September 2017

                             Tony Martinez

Each month I will describe sights of interest in the night skies of South Carolina. These sights will be broken down into four sections; what you can see with the naked eye, with binoculars, with a small refracting telescope and with a Dobsonian reflector. The best time to view the night sky is at and around the times when the Moon is not visible, what is known as a New Moon; which will occur this month on September 20th. For September, your best viewing nights will be from September 10th to the 24th. The Star chart below is set for Florence, SC on September 15th at 9 pm. Note: A table of contents for earlier columns is located in the September 2016 column.

The 2017 Eclipse – My Personal Story:

I had been preparing for the 2017 total eclipse for the last three years.  This was not going to be the most important event of my life, but since my last total eclipse was 47 years ago, this was certainly an event to look forward to.

In the last twelve months I have discussed ScienceSouth’s contribution to this event with our director, Stephen Welch. There were three obvious locations we could visit near the centerline of the eclipse, and within easy striking distance from ScienceSouth; Lexington, Santee, and Moncks Corner. We avoided Lexington do to the large crowds in the Columbia region. Santee was the easiest location to reach, but it was also the target for anyone traveling from the north or south on Interstate 95; large congestion was anticipated. In addition, we could not see any large open viewing sites near Santee. With this in mind, we planned to pick a location just north of Charleston, and as close as possible to the centerline of the eclipse. A few months ago we settled on Moncks Corner.  We have had previous enjoyable contacts with Moncks Corner in which Stephen and I performed outdoor science shows in one of their parks. Upon contacting Moncks Corner, we were happy to hear that there was a large event planned at their recreation fields in the center of town. The coordinator of the event was Sara Anderson, and she graciously invited us to bring our observing equipment down to their event. One week before the event, I drove down and checked out the recreation center, and the area set aside for us to set up our equipment. We were given half of an outside basketball court to set up. This court was brand new, and had an excellent smooth surface to place our viewing equipment.

A few days before the eclipse, the weather report gave a high probability of clouds or rain in southeastern South Carolina; no matter what, Stephen and I would be there with hopes for the best.

The morning of August 21, 2017, the two of us left ScienceSouth at 5 am, and arrived at the Moncks Corner just before 7 am. Avoiding the interstate and using route 52, we had no travel delays. We set up a 10 inch Dobsonian telescope equipped with a solar filter, one small H1alpha solar telescope, one large H1alpha solar telescope, and two Sun Spotter solar projectors. In addition, we had our eclipse glasses and a pair of Coronado solar binoculars for personal use. Other items included a tent/canopy, large quantities of electrolyte drinks, and snacks. Our set up is shown below, with me wearing my “Totality or Nothing” T-shirt.

From 8 am until 1 pm, we had a mix of sunshine and cumulus clouds.  During this time we were able to show visitors great views of the Sun.  Surprisingly, there was a large band of sunspots covering over half of the Sun. In addition, there were some small prominences visible through our H1alpha scopes. The visitors really enjoyed using our solar viewing equipment. We met many wonderful people both locally, and from Maine, Georgia, Washington, DC and New York.

As the time of first shadow contact approached, 1:16 pm, I was watching through the 10 inch Dobsonian. I equipped the Dobsonian with a 2 inch 26 mm eyepiece giving a wide view 70 power image. I must admit, when I first the shadow of the Moon, I was overly excited.  We called out to all of the people in our area to come over and enjoy the view. Everyone was thrilled. Less than thirty minutes later we looked to the south, and became depressed, because bearing down on us was a massive thunderstorm. The last view of the eclipse in our Sun Spotter, before the storm, is shown below.

This ended our view of the eclipse for the rest of the afternoon. We did not experience any rain, but there was never any break in the clouds.  Our view of the Sun near totality is shown below.

During totality, there was some clear sky in the north. Everyone noticed two interesting things, first, the blue sky never became totally dark, and although we were under cloud cover, the totality seemed to be much too short. My theory is as follows: The time of totality was likely hard to determine with the Sun behind the clouds. The only possible reason that the sky did not totally darken was that there must have been a bright corona during totality. Shown below is an update of the “Totality or Nothing” T-shirt photo.

So we missed the eclipse, quite sad but beyond our control. What I remember most were the wonderful visitors we met during the day.  Also a special thanks to Sara Anderson and work she did setting up this event.

See you next month. I am busy checking Trip Advisor for motels in Hot Springs, Arkansas for 2024.

Naked Eye Sights: Last views of the Summer Milky Way

Binocular Sights (7 to 10 power): Last view of the Messier Objects in the Summer Milky Way.

Telescope Sights (60-100 mm): Last chance to view Saturn

Dobsonian telescope (6 -8 inch): Last chance to view Saturn.

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