April 8 Solar Eclipse

This is a photo of the April 8 2024 total solar eclipse as seen from near Fredericksburg, TX, where the Planetary Society was hosting an observing event for both scientists and the public. They called it “Eclipse-O-Rama.” Bill Nye (yes, the Science Guy) was the featured speaker. This image was captured by Kai Staats, a friend and colleague for many years. He graciously gave permission to use it in this week’s Sky Lights. Click on it to see the full-size version.

There was actually a chance of being clouded out at the event. You can see how the image appears “softened” (in Kai’s words) due to a layer of thin clouds. Still, it was transparent enough to capture an excellent image showing a hint of the corona and several solar prominences (the pink flares between 3 and 6-o’clock). Here’s his camera settings: f/8, 1/160 sec, ISO-1250.

I remained in Arizona for this event, where the eclipse was seen as around 64% partial, and viewed it through standard eclipse glasses. I’d photographed a total eclipse, back in 1991 at Cabo San Lucas, and an annular eclipse (often called a “ring of fire” eclipse) back in 1994 in southern New Mexico. My best partial eclipse photo is from 2014, taken at home in Arizona through a telescope with a high-end Coronado H-alpha filter. That filter allowed me to capture some prominences and sunspots as well as the occluding Moon.

So you might say I’ve “been there done that” and I wasn’t keen on driving (or flying) the 800+ miles to see the April 8 eclipse, though I was tempted. Everyone should see a total eclipse at least once — the experience is mind-bending. Instead, I decided to try two experiments here at home. You’ll see the other next week, but here’s the results from the first.

I wanted to see how well an (admittedly old model) Galaxy S9 smartphone could capture the partial eclipse. I sacrificed a pair of eclipse glasses, cut them in half, and taped them to the phone as shown. One half covers the camera, of course, and the one that sticks out to the side is for visually aiming the camera — without a telephoto the Sun is a fairly small target that covers only around 1/100 of the camera’s FOV.

I changed to “pro mode” on the camera and used these settings: f/1.5, 1/1000 sec ISO-400. I also used voice activation for the shutter so I could concentrate on aiming and not on finding the manual shutter button. My wife heard me yelling “shoot!” several times and came out see see what was wrong. 🙂 I had to explain the voice activation, as she’d never used it on her phone.

The resulting photos were lower quality than expected. Perhaps I should have used a tripod, but I guessed the fast shutter speed would compensate for any hand motion. Here’s my best shot:

As you can see, compared to my telescopic partial eclipse photo the Sun is lacking in detail. The filters used in eclipse glasses are neutral filters, much like in a welder’s helmet, so I didn’t expect to see the corona or any prominences. But I did capture the silhouette of the Moon fairly well. Without a telephoto lens the Sun and Moon are quite small — this image is already enlarged, and trying to enlarge it more just makes details even fuzzier.

Newer smartphones have telephoto capabilities and better image stabilization, and on a tripod might actually get a good photo of a partial eclipse comparable to this one I captured in 2017 (alas, there were clouds that day). If you’ve got a newer smartphone and would like to try this on your own, I’d love to see your results.

To find the next eclipse at your location, simply go to timeanddate.com and enter your city or ZIP code.

Next Week in Sky Lights ⇒ The Darkening

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The Darkening