Blackout Rally recap

300-plus Airstream trailer enthusiasts—many members of the Oregon Airstream Club, Greater Los Angeles and NorCal units of the Wally Byam Airstream Club—camped together at Lake Simtustus in Madras, Oregon to await the Great American Eclipse. To kill time before totality, a 3-day party was planned that included an eclipse presentation and evening telescope starparties with astronomer Brian Bellis from California, a drawing class, a geology lecture, catered meals each day, Cachaça spirit tasting at happy hour, live entertainment (Antsy McClain from Nashville!), and a “Day on the Dock” party hosted by Airstream Adventures Northwest (Airstream Inc.’s #1 dealer).

Day on the Dock included a fishing derby, water toy relay race (involving a hydrobike, kayaks, and an SUP), incredible prizes, a big ol’ freezer of free ice cream, and a “Hot dogs for Hot Shots” fundraiser for local firefighters who have been working overtime this season to prepare for the eclipse in Central Oregon. (The Oregon Airstream Club raised well over $2000!)

 

On Monday August 21 all eyes were on the sky as we gathered together to await totality, wearing our custom eclipse glasses. Several rocked tin-foil hats.

At dawn on eclipse day I glared at the thin haze in the sky, and the brownish accumulation wafting from a wildfire on Warm Springs reservation toward our viewing location. “I’m not a fan,” said astronomer Bellis, and the eclipse chasers and telescope buffs agreed that the advertised crystal blue sky of Central Oregon was not to be that day—but visibility was improving with each passing hour and everyone remained hopeful and excited.

Several telescopes were positioned to study the significant sun spot activity and the big prominences. Bellis brought a terrific “funnel projector” and an attendee made a nice pinhole headbox. Lots of folks brought colanders from their Airstream galleys to observe rows of neat and orderly crescent projections. After planning this event for seven years, it was finally going down.

The phenomena occurred on cue as 10:19 a.m. approached: sharpened shadows, eerie changes in the light, and even shadowbands—my first viewing ever, collected on a big piece of white foam core.

What a thrill and blessing to hear the gasps and cheers of 350 people when totally slid into place after a dazzling diamond ring. (Post-eclipse regret: why didn’t I make an audio recording? Hopefully someone else did.)

Something amazing WAS captured on video and in a still shot by one of the guests: during totality, a skydiver sailed right across the eclipsed sun. I hope that guy makes some good money selling the image to Astronomy magazine.

The coronal streamers were only slightly diminished by the haze, and at third contact the crowd cheered again and many brushed away a tear or two. I held it together until someone crying ran up to give me a hug. Sharing the beauty of our planet with other Earthlings and feeling our place in the solar system and the universe together always touches me deeply, and I try to carry that feeling forward until it refreshes during the next eclipse. (2019, ya’ll.)

After totality we enjoyed a catered brunch and a champagne toast delivered by special guest Thomas D. Jones, NASA astronaut/spacewalker. He delivered a fascinating presentation about the ongoing role of NASA missions, answered questions about what it’s like to live and work in space, and stuck around to autograph books and inspire kids.

Until next time, clear skies!

Above: The Oregon Airstreamers

Below: Pin the moon on the sun; eclipse style statement; eclipse cookies; ‘scope action; awaiting totality; third contact smiles; NASA astronaut Tom Jones; I’m seven for seven! (Hubs is two for two.)

Oregon Airstream Blackout Rally

Several years ago when The Great American Eclipse hit my radar, I mentioned it to some of my fellow Oregon Airstream owners at a Wally Byam Caravan Club annual meeting.

“Hey, you guys, we should have a big rally during the total eclipse of the sun that’s coming up!” I said.

“Awesome idea. When is it?”

“2017!”

<crickets>

Down, girl, was the initial (and reasonable) reaction but when I brought it up again later it really was time to plan, and almost past time; many campsites and blocks of hotels in Central Oregon were already booked.

A team of co-hosts and rally volunteers stepped up to help organize the event, and we secured two campgrounds in a prime viewing location in Madras, Oregon.

I know what you’re thinking—sorry, the Oregon Airstream Blackout Rally has been sold out for nearly two years.

I never thought August 2017 would arrive, but here we are, and the Blackout Rally will be nothing short of epic: a weekend for 300 Airstreamers and their friends and families, packed with live entertainment, catered food, science presentations, star parties, a marina bash—and totality on the final day.

We just have to get there (and hope the dire traffic predictions are Fake News), and cross our fingers and toes for clear skies.

NASA and the Science Channel are placing their bets on Madras, as well: the location has a 95 to 98% chance of unobstructed viewing on August 21, and Accuweather is predicting 83° with “abundant sunshine”.

Review a collection of top eclipse articles and web posts on Tumblr at Second Contact.

Above: Madras, Oregon: “Top ranked viewing spot in the United States.”

Below: Early planners review eclipse data; co-host plots the Airstream trailer sites; host huddle in the marina store; lakeside campsites; marina dock; Airstreamers on site last summer; Oregon eclipse path; lovely lake locale; grill guy tests eclipse glasses; sorry, sold out!

Eclipse FAQ

When it comes to learning about the upcoming Great American Eclipse, there are no stupid questions. Well, maybe these:

Isn’t it too dark at night to see the eclipse?

If the solar eclipse is so dangerous to look at, why are they having it?

And this, as seen on a t-shirt: “I wanted to watch the eclipse but the stupid moon got in the way.”

A real live astronomer will be a guest at the Oregon Airstream Blackout Rally, and will answer questions about the celestial event of the summer.

What would you like to know but are embarrassed to ask? I’ll find out and report back. Ain’t no shame if you’re wondering if you’ll see the moon like it looks on the stamp, why the path travels from west to east, how you’ll be able to see totality with your eclipse glasses on, and why sunglasses won’t keep you from going blind.

Here’s an example of an interesting question I found online, from an astrophotographer who’ll attempt to photograph totality:

Does the size of the sun vary from one place to another? If someone in Australia took an unzoomed, unmagnified picture of the sun, would the area of the sun be equal to a photo taken, say, in Norway?

I have no idea why this has any bearing on astrophotography, but okay. Hmm.

Related: and I’m not too proud to say this out loud. How does the lunar eclipse path differ from the normal process of the phases of the moon? NO LAUGHING. Someone demonstrated this to me once using a lime, a lemon, and a tennis ball. It made sense then, but it didn’t stick.

My favorite question—to which I’ve heard only unsatisfactory answers—is this: does a total eclipse take place on any other planet? Yes, two moons of Saturn in our own solar system might produce an extremely inferior version of what we experience on Earth—but to our knowledge there are no others. (“In the vastness of the universe certainly there must be” doesn’t count.) Now for the follow up question (chill, anti-intelligent designers): what are the odds? Earthlings rely on one sun and one moon—one is 400 times larger than the other, and the other is 400 times farther away—making their discs in the sky the same size, allowing for a total eclipse. Wait, there’s more: what are the continued odds that Earth is the only planet we know of on which sentient, self-aware beings reside, who are able to appreciate the spectacle? Mind blown. 

Eclipse safety

The multiple warnings about not looking directly at the sun seem peculiar.

I mean, really? “Don’t look at the sun” is akin to “don’t hold your hand over a flame” or any other dangerous and painful act that would be ludicrous to do and impossible to sustain. Common sense dictates against such a practice (but judging from recent events in our culture, common sense is at a premium).

I couldn’t help but wonder (Carrie Bradshaw style)…is this really a problem? Turns out it is. According to LiveScience.com, total blindness is rare, but you might be in danger of contracting “solar retinopathy”—aka photic retinopathy, foveomacular retinitis, solar retinitis, and eclipse retinopathy—resulting in temporary to permanent blurriness or a blind spot at the center of your vision.

“Eclipse blindness” is caused when ultraviolet light overwhelms your retina, located at the back of your eye where the photosensing cells that allow you to see are located. During the deep partial phases of the eclipse when sunlight dims it can be tempting to sneak a peek, and the damage at that point is delivered without pain and when protective reflexes (like blinking and pupil contraction) are slacking off.

Solar retinopathy can occur at any point during the partial phase—including the final seconds before totality—and the most important reason to shield your eyes occurs in the very last two or three seconds before blackout: looking directly at the sun during this time can cause temporary vision distortion that can bork your enjoyment of the scant, precious minutes of totality.

Many people don’t understand that you must look at the sun with the naked eye after Second Contact, and the trick for a first time eclipse viewer is to know when to whip those eclipse shades off in time to see the entry phenomenon like Bailey’s beads and the diamond ring. Stay calm, and keep your glasses on until you’re sure it’s safe. (The sound effects coming from those around you will alert you that totality has occurred.) Rest assured that you’ll get a good long look at the ring and the beads in reverse order at Third Contact. Don’t risk blurry eyesight during the big event by removing your shades too soon.

It’s optimal if there’s a coach in the area to let you know what to do. This video is an example of the phenomena countdown by Jay Anderson, meteorologist aboard the expedition ship Orion in the Great Barrier Reef with (TravelQuest, Nov. 13, 2012). Some find spoken words distracting, but I think it adds to the thrill.

I love looking at the eclipse safety posters and flyers that local governments distribute—like the ones at the end of this post.

Your options

The only safe way to look directly at the partially eclipsed sun is through special purpose filters such as “eclipse glasses” or my uber-dorky #14 welder’s goggles.

The popular paper eclipse glasses you’ve seen are made with optical density 5 “black polymer” material that filters out harmful ultra-violet, infrared, and intense visible light. Look for brands made in the USA (beware of overseas knock-offs) and that state they are CE certified and meet ISO standards. I recommend Rainbow Symphony, manufacturer of our custom Blackout Rally shades. I’m told American Paper Optics and Thousand Oaks Optical are two other reliable manufacturers.

What’s true for your eyeballs is true for the devices you look through. Do not look at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun through an unprotected camera, telescope, or binoculars—and don’t use these things while wearing your eclipse shades, either. The intensified solar rays will damage the filter and enter your eye. (Gad, this is getting scarier and scarier, isn’t it? You’’ll be happy to know that your own prescription eyeglasses are safe to use with eclipse shades or a solar-filtered telescope.) Both your eyes and your optical device need their own filter. Pointing an unprotected telescope directly at the sun can also result in the unfortunate melting of the plastic parts that hold the internal instruments together.

Oh, and don’t make your own filter like some hillbilly. Black plastic trash bags, balloons, camera film (WTF is that), or three pairs of sunglasses worn together won’t bar ultraviolet light.

Eclipse shades make a great souvenir of the experience; I have a small collection and the ones from Egypt are my favorite.

You’ll be able to put your hands on a pair of eclipse shades pretty easily before August 21, but order online soon. Alternatives to the standard style include hand-held viewers, magnification viewers (like the Celestron EclipSmart™ power viewer) and even wacky ones that let you look like an astronaut or an alien.

The weakest technique of all is the pinhole projection, but it’s fun to do to pass the time during the boring partial phases before and after totality. Here’s how:

  • Use two sheets of cardboard (stiff white paper, even two paper plates)
  • Make a tiny, round, smooth hole in the middle of one sheet using a thumbtack, a sharp pin, or a needle
  • Stand with your back to the sun, and hold up the paper with the hole.
  • The second sheet of paper serves as a screen for the projected image. Do you see a little crescent shadow? That’s the inverted image of the sun coming through the pinhole.
  • Experiment: make the image of the sun larger by moving the pinhole paper closer to the sun.
  • Anything with “holes” can be a pinhole projector: a straw hat, your loosely crossed hands, etc. Find a nearby tree and look at the ground below: the leaves will create hundreds of crescent projections.

Check out this excellent 4+ minute video courtesy of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) Solar Eclipse Task Force and the American Institute of Physics. It will tell you everything you need to know about eclipse safety.

Above: #14 welder’s glasses. Below: Blackout Rally shades; Egypt souvenir (what does that hieroglyphic say, “scram, tourist”?); handheld viewer, solarscope (I have no idea what this does); PowerViewer; alien shades; pinhole hands.

 

Eclipsemageddon

Apoceclipse? Eclipsalypse? Whatever you call it, Central Oregon is in a wad about The Great American Eclipse, coming soon to a traffic jam near you.

Everyone from the Red Cross to ODOT to the Deschutes County Sheriff to the Unitarian Church are planning for the onslaught of visitors and have been busy issuing advice and warnings. Threat of wildfire is, indeed, the most dire issue. If you’re planning to view totality on the dry side of Oregon, August 14—22 might be a good week to quit cigarettes. To paraphrase Smokey: only you can prevent wildfires.

NationalGeographic.com offers these safeguards—

  • Contact 911, the local fire department, or the Park Service if you notice any unattended or out-of-control fire.
  • Never leave a fire unattended. Completely extinguish the fire by dousing it with water and stirring the ashes until cold.
  • When camping, take care when using and fueling lanterns, stoves, and heaters.
  • Make sure lighting and heating devices are cool before refueling.
  • Avoid spilling flammable liquids, and store fuel away from appliances.
  • Do not discard cigarettes, matches, and smoking materials from moving vehicles. Be certain to completely extinguish cigarettes before disposing of them.

And for chrissakes, don’t burn any trash or brush this summer. Also, be careful with anything that could cause a spark; last year, a motorhome towing a small utility trailer created a significant fire by Highway 26 when the trailer—unseen by the driver—bounced and threw off sparks that ignited the dry grass on the side of the road.

Travelers as well as locals are being warned about petty inconveniences as well. No one is really sure about the impact on the area but most expect that Bend (and certainly Madras and Prineville) will be crowded on Thursday August 17 and will remain busy until Wednesday, August 23. Folks are being encouraged to:

  • Get grocery shopping done a week or more ahead of time—not only to beat the crowd, but to give stores time to restock.
  • Pick up prescriptions and medical supplies early.
  • Get doctor and dental appointments out of the way.
  • Conserve water: don’t water the lawn or use extra water during the weekend. (I might disagree with this one. Greenery needs to stay green in August.)
  • Conserve energy: unplug appliances that aren’t in use; do laundry and run the dishwasher during off-peak hours.
  • Be prepared for slow internets, and streaming may be sluggish or nonexistent.
  • Fill up gas tanks early.
  • Get cash early; ATMs may run out of bills or be hindered by the aforementioned slow connectivity.

Overall, supplies will be limited and in high demand, traffic will be heavy, and lines at restaurants and in stores will be long—so exercise patience. Be nice, you’re in Oregon!

More on the subject in The Source Weekly.

Eclipse chat

I had fun sharing my eclipse experiences with a couple of good interviewers.

I was on the “Countdown to the 2017 Eclipse” show on Boss Radio 100.7 broadcast from the Oregon Coast—where residents will be the first people to stand in the shadow of the Great American Eclipse on August 21. Here’s a recording of that interview. (You can make a drinking game out of the number of times I say “spectacle”.)

Host of the weekly talk show, Kay Wyatt, is an astronomer who has her very own observatory north of Lincoln City in the coastal mountains. I was honored to be part of the 17-episode program that included interviews with several notable astronomy stars (pun intended)—among them, Fred Espenak (“Mr. Eclipse”) who was recently honored as the astrophotographer whose image was used to make the USPS Total Eclipse stamp.

I also spoke with bubbly Janine Pettit, host of the Girl Camper podcast —as Airstream trailering and eclipse chasing will soon overlap at the Oregon Blackout Rally in August—and with the Technology Reporter for the Bend Bulletin. “Eclipse Chaser Plans Life Around Solar Events” is actually a pretty accurate headline.

Update: I recently enjoyed a conversation with Brian Resnick, a reporter for Vox who interviewed several chasers for this fun and informative article.

 

 

The total eclipse postage stamp!

In June the US Postal Service will release a commemorative stamp to celebrate TSE2017, and it will be a big, big first: a stamp that changes when you touch it.

The heat of your finger will react with the stamp’s thermochromic ink to reveal an image of the full moon over a solar corona. It will revert back to a totally-eclipsed sun when it cools.

The “Total Solar Eclipse Forever” stamp will be made available on June 20, 2017 after its First-Day-of-Issue ceremony at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. (Am I the only Oregonian disappointed that it’s not taking place in Madras?) Apparently there’s some kind of druid sculpture there that manifests its magical properties on that day, the summer solstice.

The image on the new stamp was selected from among Fred “Mr. Eclipse” Espenak’s fine collection of totality photographs, that was shot during the eclipse over Egypt/Libya in 2006.

On the back (each pane of 20) will be the path of totality on August 21, featuring the largest cities and towns in the shadow.

Learn more (and watch for preorder information) at the USPS website.

(Fellow philatelic umbraphiles, spread the word! Uncle Sam says use hashtag #EclipseStamps.)

 

 

The Great American Eclipse, August 2017

If you’re a North American who isn’t living under a rock you know about #TSE2017—and I could ride my bike there.

Ha ha! JK. I’m not riding my bike 21 miles. But the edge of totality falls across Redmond, Oregon on August 21, 2017 at the northernmost edge of Roberts Field airport, just up the highway from my home in Bend.

Coincidence? I think not. Even the weak Kallawalla mystic would say it’s predictable that I live in the path of totality, a quarter of a century from experiencing my first total solar eclipse.

People ‘round these parts say they remember the Northwest eclipse of 1979—no they don’t. It was clouded out. (Disagree? Let’s see your corona shot. Yeah, I thought so.)

On eclipse day I will not be driving from my house—gridlock will grip highways 97 and 26 on the weekend before August 21st and traffic to the path from all directions will be slower than the Bend Broadband wireless network.

I’ll be at the Oregon Airstream Club Blackout Rally on the shore of Lake Simtustus, the reservoir behind Pelton Dam, in a sea of silver among my fellow Airstreamers.

Below: Lake Simtustus site; position of the sun at first contact on August 21; Great American path

 

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Telescope

Solar scope GrantI do love my Celestron scope. The NexStar 8SE wasn’t too hard to assemble. It really makes a statement as a decor focal point in the dining room. And it would pull in most of the go-to night sky objects, up close and personal—from the cool lunar craters, to Cassini’s Division in Saturn’s rings and the Great Red Spot, even the M13 cluster—if I could figure out how operate the damn thing for maximum enjoyment.

Likely due to the price tag (it was gifted to me by a very generous father-in-law), that level of telescope assumes a basic operator knowledge that I frankly don’t/ever will have. I never passed through the kiddie-stages of owning smaller, less complex scopes. I haven’t yet read Astronomy For Dummies. I can’t point to Polaris. As dense as it is, the paper documentation that comes with the 8SE still reads a little like the Monty Python “How To Do It” sketch. How to play the flute? “Well, you blow there and you move your fingers up and down here.” How to use an 8-inch altazimuth Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope with a SkyAlign’d clock drive, Barlow lens, assorted Plossl eyepieces, filters, power tank, and energy rejection/H-alpha solar filter system? “Well, you point it there, and you push this button here, and then you start looking at the Solar System.”

Well, there are few more steps. My husband, neighbor, and I all flailed around on multiple occasions, late at night, trying to properly align to the stars and planets. The only ones we’re sure of are Saturn and the moon. There’s more to see, I think.

There are one billion—no wait, TWO billion resources on the internet to teach me how to operate my telescope. But who has time to wade through all of that, most of it over my head anyway? I set out to find a tutor, and a wonderful one I did find.

Meet Grant Tandy, Astronomical Interpreter at the Oregon Observatory at Sunriver. He agreed to help me set up my scope for solar viewing (a function I’ll need to master within two years, before TSE2017) and teach me to find and appreciate nighttime objects as well.

Quick and dirty glossary of eclipse jargon

Alt-Azimuth – “Altitude and Azimuth”. This is about spherical coordinates in degrees and something to do with your telescope. EGGHEADS, ANGRILY COMMENT NOW. (Seriously, please use the comment section to weigh in and correct or explain anything that I’ve gotten wrong or am just making a flip joke about. Thanks. I’d love to hear from you.)

AnnularAnnular eclipse—A type of partial eclipse where the disk of the moon is JUUUST a little too small to blot out the sun, causing a way cool “ring of fire” effect. Not safe for direct viewing without protective eyewear. Also referred to as a hybrid eclipse.

Aphelion—The point in Earth’s orbit when we’re furthest from the sun. Eclipses that occur near aphelion are total because the size of the sun in the sky is smaller, and the same size as the moon is near perigee.

Apogee—The further possible point the moon can orbit around the earth. The closer to apogee, the shorter the eclipse.

Baily’s beads—Ready to have your mind blown? Baily’s beads are the dots of light in a ring you see with the naked eye immediately before totality caused by SUNLIGHT SHINING THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS ON THE MOON.

Centerline—The position running through the middle of the path of totality where the eclipse is at maximum duration. Most chasers fight to be closest to the centerline; others interested in specific observations of the chromosphere, shadow bands and other associated phenomenon might set themselves up closer to the edge of the path.

Chaser— AKA umbraphile; one who uses valuable vacation time and travel dollars to stand in the shadow of a total solar eclipse, usually on multiple occasions. (Why aren’t we called lunatics?) A bizarre niche market for the travel industry. (I recommend hooking up with TravelQuest for this purpose.)

Chromosphere—The layer of the sun’s atmosphere just above the photosphere, visible as a red rim around the black disk during a total solar eclipse.

Contact—Points at which the disk of the moon touches the edges of the solar disk. A total solar eclipse can be described by four contact points: First, when the moon touches the edge of the sun. Second, totality, when the disk of the moon makes it all the way across the sun initiating the Diamond Ring. Third, the “outtro” Diamond Ring, ending totality. And fourth, when the tiniest final sliver of moon no longer bites into the disk of the sun.

Cookie biteCookie bite—Description of the solar disk during the early partial phases. (Not to be confused with “orange peel”, the image of the sliver of sun close to totality when viewed through an orange solar filter.)

Corona—Meaning “crown”, the wispy plasma that appears as a white glow with long streamers reaching away from the surface of the sun. The solar corona can be seen with the naked eye only during a total eclipse. The coronal shape is unique to each eclipse, and varies due to sunspot activity.

Diamond ringDiamond Ring—The phenomenon visible at Second and Third Contact when the last point of light from the sun is blocked by the moon, creating an enormous, shiny diamond ring in the sky, just like you see in cartoons. Looks exactly as it sounds.

Duration—Though eclipses can drag on for two or so hours after First Contact (the beginning) to Fourth Contact (the end), duration usually refers to totality, the period between Second and Third Contact. The shortest duration can be seconds; the longest possible is slightly more than seven and a half minutes.

Eclipse—In general, when any heavenly body is visibly darkened when it falls into the shadow of another heavenly body. Eclipses can be annular, partial, total and lunar (an eclipse of the moon occurs when the shadow of the earth falls on the moon).

Eclipse glasses—Solar filters fashioned into lenses and set into (usually) inexpensive cardboard frames or sometimes more substantial eyewear. Often made of Mylar. Make sure they’re labeled as “CE” compliant, or choose welder’s goggles fitted with a #14 lens for safe, long term exposure and a fetching, sexy look.

Edge effects —A ground phenomenon that occurs when the sun is more than halfway obscured, causing tall shadows to appear crisp on one edge and indistinct on the other. I’ve never seen this.

Edging—Observing at the edge of the path of totality to prolong Diamond Ring viewing (but sacrificing duration).

First Contact—The official beginning of the eclipse—the first partial phase—when the moon begins to obscure the sun.

Fourth Contact—The official end of the eclipse; the final moment of the last partial phase when the moon ceases to block any part of the sun.

Horizon effect—AKA twilight glow. The 360° sunrise (or sunset, if you’re an Enneagram 4) occurring during totality as the moon’s shadow commingles with the atmosphere at the horizon.

Hydrogen alpha filter or “H-Alpha”—a solar filter for your telescope that allows safe viewing of the sun (and sunspots) during the partial phases due to something about nanometers.

Partial  solar eclipse—A relatively common occurrence, when the sun is partly obscured by the moon to any percent that isn’t 100% total. Was once fun to observe until you saw your first total. Now like kissing your sister.types of eclipses

Path—The track of the lunar shadow as it passes across earth during an eclipse; usually meaning the path of totality, in the umbra, where the total eclipse can be observed. “The path” varies in width up to only 100 to 150 miles wide at its widest point. The closer one stands to the center of the path, the longer the eclipse will last.

Penumbra—The outer part of the lunar shadow when the sun is only partially blocked. Those standing in the penumbra see a partial eclipse.

Perigee—The closest distance between Earth and a body in orbit around us. The disk of the moon appears largest in the sky—and a total eclipse is possible—when the moon is at perigee.

Perihelion—When the orbit distance between the sun and Earth is as close as possible. Eclipses during perihelion are shorter in duration.

Photosphere—The layer of the sun’s atmosphere just below the chromosphere that causes “sunlight”. It’s very hot.

Pin hole projection—A fun way to ground-observe the partial phases of a solar eclipse. Poke a small hole into a piece of paper and angle it so that it casts a tiny shadow on the ground in the image of the “cookie bite”.

Prominence—The bright red flames that erupt from the edge of the sun’s photosphere into the corona, visible during totality. Solar magnetic fields may form a “prominence loop”.

Saros cycle —The ancient, still-used repeating cycle to calculate the occurrence of eclipses. Specifically? Every 18 years, 11 days, and 8 hours per cycle. A 56-year “exeligmos cycle” is comprised of three saros cycles (with four eclipses in the same saros). Related: the metonic cycle, a period of 19 years, 6,932.4 days, during which it’s possible for a series of up to five eclipses to occur on the same date 19 years apart. And so forth. I was told there would be no math.

Totality ArubaSecond Contact—The moment the moon fully obscures the sun, creating totality.

Shadow bands—A weird, not-always-observed (and not-fully-explained) ground phenomenon during the last moments before totality and directly after caused by “shimmers” in the atmosphere. Some describe shadow bands as similar to the undulating patterns on the bottom of a swimming pool. Best seen on a flat, light colored surface, like a concrete patio or wide area of beach.

Sunspots—Dark blemishes on the sun where the photosphere is cooler. Observable through a telescope with a solar filter. Tracking sun spot activity can help predict of the quality and shape of the corona and prominences.

Streamers—The long white projections of the corona typically at the sun’s equator…but length, placement, and shape of the corona will be a glorious surprise (see sunspots, above).

Telescope—You know what this is. A telescope is not necessary to enjoy a total eclipse. But it’s fun if there’s a good one nearby (owned by an seasoned operator) that you can peek through.

Third Contact—Sadly, the moment when totality ends and the sun reemerges from behind the moon.

Total eclipse—When the sun is completely covered by the moon…or is it?  Here’s a question I’ve never found an answer to. Is “total eclipse” synonymous with totality, or does the term refer to the entire event from First to Fourth Contact, with the payoff of totality in the middle?

Totality—The period of time—up to 7 minutes, 32 seconds—when the sun is completely blocked by the moon.

Transit—An underwhelming phenomenon to observe during the off years when there’s no total eclipse on the calendar. Just kidding. Sort of. A celestial body is “in transit” when it passes in front of the sun and can be observed as a tiny speck from Earth as it crosses. Catch the Transit of Mercury in May of 2016—but it’s a long wait until the next Transit of Venus in 2117. (My profile picture was taken during the TofV in 2012.)

Umbra—The darkest part of any shadow where the light source is completely obscured. A small light, like a flashlight, forms only an umbra; a giant source (like the sun) forms both a penumbra and an umbra. Only in the umbra during a solar eclipse can you experience the astonishing awe of totality.

Umbraphile—One who loves eclipses. (You too? I’d love to hear from you—drop me a line in the comments. Clear skies!)