The Annular Eclipse of 20 May, 2012

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OK, a little diversion from radio. As most of you know, in addition to radio, I’m an avid Amateur Astronomer. The weekend of 18 May provided an opportunity to delve into both hobbies. First up was the AEN-Mar Picnic up in Payson. Each may the hams who volunteer for public service get together for a weekend of Non Public Service socializing. This was my first trip up there and as usual, it’s always nice to put some faces to the calls I hear on the radio. A few familiar faces were there as well, Chris Johnson K6OZY and Andrew Cornwall KF7CCC (and his XYL, Debbie). Though a bit of a concern, the Sunflower fire north of Mesa was anon event as far as the picnic was concerned. No road closures or other restrictions curtailed any our activities. I set up my telescope with a solar filter and showed a preview of the Sun to those interested. I also set up my satellite station and worked 4 contacts on two passes of SO-50. All in all it can be summed up by “Good People + Good Eats = Good Times.
Come Sunday morning we broke camp and while everyone else headed south, I turned north to a spot called Horseshoe Bend, a meander in the Colorado River, about 5 miles south of Glen Canyon Dam, near Page. This spot would be within a mile or so of the centerline of the May 20 Annular Eclipse. This would be the first Central eclipse over North America since 1991; Seems Africa & Asia have gotten the lion’s share of Central eclipses lately, so for me this would be my first real opportunity to enjoy a central Eclipse. Now I keep saying “Central Eclipse” what does that mean? A central eclipse is one where the Moon passes directly in front of the sun as opposed to a partial eclipse. There are two flavors of central eclipse, Total and Annular. A total Eclipse is what most people think of when they think Eclipse. The Moon is close enough that it totally covers the Sun exposing the faint Corona and causing the sky to darken. We’ll have to wait until August 17, 2017 for that over North America as this eclipse was Annular. An Annular eclipse occurs when the moon is near Apolune (its farthest distance from earth), thus making it too small to cover the entire disc of the Sun. What you see is a “Ring of Fire” as the moon passes in front of the Sun.
I made it up to Horseshoe bend around 1400, and was able to get one of the last parking spot in the little lot near the trailhead. Grabbed my telescope, Tripod & Camera and started the ¾ mile hike to the Edge of the canyon. I met up with nice fellows, Bob from Chicago & John from Arkansas and we hiked it together and set up next to each other. With three hours to go before the eclipse, I had the telescope pointed at the Sun and offered views to anyone who was interested. The crowd was large, but not so much so that folks were climbing over each other. Plenty of room for everyone. To my surprise, It seemed I was the only one from Arizona there (actually there were two others that I met, one was a ham, KC7NPT. He is what I refer to as an Astroham, from the Tucson area. I’ve seen his posts on the AZ astronomy reflectors, but had yet to meet him. I met quite a few folks from all over the US and many from abroad, Japan, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany were well represented. Many did not know there was an eclipse to occur, but just happened by.
As the time neared, you could feel the anticipation. Finally a small piece of the Sun disappeared and I called “First Contact!” As the eclipse progressed, we all took in the views through my telescope and our eclipse glasses and took some photos. I enjoyed watching the three sunspot groups occulted the advancing Moon. Finally annularity approached. I waited eagerly for Bailey’s Beads to signal Second Contact and the beginning of the Annular phase of the eclipse (Bailey’s Beads are bright spots of light shining through the valleys of the mountains on the moons limb). Again I was first to call “Second Contact!”. Shortly after Second Contact, I remembered to look up, and yes there it was! A purplish darkening of the sky overhead. I shouted for all to look up and explained that darkened patch of sky they were seeing was the Moon’s Shadow above us (during an annular eclipse, the moon shadow does not reach the surface of the earth). After a short 4 ½ minutes, we were again treated to Bailey’s Bead’s (this display was actually better than the first) and the Annular eclipse was done. The eclipse continued through Sunset in the partial phase. Shortly after third Contact, a Belgian family, who I’d shared my scope & Eclipse glasses with broke out a bottle of Champagne an offered me a glass. We drank to: “Le Soleil et la Lune!”. The Champagne was quite good and the perfect cap to a grand event. After Sunset we broke down our gear and made the short hike back to our cars. I exchanged email addresses with my new found observing friends and we wished each other safe travels aback to our homes. I made my way back to Flagstaff where I grabbed a room for the night; it’s a long lonely drive from Page. I finally made it home Monday morning tired, but glad I made the trip. All in all it was 487 miles for 4 ½ minutes and worth every mile. Looking forward to 2017! Who’s with me?

Till next time. 73
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