The day before annularity

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Sunday, May 20, 2012

Yesterday was the day before the Moon crosses directly in front of the Sun. Unfortunately, our lone natural satellite lies too far from Earth to totally block it's light. The result? An annular eclipse, at whose peak a ring of the Sun's disk still surrounds the Moon.

After overnighting in Tucson, Arizona, at friends' Dave and Sunni White's home, the four of us (including my wife, Holley) set out for Flagstaff on Saturday. On the way, we enjoyed a great sit-down lunch at a fish taco place Dave knew and stopped for gas and kettle corn (yum!). Exactly five hours after we left Tucson, we pulled into the motel parking lot in Flagstaff.

Within an hour, our ranks had swelled to an even dozen. Joining us were eclipse-chasers Darren and Julia Trizzino from Dallas, Texas; astronomy fanatic and eclipse trip leader Jackie Beucher and her neice, Rachel, from Kansas City, Missouri; and Astronomy magazine Contributing Editor Mike Reynolds, his wife Debbie, and two of their grandchildren, Kieran and Quinn.

We chatted for a while and decided on Thai food for supper. Great choice! The restaurant was quaint, the service friendly and super-fast, and the food delicious. While we were eating, however, I received a call from astronomer and college-buddy Carl Wenning, from Normal, Illinois. Carl and two friends had headed directly to Page, Arizona, to a viewing location I'd selected weeks before. "This isn't going to work, Michael," he said. "The place is jammed with hundreds of cars, plus a few campers. Let me get back to you."

Half an hour later, Carl called with good news. His cadre had found a secluded area he was sure wouldn't be overrun by Sun-watchers. So that's where we're headed today. Oh, and "we" now included three more people: Fred Bruenjes, whose company produces the Moonglow Technologies All Sky Cam, which appeared in the June 2012 issue of Astronomy, and Jen Winter and her daughter Shadow. Jen owns DayStar Filters, and is a friend from way back. Hmm. What a coincidence that I'd ask Jen, whose company produces solar telescopes and filters, if she'd like to join us.

After dinner, we all headed to Lowell Observatory for a walk-through, a walk-around, and a peek at Saturn through the historic 24-inch Alvan Clark refractor that observatory founder Percival Lowell had set up to study Mars, in hopes of proving intelligent life built a vast system of canals there. To learn more about this, see Assistant Editor Karri Ferron's upcoming story "The Red Planet's Colorful Past," which will appear in our August 2012 issue.

While in line to view Saturn, who should I find manning the door but longtime friend and Lowell astronomer Brian Skiff. He stuck around to help with crowd control. And he'll be at Lowell today also because the staff expects massive throngs for the eclipse.

All in all, I had a great day. Today, however, when the Sun, the Moon, and Earth align, will be even better. Be sure to read that blog!

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