Let’s set off on an adventure
The night is still deep, and as I open the door of the room, the cold violently rushes in. It’s 5°C. Although we are in Arizona, the nights are cold and dry in October. The stars are even more radiant, and Jupiter watches over this early departure. In over 3 hours, the moon will begin to take a bite out of the solar disk.
A few checks before setting out: Vespera is charged, and so are the backup batteries, cables, camera, tablet. We’re ready to go. In the minibus, no one is talking; everyone is focused on what awaits us. We head towards the Monument Valley Tribal Park, hoping to reach the most suitable spot and gain precious seconds of visibility at the eclipse’s maximum.
The Navajos informed us that the park will be closed. According to their culture, they will not observe the eclipse and will stay with their families.
As the first light of dawn colors the horizon, we arrive at Mexican Hat. This site appeared to me to be quite suitable due to its orientation, accessibility, and panorama. Amateur astronomers who rented a spot for the night and slept under the open sky are already present on the site.
No clouds in sight. Conditions are looking perfect.
First contact: excitement builds up
I take out Vespera and position it in front of the group; it will serve as the figurehead of our adventure.
I start the smart telescope’s initialization, and within a few minutes, I’m operational. As a guide, I am the “timekeeper,” and I announce: T-10 minutes; -5 minutes; -2 minutes; -1 minute; -28 seconds… “First contact!”
With the naked eye, the first contact (the moment when the moon begins to take a bite out of the sun) is not easy to discern, but on the tablet screen, where I observe the images taken by Vespera, it’s very clear. “I’ve got it!” Those observing with the naked eye then gather around Vespera. Excitement is at its peak.
The Moon continues its progress, and we eagerly await two well-positioned sunspots to be occulted by the moon’s advance. The atmosphere is so pure and dry that the sharpness of the sunspots is impressive in the image displayed in the Singularity app.
The second contact is approaching. In the group, we’re finalizing our eclipse projection setup, while tension is rising among the photographers.
By making small holes in cardboard, we also follow the phenomenon by projection.
For the first time, I’m very relaxed: Vespera is working perfectly, and after more than an hour, the battery displays 85%. I won’t need external batteries to observe the entire phenomenon.
The crucial moment, as intense as it is short
“T-3 minutes!” The light, so warm just moments ago, becomes twilight, veiled. A shiver runs through us; it’s not just emotion, but the temperature is dropping significantly. The desert didn’t have time to warm up, and we’re back to the same cold we had upon arrival; some put on their gloves and hats.
I try to capture this grayish light while announcing the countdown.
“T-2 minutes; T-1 minute; 24 seconds; 2nd contact!” There it is! The seconds contact, and the ring of fire takes shape.
In 2 minutes and 22 seconds, the solar ring will be perfect. We must not miss the moment. I pass the tablet displaying the image captured by the smart telescope from hand to hand. Vespera offers us a shared moment as a group: the image is large enough on the tablet for several people to enjoy simultaneously. At the same time, I use my phone, which is also connected to Singularity, to regularly take photos through the app. No stress about the result: I see what I’m capturing. I notice the difference compared to the previous total eclipse I experienced in 2017, where I couldn’t have any certainty about the photos until afterward. I take advantage of this serenity to take ambient photos.
Finally, there it is! The eclipse is at its peak. A perfect orange circle appears, and I can’t help but notice the nod to Vespera’s glowing button!
Now, it’s really cold. “Just one more minute! … There it is: the 3rd contact!” Applause and a few cheers erupt from all directions.
Everyone is radiant. Gradually, the light regains its warm hue, and the temperature rises.
We sit down, content, but realizing that it all happened so quickly. For everyone else, the realization is the same: it’s always too short. There’s not enough time to take all the planned shots! An automatic system is needed to succeed in capturing photos, free the mind, and better enjoy the moment. For me, the solution is immediately found: it’s Vespera. I was able to capture the entire eclipse sequence and fully enjoy the show.
The partiality continues, the excitement subsides, and hunger awakens. While sharing coffee and snacks, I answer questions about this little telescope that intrigues many. I show the photos I took on my smartphone, and I share the one from the peak with anyone interested. What a pleasure to be able to send such a memory just minutes after the eclipse!
It’s soon time to pack up and conclude this first eclipse experience with my Vespera. All my initial concerns have disappeared. Air travel went smoothly, and passing through security was easy. Despite the lack of network, the initialization was perfect. The battery held up well and still shows 75% after the 4th contact. Most importantly, the captured images are beautiful, and Vespera allowed us to have a true shared moment around the tablet, without the fear of an accidentally falling filter, and with the serenity needed to savor every moment.
For our group of travelers from the French Astronomy Association, the journey continues to the Grand Canyon. Looking forward to the next eclipse!
Association Française d’Astronomie