Astronomy Usually Disappoints: Solar Eclipse 2017

Solar EclipseWhere I live in California, the solar eclipse was supposed to start at roughly 9:00 am. It reaches maximum occultation at 10:20 am. And then it ends at roughly 11:40 am. As I write this, it is 10:00 am, and my world is shrouded in clouds.

I got prepared for the event over the last week. I’ve got a set of welder’s glasses. You are supposed to use shade 12 or higher. I’ve got a double-12 set-up. What’s more, my father drilled a circular hole in a board so we could see the shadow of the eclipse as it makes its way across the sky. It would have been fun.

Astronomy Disappoints

When I was in college, I was friends with a number of people who were into astronomy. So I often found myself freezing in the middle of the night while we tried to see this or that. But what’s happening today is pretty typical of those trips. The weather does not cooperate.

Eventually, the fog will burn off. But it is going slow. As we approach full occultation, I can tell that it is much darker than it normally is. In fact, it’s about as dark as it is at 6:30 am. But this is not a lot to get excited about.

If you want to study astronomy, you really need to take a trip to a nice desert somewhere. The truth is that I live in a rotten area for astronomy. But this must also be some corollary of Murphy’s Law: the cloud cover where you are will be directly proportional to your excitement regarding an astronomical event.


At 4:00 pm, I took a walk down to the supermarket. As I came out at 4:30, the cloud cover had just broken up so that I could see the sun to some extent. So only five hours late!

The next time there is an eclipse, I’m going to head for the desert!

3 thoughts on “Astronomy Usually Disappoints: Solar Eclipse 2017

  1. Before I croak, I want to make a pilgrimage to all those high-elevation Utah parks considered ideal for sky watching. I’ve been to the Oregon high desert, and the nighttime view is unbelievable. Here’s a lovely video put together by time-lapse photography whiz Sriram Murali:

    • I’m with you. Whenever I visit places like that, I’m shocked at how many stars there are. As much as I remember that I’ll be surprised, I’m still more surprised. It’s amazing. Where I live it is, effectively, always shrouded in fog. It’s just that it is the fog of light.

  2. I went all the way to Charleston, SC on vacation to see the eclipse in the path of totality. It was cloudy as hell all morning, but with the eclipse-rated glasses you could make out the moon’s passage in front of the sun through the overcast. The clouds parted serendipitously just before totality. It came with a strong, sustained wind, crickets chirping and an unexpected level of darkness. It was really amazing overall, and totally worth the drive.

    I wanted to watch the eclipse on the ocean and I got my wish, but if I ever do it again I’m going farther inland. Eclipses and nearby water bodies just don’t mix.

    Also, the hotel we stayed in was having an American Atheist eclipse event with some really good speakers. Even got to see James Randi in person hanging out at the bar/lounge. He was really sweet and very accommodating of all the people requesting photos with him.

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