Celestial Serenade

Today I experienced the North American total solar eclipse. Sort of. As I live in Toronto, north of the band of totality cutting centrally across the continent, ours was a semi-eclipse, with about 70% coverage. I call it the Partialclypse (cue Brian May’s Mad Max soundtrack).

There have been other solar eclipses visible in my part of the world during my lifetime; I have very vague memories of watching one when I was a kid … I think. Back in the early ’90s, my future astrophysicist-teacher husband – I call him Mr. Science – travelled with the Royal Astronomical Society to Mexico one whirlwind weekend to view a Total Eclipse of the Sun (cue Bonnie Tyler). (This is the same man who went to Australia in 1986 to view Halley’s Comet.) He still talks about the eclipse as a spiritual experience: when the day went dark, all the hairs on his arms and neck stood straight up, and he was deeply moved. In 2008, Mr. Science and I viewed a total lunar eclipse together, on the shore of Lake Ontario one icy February night when I got so cold, I thought I’d developed hypothermia. This was before I had my “good” camera, so I used a point-and-shoot with lousy zoom and no tripod. My teeth were chattering and hands shaking so much, this is the best image I could capture.

Total lunar eclipse as seen from Toronto, Canada February 20, 2008.

The term eclipse, by the way, comes from the Greek word for ‘disappearance’ or ‘abandonment’ (cue the bouzouki). Cultural folklore, from ancient peoples on down, deals extensively with solar eclipses, ranging from creation myths to omens of imminent misfortune to giant demons (dragons, frogs, bears, serpents, werewolves or vampires) devouring the sun to rocky relations between heavenly lovers.

Despite the fact that I knew today’s eclipse would not be the awe-inspiring total blackout, complete with Baily’s beads and corona (hmm, sounds like that trip to Mexico) that other parts of North America would be treated to, I was really looking forward to it. The weather cooperated beautifully. Too bad Mr. Science didn’t; at the last minute, he decided to scarper to a friend’s cottage, taking the protective eclipse-viewing glasses with him (cue Marche funèbre from Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2). Since I had no intention of melting my retinas or destroying my camera’s lens by pointing any of them directly at the sun (cue Thomas Dolby), I was left to fashion a rudimentary pinhole viewer out of a couple of pieces of cardboard, aluminum foil, tape and a pin to make the “lens” through which the tiny but harmless solar image would be projected.

It worked! The images are like moon shadows, but in reverse (cue Cat Stevens). Using this homemade viewer, I was able to track the progress of the Moon’s silhouette across the surface of the Sun, taking photographs every few minutes. Lacking a proper tripod for both my big camera and cell phone, I had to hold my phone in one hand while trying to steady and “focus” the cardboard lens in the other. As a result, the images are primitive and indistinct, but I still enjoyed this bit of old-school science.

Pinhole images of the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse as seen from Toronto, Ontario.

Continuing the musical theme, my next post will focus on my nomination by a fellow blogger for the Shuffle the Music Tag.

 

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