Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Dark Skies Over Homestead

Safety First - Glasses for
observing solar eclipses
Yesterday I drove down to Beatrice, NE home of Homestead National Monument.  This was also one of the many official NASA observation points for the total Solar Eclipse of 2017.

I left home at 4:00am and drove to the Gage County fairgrounds where I parked my car and took a shuttle bus to Homestead.

I arrived before most of the concessions were open.  I sat down in one  the chairs that we set up around a main stage.  While I waited food and shopping concessions opened and I had the luck to watch Bill Nye (the Science Guy) answering questions on live TV.  I was sitting maybe ten feet from where he was standing.  I'm not a huge Bill Nye fan but I do respect what he is trying to do (educate the public in science) and I might have been a bit star struck.

Bill Nye, the Science Guy.
It was around 7:00am and nothing would really start astronomically speaking until 11:30am.  In the meantime, on the main stage, a folk singer performed (including playing "Moon River" on a handsaw), a NASA scientist gave an explanation of what to expect and what exactly was a solar eclipse, and a PBS band played songs from "Ready, Jet Go".  As you may have guessed, most of the events and entertainment were kid-centric.  Fortunately a guy from Texas struck up an adult conversation with me and we killed the hours talking.

The day's weather had started out relatively clear with only wispy clouds but as the events proceeded heavy clouds moved in and we experienced on and off showers.  While I was a bit disappointed I really felt sorry for all the people who drove many hours to get here.  There were even people from Britain and France.

As the eclipse started the clouds thinned a bit and we got our first view on the sun missing a chunk.  This peek didn't last long before the clouds thickened again.

When the sun disappeared behind the clouds everyone headed for the food trucks.  The lines were so long I decided just to eat the snacks I'd packed just in case.  I did have a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcake at 9:00am before the lines formed and it felt wrong eating it so early in the morning but it was very tasty.  I bought a magnet for our collection and, from the US Post Office van, a cool sheet of color changing eclipse stamps.

As we approached totality, when the moon would completely cover the sun, I checked the National Weather Service kiosk where they had a live radar feed.  Weatherwise it wasn't looking good so I slowly made my way to the shuttle bus stop.  Right when totality occurred the clouds thinned again and gave us an awesome view of the ring of fire.  The sky darkened like a sunset on all horizons.  The crowds cheered and we all stared in awe of a total solar eclipse.

Totality.
(A slightly zoomed version can be seen here)
When totality ended I jumped on the shuttle bus and headed for the car.  Despite being on that first bus it still took over four hours (normally an hour and a half drive) to get back home via the clogged back roads of Nebraska.  There had been 8,000 - 12,000 people at Homestead and they said there were over 400,000 people along the area of totality in Nebraska.  They all seemed to return home at the same time.

All it all it was a pretty cool day.

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