The ZWO team loved every minute, every second, even every millisecond! We can honestly say that milliseconds make a difference when viewing a solar eclipse, because things can change suddenly, and then change again in the blink of an eye. There’s so much to see, often in a very brief time!
Solar eclipses occur during the lunar phase called new Moon. First, the Moon touches the Sun, a time called “first contact”. Then the Moon moves across the Sun, gradually hiding it from view. During this period, you’ll see what’s called the “partial phases” or partials, which last about an hour. Here the Sun changes from a complete disk, to a fat crescent, to a thin crescent, and finally to a very thin crescent that keeps getting smaller and smaller. Finally, in the case of the annular solar eclipse we witnessed, a very thin crescent is visible. A total solar eclipse would show the moon in front of the sun entirely!
Solor eclipses and solar viewing must be viewed only through safe solar filters, as the Sun is extremely too bright to look at without filters to protect your eyes from damage.
We chose a location within almost 90% annularity for best viewing the eclipse, and at one of ZWO employee’s home roll-off roof observatory. It was an ideal location outside Flagstaff, Arizona - being at 8500 feet above sea level with excellent seeing conditions. The morning of the eclipse was ideal conditions - crystal clear with bright blue skies, no clouds and no wind. High speed internet access was a necessity for the live stream, which was also on site provided by Starlink.
Many different telescopes and equipment for viewing, photographing and recording the eclipse were setup within the observatory. It provided excellent access for each station to monitor every second of the moon’s movement across the sun’s disc. Using the ZWO Seestar S50 placed outside, we streamed live video from it to share with our followers.
While it’s important to know the basics of the eclipse dance between the Sun and the Moon, this knowledge cannot even begin to convey the experience that awaited!
The day: Believe it or not, as much as the ZWO team planned out the event, nothing goes as planned. There’s considerable anxiety, then a vague sense of unease, and finally serious nervousness as the big day approaches. Will the eclipse path intersect with clear skies or at least a small opening in the clouds for us? Lots can go wrong — weather, scheduling, software hiccups, internet bandwidth, individual health, etc. Until we actually saw the first notch in the Sun, we couldn’t smile privately and enjoy that sweet moment! The anticipation and worry, especially in a group of dedicated astronomers, definitely builds right up until the last minute!
The minute: Finally, the partials begin — it’s happening! Depending on your plans and preference, you may be starting your photography or video, watching the Sun shrink, walking around the area, talking with people about the conditions, or observing nature. Hopefully you’re not watching clouds approach, or covering cameras to protect them from rain as many on the east coast were!
About 30 minutes before the eclipse, the Sun is cut in half and the light level in the land around us started to get noticeably lower. The sunlight became eerie as it dimmed further, resembling being in a car with dark tinted windows with the world around you. It’s absolutely beautiful! Minutes before highest annularity, our heart rates went up with excitement, even though this wasn’t our first eclipse!
Images of a solar eclipse never really do it justice. If you’re shooting the event, make time to take in the sight.
Post-eclipse: The final moments of the eclipse came far too soon! We felt a sense of sudden reminiscence for something that has barely ended! We took a moment for ourselves just to soak in the feelings from what just happened.
We still kept watching in awe, as another series of the eclipse unfolded, revealing more and more of the solar disk as the Moon and the Sun go their separate ways. The full Sun reappeared, bringing us back to reality.
To see more about this wonderful event and the equipment / gear used, watch the video below!
The Next One
And then? Shortly after totality, we started thinking about “the next one.” There is always a next solar eclipse! Some people can identify the dates and times of solar eclipses for years in the future, and they already know where in the world they’ll watch them.
The ZWO team has already started planning for the next solar eclipse which will take place on April 8, 2024. We plan on bringing another amazing live stream for the world to see just like this one!
We hope this gave you an inkling of the experience that we shared together, and look forward to many more ahead in the future.