Is the second total solar eclipse as good as the first? This is the question I believed never needed to be asked, because of course it is. In fact, I was sure it would be better because I knew what was coming. On this day, 1 year after the solar eclipse in Chile, let me give you my answer to this question.
My first total solar eclipse was the Great (North) American Eclipse of 2017. We traveled far, slept little, and had a life-changing experience. I saw black circles everywhere for weeks afterward.
Even before the 2017 eclipse, I realized that the following eclipse, July 2019, would pass within half a kilometer of my former employer’s worksite in Chile. Soon, others at work realized too, and a huge event, involving a hundred guests and many staff, was planned.
The kind of event we were hosting is always a huge challenge, but I told everyone involved in the planning who cared to listen that it was going to be worth it. NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENED, no matter the six months of planning, and the week on the ground, the stress and chaos, the lack of sleep, it would be worth it for that minute and a half of totality: the most spectacular thing your eyeballs will ever encounter. I told myself this too.
Totality was going to happen in the mid-afternoon of July 2, 2019. We traveled as a group to just inside the zone of totality in the Coquimbo Region of Chile. There was a vast tent set up on an even more vast carpet of green hessian sacking.
On arrival, we refreshed on pisco sours, then we sat down for lunch (well, I didn’t because I was managing a crisis, but I saw that others had lunch). There were solar telescopes set up outside and a live feed projected in the tent of the sun being slowly covered by the moon.
Since I didn’t get lunch I decided to bail on the speeches and headed out to the front of the green carpet where all the photographers were setting up. I got the tripod up, got the big (300mm) lens on and got out the solar filter for the lens (recycled from 2017). All the first-timers had a screw-on solar filter (or no filter) and I felt very smug knowing that my paper one was going to do the job just as well, and would be much easier to get off at totality. I also had a solar timer app I used in 2017. (Well worth the $2-$3).
I knew that first part of the eclipse, where the sun slowly covers the moon (the partial phase), wasn’t going to be that interesting a second time, so I half-heartedly clicked the camera and mostly lent my filter to my teammate and discussed exposure times and apertures with people.
I also explained what was going on to the non-astronomers, and showed them the pinhole effect and generally talked them through the approach to totality. I emphasized that they should not try to take photos on their cell phone, and just watch instead. As we got closer I set up my GoPro to do a timelapse.
Since we were on a valley floor it was very easy to see the moon’s shadow approaching – seemingly much faster than in 2017. With help from the app, I counted it down for the people and told them when to take off their solar glasses.
Totality was as beautiful as in 2017. The corona was different, and for some reason, I noticed the color of the horizon and the color of the landscape more. It was mesmerizing. I clicked the camera a bit and warned people as we were coming out of totality.
Afterward, the newbies around me were either crying happy tears or exclaiming with excitement. It was truly as good for them as it was for me in 2017. But, you may have guessed, it just didn’t have the same impact for me the second time. Perhaps I was shattered from the trip and from the drama of the day, or maybe this is what it’s like for everyone. (Later, I discussed this with a second-timer who agreed with me).
But, it was still great fun to look at the photos on the back of the camera, and to get a totality photo straight onto work’s social media from the desert. Our team was also unwittingly featured in one of the best photos of the event.
So, in summary, please go and see a second total solar eclipse, but my suggestion is to find a way to make it different from the first experience (e.g. go on a boat, a plane, or try for a cool angle on the photo). The next one is December 14, 2020, visible from the southern part of Chile and Argentina.
I use the word “2017” in the title of this post, because I have a feeling we’ll be seeing another total solar eclipse one day. We had such a fantastic experience with this one, on August 21, 2017, that I think we may have become official eclipse-chasers.
Planning for this trip started earlier in the year with the thought that, of all the states on the path of the eclipse, Idaho was most likely to have clear weather. I spent a decent amount of time looking for accommodation in the path of the totality but found only a Super 8 for some many hundreds of dollars. Eventually I found a double suite at the Riverside Hotel in Boise, ID, which was about an hour’s drive from the center line of totality.
Thinking we were super clever, we found $50 flights to Salt Lake City, and figured we’d drive the 4 hours up to Boise and save ourselves $200 per head each way. Having booked that, time passed, and slowly the hysteria about the traffic started to build and we were panicked about whether we were going to be able to make that drive due to all the traffic. So we changed our flights to come in the day before and booked an airport hotel in Salt Lake City.
Meanwhile, I signed up for the Eclipse Megamovie project, and committed to taking photos of totality. I got myself a 70-300mm lens for my Nikon D3300 camera, and a paper solar filter, and started practicing. The hardest part turned out to be focusing on the sun, because you can’t look through the viewfinder (eclipse safety) and it’s really hard to see the screen on the back of the camera in daylight. The key turned out to be zooming in on the “live view” screen to see the edge of the sun. Later on, closer to the eclipse, some sunspots showed up, and focusing on them was a lot easier. If it hadn’t been for the Megamovie forums I’m not sure I would have figured this part out.
On the appointed Saturday, August 19th, we flew in the morning from Burbank to Salt Lake City, picked up a rental car and checked into the Courtyard Marriott at the airport. We had an early night, having decided that we needed to get up before sunset to beat the traffic.
On Sunday we had a 4:15am alarm, and drove to our traveling companions’ hotel at just after 5am to pick them up. Yes, our friends Vikram and Emma were crazy enough to join us on this eclipse adventure. We drove through the darkness, and just before sunrise saw the thin crescent moon rise – we knew the next morning the new moon would mean the eclipse!
We changed drivers at some random gas station, and for the rest of the drive Vikram decided to regale us with “interesting” “facts” about Idaho he had just found out from The Internet. “Did you know,” he would say, “that Idaho has the third largest seated statue of Lincoln?” (probably true), and, “Did you know that the Fosbury Flop (high jump technique) was invented in Idaho?” (not entirely accurate), and later, “Did you know that Idaho only has three dry-cleaners” (not true). Arguing about these nuggets certainly passed the miles.
We arrived in Boise early – around 10am – and of course, were too early to check in, so a quick google search revealed a “good” place for breakfast, walking distance from the hotel. We passed gas stations, empty lots and rental car lots, when we finally found the Capri Restaurant attached to a motel. We were not inspired by its looks but when we saw the line outside, we knew we’d come to the right place. It was absolutely packed but we got a seat in about 10 minutes, and had drinks and breakfast in front of us within 15 minutes. It was absolutely delicious, and just what we needed.
Breakfast at Capri Restaurant
None of us went hungry at the Capri Restaurant
Then we decided to walk into town to see what was what. We found our way to the State Capitol Building and went inside to find marble as far as the eye could see. We explored the empty senate chamber and the house chamber and admired the stars in the ceiling of the dome.
State Capitol Building
Inside the State Capitol
Suitably cultured we started back towards the hotel, stopping at a brewery tap room that had opened its doors for the first time just days before, and had some beer. Then it was back to the hotel to check in. I spent the rest of the afternoon checking camera settings, filling the car with fuel and generally running around.
After dinner we discussed our plan of action for the next day. We were going to head to the town of Weiser, ID, on the Oregon border which was completely prepared for an influx of eclipse viewers. As we talked I got worried about parking and emailed everyone on the helpful website parking list to see whether they had space. Two people replied 10 minutes after we went to bed.
The next morning, Monday, eclipse morning, our upstairs neighbor’s alarm went off at 4am. My husband was awake and so we woke Vikram and Emma. I paid someone in Weiser $50 by Paypal to secure our parking place, and we got on the road by 4:45am, panicked by the thoughts of traffic. We even forewent our planned McDonald’s breakfast stop.
It turned out we need not have panicked – the road was clear and we were parked by 6am. It also turned out there was acres of street parking and we didn’t need to pay. However, our parking host gave us some excellent local knowledge – firstly about a open coffee shop, and secondly about a great viewing spot. It turned out the local knowledge was worth the money on its own.
Once we parked, we found coffee and checked out Memorial Park which was full of vendors setting up booths. We partook of their $5 eclipse breakfast while the local news filmed, then wandered over to our chosen spot on the edge of town – the Park Intermediate School, arriving just in time to see the sun rise at 7am and hear a cockerel crow. We decided this was our spot, so returned to the car to collect my excessive amount of camera gear and supplies, and walked it all over (because it was $25 to park at the school).
Eclipse breakfast at Weiser, ID
Sunrise at our eclipse viewing location in Weiser, ID
I spent the next couple of hours taking practice shots of the sun, trying to perfect the focus point on the camera. A few more people joined us on the playing field, but it wasn’t very crowded. Then at 10:10am, the eclipse started. I had all the timings to hand thanks to my a handy app (Solar Eclipse Timer App). I started taking photos, and as the sun got further eclipsed we noticed some phenomena in the environment.
With 30 minutes to go, the app told us to pay attention to the temperature – it had indeed dropped – the sun didn’t feel scorching on our skin. Then we started to notice the shadows becoming sharper and the light becoming just plain weird. Vikram discovered he could see individual hairs in his shadow, prompting him to exclaim that he had “eclipse hair”. We made many pinholes to view the eclipse, and I kept taking photos.
Eclipse set up in the near empty field
Pinhole projection – courtesy Vikram
At around 11:20am, with a few minutes to go we noticed it getting considerably darker and cooler. The light was so strange that I started to feel a bit disoriented. Then my 5 minute alarm went off and I set up my little camera to record video. Then my two minute alarm went off and it was getting noticeably dark. A cockerel crowed nearby. In due course, Vikram spotted the shadow on the western horizon and the sun was just a sliver of gold on the back of the camera.
Then, at 11:25:19am, we reached totality.
Nothing could prepare me for the sight of the black hole in the sky where the sun used to be. People were yelling and pointing. The corona round the sun became visible, and was actually very bright. We noticed the horizon was a sunrise/sunset all around and the sky was definitely not black. The corona revealed itself to be at least two solar radii, with distinct features. I made sure to take all of this in before turning my attention to the camera.
With the solar filter off, I started on my prepared plan but I soon I realized I needed to work faster – stop the camera down more rapidly to get to the slower shutter speeds that would capture all the features of the corona, while remembering to pause to let the camera vibrations die down. I got about 3/4 through my range of shutter speeds before my app announced there were seconds to go before the end.
And then the light started to come back, people were yelling again, I kept clicking the shutter then we had to put the filters back on – the camera and our eyes! The light seemed to get brighter faster than it went dark, though of course it wasn’t, and my husband heard the confused cockerel crow again. After a few minutes people began to come over to each other to talk about their experience. One person wanted confirmation it was only 30 seconds long. It was 2 minutes 6 seconds.
Soon after, people began to disperse. I wanted to capture the whole eclipse so I put in a fresh memory card and kept taking semi-regular photos while trying to get content and photos to my work to post on our social media channels. At this point we noticed that things on our picnic blanket were damp with dew.
By 12:48pm the whole show was over. It was really hot again and so we packed up and lugged all the gear back across town, still high on the experience of totality.
Getting home was another challenge in itself, but that evening we celebrated a successful total solar eclipse and started thinking about the next one in Chile in 2019.