John Veevaert's annular eclipse guest blog!

Posted by David Eicher
on Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The view overlooking Weaverville with Mt. Lassen in the clouds across the Central Valley of California. Weaverville is on the eastern flank of the Klamath Mountains of northwestern California. All photos by John Veevaert
One of the fun things I spend my time with on this little planet when not doing astronomy is collecting and studying minerals. You know, pieces of the planet. It‘s an interesting chapter of planetary geology to understand and celebrate the ways nature combines atoms into the constituents of planets. Anyway, one of my favorite people in the whole mineral world is good friend John Veevaert of Weaverville, California, who is an amateur astronomer and also an expert mineralogist and well-known mineral dealer (see his Trinity Mineral Co. complex of websites, famous for its mineral auctions). Not only is John great fun to hang out with and learn from at places like the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, but he also has a strong love of one of my mineral favorites, benitoite. But that’s another story . . .

John has been delighted recently because Sunday’s annular eclipse cut a path straight over his home in Northern California. It is a very special delight for me to share John’s eclipse blog and photos with you here.

The May 20, 2012, annular eclipse
By John Veevaert

My first total solar eclipse was in February 1979. Three friends and I drove from the Los Angeles area of Southern California to Goldendale, Washington, to view the eclipse. We had a lot of cloud cover, but there was enough of a break that we all saw the Sun in totality. An unforgettable sight, especially with a brilliant crimson-red solar prominence erupting during the total phase. Anyone who has seen a total solar eclipse understands how suddenly we as tiny beings are offered a glimpse of things on an enormous scale. It is almost like a drug — one is good, but more is better!

The annular eclipse is in full swing — Don Mills, Lynn Mills, and Jane Dean from left to right.
My last total eclipse was in China in July 2009. It was a total bust as a rain cloud opened up, and we all got drenched. What I remember most from that experience was the deep and eerie darkness. It got very dark for the six-minute-plus eclipse. It was on that trip to China that I first heard about the May 20 eclipse and that my home would be less than 15 miles from the center line.  For the first time in my life, I would not have to get on a plane or drive for days to see “the show.” It wouldn’t be a total eclipse, but it was sure to be a special experience with the mythical “ring of fire.”

On May 20, 2011, one full year before the eclipse, I drove around the Weaverville Basin in Trinity County, California, to try to determine what would be the best place to observe this event. I decided on Weaver Bally Mountain. It affords a view of the Pacific Ocean 100 miles to the west and unobstructed views of Mt. Shasta 60 miles to the northeast and Mt. Lassen 90 miles to the east. This seemed like a dream location to watch this event. Unfortunately, late spring snows in April this year put that dream into the tank. So, an alternative site to watch the event would be on a smaller peak overlooking the Weaverville Basin with both Mt. Shasta and Mt. Lassen in the distance.

John Veevaert's best shot, taken near mid-annularity.
Eclipse day started out sunny, clear, and warm. I snapped a photo of the Sun using a crude Mylar filter about six hours prior to the full annular eclipse  (see photo at right for the result). I wanted to test my high-tech camera equipment ahead of time.

One of my friends from our 1979 adventure to Washington made the trek to Weaverville; Don Mills and his wife Lynn arrived around 4 p.m. Don was fully prepared with a full box of eclipse-watching glasses! What a champ. Jane Dean, another friend from nearby Douglas City, also arrived a bit earlier, and we all got acquainted. I spent a little time talking about what we would see, and then off we went. My wife, Colleen, decided to stay behind and enjoy the eclipse from our front porch — she was also working like a champ to put together a post-eclipse dinner for us.

It was a 12-minute drive to the nearby peak, and once there, I was a bit disappointed to see that Mt. Lassen and Mt. Shasta were enshrouded in cumulus clouds. Some cloud buildup had started around Weaverville earlier in the afternoon, and my blood pressure and sweat glands were starting to work overtime in total dread of cloudy skies.

John's shadow and an 80 percent eclipsed Sun in the shadow of his hand.
To our great fortune, the clouds around Weaverville opened up, and we were given some spectacular viewing conditions!

First contact came as predicted at 5:10 p.m. I was still getting used to using my cheap camera gear to record this event. I used a Kodak Easyshare camera with an 8-megabyte chip. I cranked the zoom to full and used some eclipse-watching glasses and/or Mylar as a filter. For a tripod, I used the top of my car. A poor man’s photo setup for sure. I also used my iPhone for some images and even converted a pair of junk sunglasses to stare at the Sun with. The eclipse glasses Don brought were much better!!

By about 5:30 p.m., I was gaining some experience using my 2-bit photo set up. But I was still not very happy with the results. One more thing to get anxious over . . . sheesh! I have had more than 720 days to plan for this event, and it is amazing how everything is possible in the future, but when the future arrives, nothing seems possible!

One of the things I like to observe as an eclipse progresses is the change in shadows. In this image at right, I am using my right thumb and index finger to create a small hole for sunlight to travel through. The resulting shadow shows where we were in the eclipse — about 80 percent coverage!

Jane Dean and Colleen Veevaert, John's wife, point to the Sun during the last minutes of the eclipse.
As the eclipse progressed to the full annular phase, we all noticed an abrupt downward change in temperature. This was more pronounced than any total solar eclipse I have witnessed previously. Finally, the moment we were all waiting for!
Oh no, my first few images were horrible. I had to do better than this! Ugh! I moved over to my car and set the camera carefully on top, placed two pieces of filter in front of the lens, set the zoom on max, reduced the exposure to its lowest setting, and went wild for about 15 shots. I got two decent images of the annular eclipse. Our location in Weaverville, Trinity County, afforded us an event lasting 4 minutes and 28 seconds.

In all, I took more than 70 photos. Some of the earlier phase shots I decided to keep simply because they have some interesting shapes, lens flare effect, or just looked cool.

For me, the lighting and temperature change were most interesting and notable. It obviously never got dark, but the quality of shadows was very impressive. The temperature dropped at least 10°, and the cumulus clouds seemingly vanished during the eclipse, perhaps reflective of the rapid downward temperature change. And perhaps most incredible to me was that there was a steady flow of vehicles traveling west and east on California State Highway 299! Apparently there was no “umbraphile” in their bloodline.

John's title for this self-portrait: 'Think ZZ Top and cheap sunglasses!'
During the eclipse, another group of our friends, including Jerry Laursen, who made the trip with us to Washington in 1979, called us from a spot they went to see the eclipse near Caliente, Nevada. There was about a 5-minute lag in the phases of the eclipse from where we were to where they were about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. It was interesting to talk to someone else in the path in real time to get a sense of the time lag and further impress us with the enormity of an event like this. After the eclipse was over, we made one last call to make a firm plan to reconvene somewhere in the continental United States to see the total solar eclipse in 2017.  Let’s see, I have more than 1,800 days to get this next one planned out right.  It will be here before we know it.

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