Spaceflight Insider

Observers in western Kentucky treated to stunning view of solar eclipse

Total solar eclipse sequence on August 21, 2017.

Total solar eclipse sequence on August 21, 2017. Photo Credit: Derek Richardson / SpaceFlight Insider

Eclipse watchers in western Kentucky experienced the August 21, 2017, total solar eclipse in a cloudless sky, with one of its longest periods of totality – lasting approximately two minutes and 27 seconds.

While thousands of observers thronged to Hopkinsville, which marketed itself as “Eclipseville” because it had the longest totality period on the entire continental path, several hundred enjoyed the spectacle from the more rustic Lake Barkley State Resort Park, which offered several viewing sites on the shores of the lake.

Most viewers at Lake Barkley were members of the Southeastern Planetarium Association (SEPA) based in Sanford, Florida, which organized the eclipse-watching event with the lodge several months ago.

Observers came from various states, including Maryland, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Indiana. One traveled from Prince Edward Island in Canada.

Viewers started the day by setting up telescopes, cameras, and even tents to protect them from Sun exposure on a very hot morning with temperatures in the 90s and a heat-humidity index that ranged between 100 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

At approximately 11:55 a.m. Central Daylight Time, the Moon’s shadow began encroaching on the Sun, establishing first contact.

Click on individual images to enlarge. Photos Credit: Mike Deep / SpaceFlight Insider

Observers with solar telescopes or telescopes equipped with solar filters happily let both children and adults take turns watching the eclipsed Sun and even photographing it by holding their phones in front of the telescopes.

In an informal, friendly atmosphere, complete strangers met one another and chatted, sharing stories about the states from which they came and previous eclipses they had seen.

Some people swam in the lake until just before totality.

A very slight darkening became pronounced after more than 50 percent of the Sun was obscured. Although the muted lighting somewhat resembled the approach of a storm, there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky.

The wind picked up quite soon after first contact, and the temperature dropped from brutal to comfortable.

As totality approached, the landscape resembled a view seen through sunglasses, then darkened to an eerie shade visible for 360 degrees. While the darkening resembled that of sunset, it did not originate in one side of the sky, instead seeming to be everywhere. Numerous reflected crescent suns became visible on the road and between the leaves of trees.

Then a sudden rush of darkness, followed by strange clouds that suddenly appeared in the west marked the start of totality. The last thin crescent of the Sun vanished. Venus popped into visibility; the bright “diamond ring” blazed, and the white corona wowed cheering viewers, who were stunned by the spectacle.

Click on individual images to enlarge. Photos Credit: Derek Richardson / SpaceFlight Insider

All too quickly, another diamond ring burst out on the other side of the darkened Sun, and totality was over. Some viewers left while others remained for the rest of the partial eclipse, all while sharing images and emotions of totality.

Mark Bright of Louisville, KY, who said seeing a total solar eclipse is something he “always wanted to do ever since I was a little kid”, successfully captured an image of totality with his camera after traveling three-and-a-half hours to the site. Of his first view of the corona, he said: “I was just amazed. I would travel twice as far to see it.”

“It was awesome to see everybody cheer at the same time, first with the total eclipse, and second when it started to pass,” Bright’s wife Linda said.

Mark Grove of South Bend, Indiana, said that he and his wife drove to Kentucky to see the eclipse and planned to drive home later that day. Grove said that he enjoys regularly observing the stars and planets.

Having watched totality through a 10-inch reflector telescope with a 25-millimeter eyepiece, Grove said that he was most impressed by the solar flares he witnessed.

“They were standing out away from the surface, and they were arched like they were coming back in, but it takes so long for them to come back in that I couldn’t actually see them moving.”

He added: “The Sun filled up the entire view of the eyepiece.” Placing his iPhone at the eyepiece, he captured images of the corona and the flares. “It’s pretty brief, but it’s pretty spectacular!”

Click on individual images to enlarge. Photos Credit: Mike Deep / SpaceFlight Insider

Like the Brights and Grove, P. Edward Murray of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, is an amateur astronomer who, in 2008, discovered a lunar feature nicknamed “the basketball player in the Moon”. He is already looking forward to the next total solar eclipse in 2024, which he reported will come through Mexico and go through Texas, the middle states, the central part of Ohio, and parts of western Pennsylvania, northern New York, as well as parts of Maine before ending in Canada.

This was Murray’s second total solar eclipse and his third umbral. He witnessed his first total solar eclipse in July 1991 and an annular eclipse in May 1994.

Kale Dowdy from Evansville, Indiana, and his wife decided to drive across the border and take their three children out of school to view the eclipse.

“We were going to go to Carbondale, but we decided at the last minute, because of traffic, let’s just come here. We decided we were all going to do this as a family thing.”

Dowdy said he saw the diamond ring as the Moon began moving away from the Sun. He described the corona as having “threads” that were brighter and darker shades.

“As the Moon was moving off, I saw on the right-hand side, like three o’clock, the diamond ring, and it was like, woah! We would not have seen that in Evansville,” where the eclipse was close to but not quite total, he emphasized.

He reported having spent about 12 hours online in a last-minute attempt to obtain eclipse glasses. The family ultimately received them from his wife’s friend, then was given two more pairs upon arriving at Lake Barkley.

Total eclipse 2017

Photo Credit: Matthew Kuhns / SpaceFlight Insider



Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program. Her writings have been published online in The Atlantic, Astronomy magazine’s guest blog section, the UK Space Conference, the 2009 IAU General Assembly newspaper, The Space Reporter, and newsletters of various astronomy clubs. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.

Reader Comments

Outstanding work, Matthew. It is the best I’ve seen, and I’m retired with a lot of time to waste on the Internet and watching a line of 3 TVs.
I wonder if that is a star in one of the images at totality? There is a white dot on some of them. It sure looks like a bright star. If so, which one?
I watched the partial with a few friends through a Coronado P.S.T. and also using a welding filter lens. Near New Orleans, it rained both before, and after the eclipse. The Sun looks a lot smaller through a welding filter, since there is no magnification. Using the solar telescope we could see the rough edge of the Moon against the Sun. We only got to 79% coverage. But it got cooler, because of less direct solar radiation hitting us. You notice it because with 60% humidity at 92 degrees it is HOT here. The water molecules in the air reflect the heat coming off your skin right back at you. With no wind, it is like standing in an oven. I cut the grass wearing a wet long sleeve shirt to get a little evaporative cooling. It works.
I was going to set up an electric tripod with a larger solar telescope, but couldn’t lift either of them, due to unwisely lifting a heavy battery out of an SUV the week before. I will let the auto parts folks do it the next time. Low cars are OK, but high SUVs are a lot harder. My bruised back discs paid the price.
We had the same thing happen with the transit of Venus. Luckily, the clouds stayed just clear of the Sun for most of the transit.
Nothing comes close to a total eclipse. But I never thought I would be driving along brightly lit I-10 in New Orleans, and be able to see a comet out of the closed window. I think that was Hale- Bopp in 1995. The view of the shock waves in front of it through a 20 inch Obsession was something! Hurricane Katrina got it. I should probably buy another one.

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