Learning from the 1984 Annular Eclipse

By 1984, Barbara and I were getting back into astronomy.  She bought a small Celestron spotting scope and we began to get proficient at its operation.  My interest in astrophotography was going to explode in a few years with the appearance of Comet Halley and an 8-inch Celestron,  but at the time, observing was what I wanted to do.

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My 1996 map of future solar eclipse paths is shown above.  This was an assignment in Professor Martin’s astronomy class at GTCC.  Notice the path of the 2017 eclipse across North America.

Professionally, I was about ready to move from Junior High to High School, where I would get to teach astronomy.  The scheduled annular eclipse was another opportunity to add to my astronomical experiences and I hope, make me a better teacher.

Elliptical Orbits

The orbit of the Earth around the Sun is an ellipse, not a circle,  Johannes Kepler made this his first law.  Maybe on rare occasions an orbit might just happen to have an eccentricity of zero, but considering that there is an infinite number of other eccentricities and only one of zero, odds are against perfect circular orbits.

So there are times the Earth is farther from the Sun, making the Sun appear slightly smaller, and times the Earth is closer, making the Sun appear slightly larger.

The Moon, too, has an eccentric orbit, making it appear slightly larger or smaller, depending on if it is at aphelion or perihelion.  With these two variables, we get different kinds of solar eclipses. If the Earth is at or near aphelion (making the Sun appear smaller) and the Moon is at or near perihelion, we might get a total solar eclipse as we are expecting on August 21 of this year.

On the other hand, if the Earth is at perihelion and the Moon is at aphelion, we get an annular solar eclipse.  In an annular solar eclipse the Moon blocks out the center of the disk of the Sun, and we see a ring of the Suns’s disk surround the dark Moon.

Rural Experience

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We observed the 1984 Annular Eclipse from just west of Salisbury, NC  Map by NASA Eclipse Website.

I took no pictures of the 1984 Annular eclipse.  We sat in the front yard of a country church with my little spotting scope.  The cows in the neighboring pasture walked into the barn as we approached maximum eclipse.  The birds began gathering in the trees across the road, tweeting loudly, possibly complaining how little time had passed since sunrise.

Then the birds all got quiet.  The cows were all in the barn.  The sky turned a thin but uncomfortable grey.  Maximum eclipse occurred. Awesome.

As quick as it began, the Moon began to unblock the Sun.  The birds made a loud racquet, now complaining that they hadn’t gotten a full nights sleep.  The cows came stumbling out of the barn is if to inquire about the missing milking procedure.

Barbara walked back to the car and found a beautiful sight on the hood.  We had parked

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Images of the partially eclipsed Sun projected onto the hood of our car.  Taken by B. Hands, 1984.

under a tree, and the partially eclipsed crescent Sun was sending its light thru the gaps between the tree leaves as if they were pinhole cameras.  On the hood of our car Barbara found dozens of images of the partially eclipsed crescent Sun.

She took the best  picture of our expedition, the partial eclipse all over our car.

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As we make preparation for the August 21 solar eclipse, you may want to include a colander in your packing list.  Holding this kitchen tool at the right angle at the right time may give you a great picture.  Is there something better or different than a colander you can use?  Maybe something from your vocation or avocation?  How about a piece of cardboard with holes cut in a particular pattern?

What will you project the images on?  Use your imagination.


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