On the road: Annular eclipse trip, May 20, 2012

Posted by Rich Talcott
on Monday, May 21, 2012

Members of our group line the cliff tops at Sliding House Overlook in Canyon de Chelly during Sunday’s eclipse. // All photos by Evelyn Talcott
The Sun is dead! Long live the Sun!

According to Navaho tradition, the Sun “dies” during a solar eclipse. People are instructed to stay inside and keep quiet. They also may not eat, drink, work, or even sleep. Violating these beliefs can lead to stomach problems and bring misfortune to the family.

No one on our MWT Associates, Inc., tour followed this advice. Fortunately, the Navaho people allowed the National Park Service to open Canyon de Chelly National Monument for visitors to view Sunday’s annular solar eclipse. MWT secured the necessary permits that allowed our group of 33 eclipse enthusiasts to view the event from inside the monument. We set up at Sliding House Overlook, which offered spectacular views of the canyon as well as a clear desert sky for watching the best solar eclipse to cross the United States in 18 years.

After setting up our equipment, we waited patiently for the Moon to first kiss the Sun’s edge. The magic moment came right on time, at 6:26 p.m., although we didn’t see the first tiny bite removed from the Sun until a minute later. As the partial phases progressed, we watched shadows grow sharper, saw birds heading home to roost, and observed crescents created by the tiny pinholes between the leaves on trees and even those in an everyday soup strainer. We even glimpsed Venus shining in the blue sky above the Sun.

Annularity arrived at 7:33 p.m. Because we were right on the center line, the solar ring of fire appeared perfectly symmetrical at maximum eclipse. Everyone’s eyes remained glued to the Sun for the 4 minutes and 29 seconds it took for the annular phase to play out. By that time, the Sun was getting low in the sky, and sunset arrived before the eclipse’s final partial phases concluded. Our star looked oddly like a shark’s fin as it disappeared below the horizon, bringing an end to a magical day.

Native Americans built many impressive dwellings in the canyon’s walls.
As if viewing a solar eclipse wasn’t enough for one day, our group also toured Canyon de Chelly. Driving along the canyon floor in four-wheel-drive vehicles, our expert guide explained the history of the Native American presence in the canyon on the nearly four-hour trek. We saw ruins dating back more than a thousand years as well as numerous pictographs and petroglyphs etched into the sheer cliff walls. It was an enchanting experience that none of us will soon forget.

Up tomorrow: We leave Arizona and head to New Mexico, where we visit the Very Large Array of radio telescopes.

Related blogs:
On the road: Annular eclipse trip, May 19, 2012
On the road: Annular eclipse trip, May 18, 2012

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