Sunday, May 27, 2012

(Almost) Sunless Day at the Beach

 This post will also be found in Tehachapi's The Loop Newspaper

On May 20th I went up north to try to catch the annular eclipse. Since the eclipse was to start after 4:00 PM we set out at 9:00 AM for the seven hour drive to Lake Tahoe. The GPS was quite confused at first but we headed up the 395 looking for wildflowers and gawking at geology. 

Sadly, being under a time constraint there were no excess stops. Just one for lunch at Erick Schat's Bakery in Bishop. Though that particular stop took longer than expected due to the remarkable helpfulness of Joe at the Bishop Visitor's Center. Where we got lots of ideas of places to go visit when there was more time. But Joe very helpfully got online and did some searches to find out where there was the possibility of good viewing in Lake Tahoe. The trip meandered us about and through a bit of Nevada before taking us back up into the Sierras to Lake Tahoe. 

Driving through the town of South Lake Tahoe, we found a lovely new city park overlooking the lake. There were numerous people there setting up picnics and barbeques. We found a parking space not too far away and walked over to check it out. It was a disorganized eclipse viewing party. 

So we went back to the car, and got the telescope out and took it back to the park and set it up. Trying to get it set up was a hassle. Since without proper filters the only way to use a telescope to view an eclipse is to project the image. But this inexpensive Tasco telescope came with an attachement to do just that. And with the help of some of the other people there we got the thing set up and started watching the eclipse.
By the time the telescope was set up, the eclipse had already started. A small slice of the Sun was chopped off by the Moon. And small crowds developed where ever anyone had set up some way to view the eclipse. These varied from the high tech, like my telescope and cameras with heavy duty filters, to simple cardboard boxes with holes poked in them.

Eric, someone who had come to view the eclipse, pulled out a cardboard box out of the trash can, poked a hole in it with a fork and then projected the image right back onto the trashcan. The image was much smaller than the one I was getting, but with some effort just as clear. 

At about 6:33 PM the maximum degree of eclipse occurred. The Sun was about 95% obscured by the Moon, though a simple ring around the Sum was still apparent. (The word annular means ring.) The temperature had dropped a lot by then and the site had gotten dark. Though not as dark as you might expect. Even 5% of the Sun's light is still a lot.

After the Moon started moving away, the party kept going for a while, and discussions turned to all the cool ways that were used to view the eclipse. We asked Erik about a secluded camp ground nearby and he suggested Zephyr Cove, which turned out very nice (and cheap).

The trip was fun, we met some great folks, and saw something that occurs only very rarely.

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