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Annular Eclipse From Sandia Peak

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Today, May 20th of 2012,  our moon passed directly in front of our sun and for a little more than four minutes created an annulus (translated literally into “little ring”) around our own star.  I had read about this event several months ago on SpaceWeather.com and now was ready to capture this rare event with a telescope and a camera.  Two days prior to the 20th, I had found the last piece of solar filter in southern California.  The night before leaving I built the custom-made solar filters for both Celestron telescopes: the Schmidt-style Celestron 8 and a Maksutov Celestron C-90, 2000mm and 1000mm respectively.  A fixed aperture of f/11 coupled with the solar filter yielded images at iso 100 around 1/250-1/500 of a one second exposure.  After some experimenting, I decided to use the 1000mm C-90 and a 1.5x crop sensor Nikon D300s.  The combination yields a focal length of 1500mm, enough to maintain a view of the sun’s disc for around 5 minutes before adjusting the tripod.  Here’s a photo of yours truly scoping out the sun with this C-90, the Celestron 8 behind:

 

Used with permission; thank you Roberto E. Rosales of the Albuquerque Journal!

The location for today’s shoot was decided to be at the top of the tallest mountain in the Albuquerque area, Sandia Peak.  The city had been warned that there wouldn’t be much parking available to watch the eclipse from the peak, but at 3PM we were welcomed and waved into the parking lot by a smiling state park official.  Success!

Enough with the details for now, let’s get to the photos of the sun:

 

 

 

This is the sun we had to work with; notice the prominent sunspots 1486, 1484 and 1482, from top to bottom of the image.  Just barely visible near the very edge of the bottom of this disc is sunspot 1478, observable during the annularity and ensuing lunar motion a bit further down this page.

 

Right on cue, the moon entered the path directly between our location on earth and the sun, around 6:29PM local time.  One hour and four minutes later, at 7:33PM local time, the moon achieved the beginning of its 4 minute annularity with the sun.  Here it is at the middle of its swing across the center of our sun:

 

 

The crowd on our Sandia Peak went wild when the solar disc became a thin ring around the moon.  In our ears, the entire city of Albuquerque below us resounded with the same jubilant cheers.  Our fantastic neighbors at the top of this almost 10,700 foot mountainside even popped open a bottle of champagne.  Alex and Darren had driven here from Waco, TX:

 

 

Soon, the moon moved itself away from the center and came to the edge of the solar disc once again:

 

 

Still visible in these is small sunspot 1478, the faint spot just left of 6 o’clock at the very bottom of the solar disc, along with distinct lunar mountain features scraping across the sun’s limb near top left.  Just after the annularity had finished, the bulk of the sun fanatics who had scouted their spots far in advance of today’s eclipse had packed up their picnic baskets, telescopes and loved ones and were started down the mountain.  The few of us left were present for the entire event, the amazing treat of a unique eclipsed sunset.  Around 27 minutes later, because of the sun’s low position in the sky, even the solar filter couldn’t stop the dark yellows and oranges hitting the camera’s sensor:

 

 

Easily seen, again, are the large sunspots 1484 and 1482.  At this time I removed the solar filter and was able to capture some horizon, in this case a butte of Mt. Taylor:

 

 

There were very few of us left now, really only Darren, Alex, and ourselves.  We all were awed by the sun as it continued setting:

 

 

Believe it or not, the tiny sliver of sunlight halfway between the left edge of the large section of sun shining and the left edge of the frame is the last bit of sun on the other side of the eclipsing moon!  The atmosphere was really doing a number on the sun’s light, bending and magnifying rays and colors.  A totally amazing experience.  Here’s a shot of this setting eclipsed sun taken with a 105mm Micro Nikkor and NIkon D3, cropped at around 65%:

 

 

All in all, an unforgettable trip worth every mile and minute.  Soon to come, a collection of High Dynamic Range photos created each from 5 bracketed photos +/- 2EV stops along with a time-lapsed movie of the entire event!  Stay tuned…

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One Response

  1. Joanne says:

    Hi Erik – These photos are extremely fascinating. Really great.

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