Derby and District Astronomical Society

Total Solar Eclipse USA - Monday 8th April 2024

Account and Photographs by Mike Lancaster

On Monday 8th April 2024, in the company of the UK Astro Trails tour group, I witnessed the total solar eclipse that swept across Mexico and the USA. Our observation site was the Heart of Texas Equestrian Academy near Valley Mills, Texas. It was my third total eclipse, having witnessed the 1999 eclipse from Devon and the March 2006 eclipse from near Antalya, Turkey. Devon was clouded out, but still a memorable experience, as we were plunged into the darkness of totality, made even darker by the overcast skies. Turkey remained clear and I grabbed a bunch of very pleasing photos through my ETX-90 scope, but visually missed some of the wider naked-eye experience such as first contact and the vaunted diamond ring, as I was too busy concentrating on the photography. I was determined to have a more balanced experience this time, and I was not disappointed. Despite some nerve-wracking forecasts of cloudy skies prior to the eclipse, and much passing cloud up to the start of the eclipse at 'first contact', the clouds finally parted for the duration of the event, and we were blessed with clear skies. We were also fortunate enough to be in the company of our tour leader Mike Frost, a highly experienced and inveterate eclipse chaser. I also had the pleasure of witnessing the eclipse in the company of Henrike Lange, Associate Professor of the History of Art an Italian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Mike and Henrike are among the co-authors of the book Eclipse & Revelation, Henrike Lange and Tom McLeish (Eds.), Oxford University Press, 2024, a superbly researched and lavishly illustrated interdisciplinary deep-dive into the world of total eclipses, which had occupied Henrike for much of the past seven years before this eclipse.

For this event I had brought my trusty old Canon EOS-50D DSLR, with a 400 mm Tamron lens. This was mounted on a fixed tripod with no tracking. For the partial phases I used a 72 mm Seymour solar filter, and for totality - no filter was required. I also captured some wider shots using the cameras in my Google Pixel 8 Pro smart phone. I was extremely lucky that this equipment worked flawlessly, indeed exceeding my expectations, especially as I had never used it on a total eclipse before. But as I stated above, I wanted to witness the event as much with my own eyes as possible too. Having captured many photos of the partial phases, and as the seconds counted down to totality an eerie twilight began to descend, and the air became noticeably cooler. Then the Sun... winked out! The brilliant orb was replaced with the blacker than black disc of the Moon, surrounded by a pink ring of fire, and the luminous white flower petals of the solar corona. This was a... primal experience. One also felt extremely privileged to be on the receiving end of this cosmic spectacle, one which most people will never experience. Even to the naked eye an especially bright pink prominence was visible jutting out from behind the black lunar disc in the 5 o'clock position. In the darkened sky the planet Venus was also clearly visible in the 4 o'clock position to the Sun. I speedily removed the filter from my camera and reeled off a number of shots. Don't forget to bracket them now! We enjoyed around 4 minutes 20 seconds of totality, but this goes much quicker than expected. We were rapidly approaching the end of totality at 'third contact'...and wait for it...a burst of light began to appear in the 5 o'clock position to the eclipsed Sun. I hastily pressed the shutter release on my DSLR - and oh my, there it was - the diamond ring on the screen! Quickly now, I screwed back on the filter. Back to photographing partial phases - and a time to express the shared experience with my companions.

Our observation site.

Meeting some of our hosts, both human and equine.

Firstly, here is a selection of some of the partial phases leading up to totality - Canon EOS 50D on a fixed tripod, 400 mm Tamron lens, Seymour solar filter.

I also captured this wider shot of the partial phase using my hand-held Google Pixel 8 Pro smart phone.

Totality - Canon EOS 50D on a fixed tripod, 400 mm Tamron lens, no filter.

During totality - taken with my Google Pixel 8 Pro phone. Venus is visible in the 4 o'clock position from the Sun. Note the eerie twilight filling the horizon.

A diamond ring marks the end of totality. Taken with my Canon EOS 50D on a fixed tripod, 400 mm Tamron lens, no filter. Note the contrast between the bluish-white corona and the golden glow of sunlight returning from the photosphere. Even now though, a pink prominence is still visible in the 9 o'clock position.

Finally, a selection of some of the partial phases following totality - Canon EOS 50D on a fixed tripod, 400 mm Tamron lens, Seymour solar filter.

Goodbye now y'all!


Astro Trails

Eclipse & Revelation

Mike Frost's Home Page