The Star-News


Eclipse-chasers converge to view sun's burning "ring of fire"

Fri, May 25 2012 03:42 PM Posted By: Phillip Brents

The sign above the entrance to the cemetery at Kanarraville, Utah, reads 1866 — a date coinciding with the Mormon exodus from Illinois. Today, the town’s population is 355, not including farm animals.

But on May 20, Kanarraville’s population amazingly swelled to 15,000 as astro-tourists from across the world, including Chula Vista, converged on the tiny Utah hamlet to view the first annular solar eclipse visible in the United States since 1994.

Chula Vista was the prime setting for a dramatic annular eclipse that occurred at sunset in 1992. Many young adults today either weren’t born then or were living as toddlers in other parts of the country, such as Peter Kluch, a 2008 graduate of Eastlake High School.

“I was glad I made the trip out there to Utah to see it,” the 22-year-old Chula Vista resident said. “I was extremely excited because I saw something I never thought I’d have the opportunity to see. It was interesting to see such beauty in a natural phenomenon.”

 Kluch, who will don the title of assistant photo editor for SDSU’s Daily Aztec newspaper next semester, provided live play-by-play of the event to family members back in California by way of his cell phone. He also took photos, which he posted on his Facebook page and tweeted to his followers. He also sent out e-mails to those not connected to social media.

“My grandmother (in Chicago) really enjoyed the photos,” he said. “A person I know who lives in Washington state saw the photos on Facebook. She wasn’t even able to see a partial eclipse from where she was because it was cloudy and raining, so she was glad I posted the photos for others to see.” 

Ah, the wonders of modern technology!

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes in front of the sun, blocking out its burning image for observers on Earth.

A total solar eclipse results when the moon completely covers the sun’s disc, allowing viewers a fleeting glimpse of the tenuous solar corona and fiery prominences.

An annular eclipse results when the moon passes in front of the sun but does not completely blot out its image. This occurs when the moon is at the farthest point in its orbit around the Earth (apogee) and therefore appears smaller than the sun. So, an annulus or ring results.

Popular media has dubbed it the “ring of fire.”

The caravan of astro-tourists at Kanarraville included a diverse cross-section of society — from local curiosity-seekers to serious astro-photographers. Cars — and cameras mounted on tripods — lined both sides of the battered two-lane road that went through town.

Sheep bleated from a nearby pasture.

Freelance photographer Paul Martinez, whose parents live in Eastlake Greens, had previously viewed two solar eclipses: a total solar eclipse from La Paz in 1991 and the local annular eclipse in 1992.

“An annular eclipse is worth driving to and a total solar eclipse is worth flying to,” said Martinez, who has contributed photos to The Star-News since 1992.

Martinez drove 1,000 miles — the length of Baja — with a friend to view the total solar eclipse in 1991.

“It was non-stop there and one-stop back over a 48-hour period,” he said. “We just decided to go at the last minute. I think this time there was a lot of hype. People heard all the hype and wanted to see what it was all about.”

Sunday’s annular eclipse lived up to its billing.

(Those in Southern California only got to see a partial eclipse, and many were clouded out.)

As the trailing edge of the moon’s darkened disc finally slipped onto the sun’s face under clear skies in Utah’s semi-arid high desert, cheers went up from multitudes gathered along the center line of the 150-mile-wide eclipse path that stretched from Oregon to Texas. An estimated 8,000 park-goers viewed the celestial spectacle from nearby Bryce Canyon.

The sun was clearly the star of this cosmic showcase.

As the eclipse progressed toward midpoint, the level of sunlight noticeably dimmed. Crickets began to chirp more than an hour before sunset as strains of Johnny Cash’s eternal “Ring of Fire” appropriately massaged eardrums.

Martinez compared the celestial tailgate at Kanarraville to the homecoming celebration for “American Idol” sensation Jessica Sanchez that took place May 12 at Eastlake High School.

“It was satisfying to me to see so many people come out for this,” he said. “Everyone is so immersed in pop culture but this wasn’t like an event you’d see on TV. It was pop culture meets science. When people were leaving, they were cheering like their favorite sports team had just won a championship.”

Sunspots
•Save those cardboard solar glasses for the upcoming transit of Venus on June 5. This rare event can be safely viewed through proper viewing film, though binoculars or a telescope will enhance the view.

•The next total solar eclipse visible in the United States will occur on Aug. 21, 2017. Greatest eclipse will take place in western Kentucky.

•Paul Martinez has posted a five-minute video of the central portion of the May 20 annular eclipse at https://vimeo.com/42664433.


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