Author Topic: 2017 Eclipse from John Day, Oregon  (Read 305 times)


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2017 Eclipse from John Day, Oregon
« on: September 11, 2017, 10:22:19 AM »
2017 Eclipse report
August 21st from the McDaniel Ranch near John Day, Oregon

Ulrike got her permanent resident visa to immigrate to the US in July. We entered the country on August 10th bound for my parents in Chico, then the path of totality in Oregon. Here is our eclipse story and hopefully the first chapter of our new lives in the USA (we'll probably end up in Los Angeles).

We borrowed my dad's land cruiser and got my telescope out of storage. Luckily it seemed in good condition after four years in storage and a move from a garage. I cleaned the mirror and collimated the optics. After leaving Chico on Friday August 18th around noon, we gassed up in Red Bluff than drove through Redding to 299 towards Alturas. We broke down on 299. The engine temp went immediately up, oil pressure went all the way down and the check engine light came on. I stopped the vehicle and waited for AAA. After being towed home to Chico, we learned a coolant hose had failed and it needed serious work done. We spent the night and rented a car to get back on track. Packing the rental car was fun. What to take and what to leave? The telescope almost didn't fit. I nearly left it, but am SO VERY GLAD I did not.

We left Chico late on Saturday and got to Bieber around 10pm. After getting eaten by mosquitoes (long time residents of the motel) and breathing some serious smoke from a nasty wild fire, we got up Sunday and had breakfast in Alturas at the Auction Yard Cafe, the one with the cow on the roof and the biggest chicken fried steak I have ever seen. We bought gas and supplies and took an unusually long time to find window shades for the rental car, leaving short before noon.

The air in Bieber was very smoky Saturday night which scared us for the eclipse. As we drove into Oregon, it got less smoky but partly cloudy, trading one sky obstructing fear for another. The drive was gorgeous, with views on interesting lakes. I would like to have had more time to stop and enjoy viewing the scenery along the way. We were already very late and under pressure to get to the ranch at John Day, so we only stopped for a subway sandwich to take to go for dinner.

The drive through the Malheur national forest was pleasant with a few slow moving vehicles, but nowhere near the horrific traffic some had foreseen. I was worried coming in so late. Many were camped outside totality and I worried about their chances for getting to a good spot in the morning. As we got into the path of totality, there was a buzz of going ons in the communities along the way with eclipse camping and the sale of souvenirs being the main activities. I wanted to stop and enjoy the atmosphere, but it was getting late. Things got more and more crowded as we approached the centerline. The focal point seemed to be the festival like atmosphere in John Day which looked like a lot of fun. Again, we were worried about setting up camp and decided to press on (there wasn't much parking available anyway).

Upon arriving at the McDaniel ranch we were greeted by a sizable party with loud music and food. Mary McDaniel was very friendly and seemed oddly calm given all the activity. Finding the astronomy field was difficult as everyone was divided into three groups on three separate fields. It seems the astronomers were being sent to the middle field. There weren't too many serious amateurs setup. Only one with a 13" Dob and another with a 4" refractor. I picked a spot in the middle of the field near the 4".

We first got the shade canopy up, then setup the scope to cool off. Next came the tent and a quick dinner (leftovers from breakfast for me and gluten free Subway for Ulrike) as it was cooling off and getting dark. I was exhausted.

As it was getting dark I had no time to properly collimate. This was unfortunate as the secondary had been bumped due to my crazy and frenzied repacking of the car and I couldn't get it aligned with the tube. I aligned the primary anyway and started observing. I had a lot of fun talking to and getting to know Yu-Hang from Seattle who was there with his 4" APO to do photography. The sky clearing up and meeting my neighbor brightened things up considerably. He had a favorable weather forecast for tomorrow morning. The usual eye candy beckoned after not having access to my telescope for four years. The clouds got thicker and we had to observe what we could between them.

Around midnight the clouds were so thick, combined with being cold and tired caused me to throw on the dust cover and call it a night. This was disappointing enough, but worrying about not seeing the eclipse tomorrow made it almost painful. To come all this way to see the bottom of clouds at totality! Just as I was finally ready for bed, the sky opened up and it looked beautiful, but I was beat and needed sleep.

On the morning of the eclipse, I finished the chicken fried steak taken to go from Alturas (third meal from that enormous thing!) before setting to work on the telescope. It was as I had feared, the secondary was badly misaligned and I was seeing the edge of my tube, the 10" was behaving like a 6". With a bit of effort I got the secondary in position and re collimated the primary mirror. It felt good to get it right.

After a quiet morning, a bustle of activity picked up as the eclipse began. Everyone was excited.  The first contact at 9:08:41 was the moment to get in the mood. Everyone was electrified. I set out the thermometer, cleaned the lenses on the 50mm binoculars, set out a jacket for totality and got the scope in position. It slowly got darker.

The hour before totality went quickly. I thought it would be a long drawn out wait. Using the hand held filter, glasses and talking with others made it go quickly. Yu-Hang was filming the entire eclipse with his 4" but gladly shared wonderful views through his 60mm APO and Baader white light filter.

Explaining to Ulrike the series of events, when it was safe to look and when not was fun. She was still skeptical the unfiltered binoculars were a good idea at any time during the eclipse. Let alone the unfiltered 10" Dobsonian.

A bit of worry crept up in the form of a large haze/smoke patch heading from the south towards the sun. Oh no!

The darkening continued and seemed both ominous and exciting. It got cooler. The first sign of something really out of the ordinary was a pinkening of the horizon followed by a sunset in the west, while the Sun was still up in the east! There was no defined shadow that swept over us, but it got quickly and dramatically darker until it seemed we were falling into darkness. The diamond ring was striking, a heartbeat I could feel, frozen into my very being. It was really happening, TOTALITY!

10:22:47 until 10:24:50 on August 21st, 2017 were the quickest two minutes and three seconds of my life (a lunar limb correction gave us 2 minutes and 4.4 seconds). I pointed the Dob as quickly as I could at the sun with no filter and a 26m Plossl. Something that felt wrong, after a life time of making sure that could never, ever happen.

It was amazing! The most amazing thing I have ever seen; this as a life long amateur astronomer. No words! I saw the chromosphere of the sun! A shade of pinkish red I can't quite describe. It was only for a few seconds. But WOW it was the sun! Without a filter! The real image of the sun with my own eyes, magnified!

Strikingly apparent were the three active solar prominences starkly jetting out from the blackness of the moon. One was enormous and truly magnificent. A gorgeous red orange glow with details I've never seen in a photo or with any H-alpha filter. Wow wow wow! Ulrike was afraid to look at the sun through the telescope, but when she did I couldn't peel her back away.

Using the 50mm binoculars showed an amazing corona. The bluish white streams went what seemed like five degrees or more from the sun in all directions, overflowing the field of view. Had there been more time to dark adapt, one could likely see them streaming father away from the sun. It was glorious.

Stars everywhere! Not as dark as night, but more than early evening. Twilight was all around us. We were in the middle of a sunset from horizon to horizon!

It got chilly. The thermometer showed a dramatic drop in temperature, in the high 70s at the beginning of the eclipse, down to the low 60s during totality. Unfortunately I was to excited to note the exact temperatures.

People's reactions were amazing. The noise around us was a cacophony of joy, awe and jubilation; an affirmation of the human spirit's ability to be in the moment.

Everything went so quick. At ten seconds before end of totality, I pointed the scope in another direction and put down the binoculars. I needed a few seconds of just standing there taking in the magnificence with my own eyes, truly feeling the awe and wonder. Wow! Diamond ring! LOOK AWAY!


Emotions were high. I hugged Yu-Hang as we thrilled with one another over the details we saw. Two amateurs who knew just how special this event had been. Ulrike was still looking towards where the shadow had gone and was too amazed over what had happened to talk about it.

Back to the white light filter and the eclipse glasses. Oh my, what had we all just seen and experienced! But it wasn't over. The eclipse slowly turned night back into day allowing us to adapt from that extraordinary atmosphere to normalcy. A much needed denouement after a life changing climax.

People kept looking and trying to take photos until the end of eclipse at 11:45:19... then we let out a sigh and just sat there. Still in awe.

We were lucky. The smoke and haze held off from the eclipse. Covering the sun after totality.

Some people were already packing and leaving minutes after totality. Others started leaving after the eclipse ended. Only a few dozen stayed for the night. We had not so great seeing and smoke from wildfires, but you could still make out the Milky Way.

It was completely and totally worth all the hassle we had getting here. The problems of coming from Germany and getting the telescope out of storage and getting it ready on a tight schedule. Having the Dobsonian there made it for me as an amateur astronomer. I've had this scope since around 1994 and we have a bond. Now it can never be broken. I hope I never have to sell it.

We had another adventure getting back to Chico without the Land Cruiser and avoiding traffic and enormous forest fires. Our original plan was for camping down bumpy roads on BLM land which we couldn't drive with the rental car. We ended up spending Friday night up at Bumpass Hell where I could remissness in old memories of star parties gone by. The seeing was soft and the wind never quite died down. There was some wild fire smoke making the sky milky rather than black, even at 8000 feet.

Hope to see you all at CalStar next week!

« Last Edit: September 12, 2017, 03:50:47 PM by Brad »


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Re: 2017 Eclipse from John Day, Oregon
« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2017, 02:44:48 PM »
Brad, nice report, and thank you for the heads-up about McDaniel Ranch. My friends went up there with their 9 year old son and had a wonderful experience.

My family saw it at Black Butte Ranch near Sisters. Smoke threatened all weekend but it cleared just for the eclipse morning. Incredible - we were closer to the edge than the centerline but  I saw the ruby-garnet chromosphere almost the whole totality.


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Re: 2017 Eclipse from John Day, Oregon
« Reply #2 on: September 12, 2017, 02:41:10 PM »
You're most welcome! How long was totality for you?

As I recall, the chromosphere was only briefly visible from our location. But the prominences distracted me! Had we been on the centerline exactly, it could be I wouldn't have seen it at all. I was too afraid to watch through the telescope all way up to the second diamond ring, but I probably would have had 5 seconds or more of chromosphere on the other side had I tried. The prominences were amazing the entire time though! I had hints of pink in other locations around the limb throughout the eclipse. Too much to document! Only fleeting memories now. But that color is burned into my mind.

Yu-Hang from Seattle, who was next to us, has some wonderful eclipse photos here: