Leigh-Anne and I promised ourselves that, barring horrendous weather or cloudy skies, we would go somewhere this morning to watch the eclipse. Neither of has has seen a solar eclipse of any kind since the total eclipse of Nov. 1994. (As an aside, if you’ve never seen one, do whatever you have to do to see a total eclipse. It’s an incredible experience. There’s one next year visible from Africa and parts of Europe.)
Well, today was a beautiful, clear day in Northern Virginia, so we drove about 3 miles down the road to a park off of the G.W. Parkway along the Potomac. We took along my 114mm Newtonian reflector 'scope. I set up the scope and began trying to align it with the Sun. Since you can’t look through either the finderscope or the eyepiece, you have to watch the shadow of your scope on the ground to get a good idea when it’s aligned.
I could see it was getting close when a circle of bright light came out of the eyepiece of the finderscope and appeared on the ground. A few adjustments showed light streaming out of the scope’s eyepiece as well. I stuck my glove over the eyepiece for a moment to confirm that, and to my surprise the bright pinpoint of light on my glove began smoking. Ooops! Glad it wasn’t something more flammable.
Once we had it centered, we were able to project a clear, sharp image of the Sun through the 25mm eyepiece onto a piece of posterboard. It was about 11:10, and although the eclipse had just started, you could already see a tiny bite taken out of the Sun by the disc of the Moon. We had both underestimated how cold it was, especially on the river, so we took turns sitting in the car to warm up.
A lot of joggers were out, including a few who asked me ifit had started. There were also several couples and families there who had some to see the eclipse, and I was able to provide a few of them with a terrific projected image. There was an older Asian couple, and the woman told me she had never seen an eclipse before. It was kind of nice to be able to show her something new and amazing.
We tracked it with minor adjustments every few minutes. It was great to be able to see more and more of the Sun disappear minute by minute. At one point, a large, thick cloud passed in front of the Sun, enabling as to look directly at it and see the eclipse head-on. Despite the cold, we stuck it out through maximum, about 12:45, and left for home shortly after.
I wish there had been more kids down there. “Sidewalk astronomy” is a great way to get kids interested in science, and show them something incredible. Maybe next time.