Observatory draws the world to Madras
They came, they saw, and they took home once-in-a-lifetime memories.
Several thousand visitors from the U.S. and at least 10 other countries came to Madras Sunday and Monday for the Lowell Observatory Solar Eclipse Experience in the Madras Performing Arts Center and Madras High School football stadium.
Karyn and Greg Bradford, of Sydney, Australia, likely traveled the farthest to see the total solar eclipse, packing two telescopes with cameras, plus a regular camera, all set up on tripods. The eclipse was the fifth they've seen since 2002, when they got hooked after seeing their first eclipse in Woomera, Australia.
The Bradfords met friends John Dho and his wife, Betty Hemenway, while the two couples were on a cruise to see a total solar eclipse in 2009, near the Japanese island of Iwo Jima, in the Pacific Ocean.
"You see something different every time," said Dho, who shot his first eclipse with slide film in Aruba in 1998, and has seen five more since then, including in Egypt in 2006, north of Fiji in 2012, and in Indonesia in 2015.
"I've always been a science geek," said Dho, who had a telescope as a kid.
After the eclipse, he said that Monday's eclipse was different than any he'd seen previously. "This one had an unusual corona," said Dho. "It was asymmetrical and diagonal, mainly because of the path it was taking. Betty saw one of the prominences right on the edge."
The Bradfords were also extremely impressed. "I had an emotional reaction," said Karyn Bradford. "I almost burst into tears. You realize you're on a planet moving through space."
Greg Bradford, who was silent throughout, said that his photos were the best he'd ever taken. "I'm really happy about it," he added.
Otto Gruebl, a New Zealand psychiatrist, was also moved to tears by the eclipse — his fifth visit to eclipse locations around the world, but only his third actual viewing. "It was amazing," said Gruebl, a native of Austria, who watched and recorded the eclipse with a Lunt telescope with a special filter, with the image projected onto a computer.
His first successful viewing was in southern Turkey in 2006, and his second, in Cairns, Australia, in 2012, but he considered the Madras eclipse the best that he has ever experienced. "I was so touched, I was crying," he said. "It was more emotional."
Many at the Madras event were seeing an eclipse for the first time, including Bridget Branton, of Sacramento, California, who drove up with her mother and two young sons, and camped at the Jefferson County Middle School. Seven-year-old Luka Sladojevic joked that it was "totality worth it. I thought that it was so amazing; I saw the ripples and Baily's Beads and the diamond ring effect. That live image — I can't get it out of my head!"
The Cordero family, of California, were fulfilling one of their father's dreams by visiting Madras for the eclipse.
"Our father was a Jesuit priest, and our mother was a Catholic nun," said Rebecca Cordero, of Squaw Valley, California. "They got married and had five kids."
Their father, who taught astronomy at Mission College, in Santa Clara, died of cancer 10 years ago, but the family brought photos and mementos of him with them.
"One thing he told my brother before he passed away was that he was hoping to see this eclipse," said Cordero, who found the experience "absolutely spectacular. "I'm still in awe. Thanks to the town of Madras for hosting such an amazing event."
Kate McPherson and Keith Barrette, of Harmony, Rhode Island, were also amazed by the event. "I don't have words," said Barrette, a software engineer.
"I didn't expect to have such an emotional response," said McPherson. "The corona was so much bigger than I thought it would be; it's astounding."
David Johnson, of Los Angeles, drove 877 miles in 15 hours to get to the high school in time for the Lowell event. "I purchased tickets for this event online and slept in the car," he said.
"I was very impressed," said Johnson. "I saw the diamond ring and I checked out the 360 horizon."
Kathy and Bill Connell, of San Francisco, had previously watched an eclipse in Hawaii, and had long planned to drive up for the Aug. 21 eclipse. They ended up driving up with their son, A.J., and their daughter, Hilary Rasmussen, of Seattle, and her two sons, Luke, 5, and Stephen, 3.
"It was pretty amazing," said Kathy Connell. "The two minutes was shorter than I expected, but it was amazing."
Bill Connell recorded the event. "I was surprised you could see the corona in real life," he said. "Fortunately, the clouds basically went away — as did the sun."