spine quite as much as the sight itself.

The sight made me think somehow of a painting where the artist had taken brightly glowing white paint and, starting just at the edge of the black circle of the moon’s disk, lightly brushed rapid, wispy strokes away from the sun towards the dusk-blue background of the painting. I was freshly struck with the power of the sun’s radiant energy: that it could still manage to illuminate with a deep twilight the part of the Earth where we were, with all radiance directly from its surface completely blocked.

I tried to catch the corona with my iPad during the total phase but all I got was a somewhat fuzzy white disk. I imagine with manual control over the iris and the exposure time, and a better skill with photography, it could’ve been done. I did catch a partial phase photo by placing my eclipse glasses over the camera lens of the iPad, and I’ve attached that.

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