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2023 Annular Solar Eclipse

Updated: Mar 20

23.10.14 - By some cosmic coincidence, my home state of Texas is at the epicenter of back to back solar eclipses with an Annular Eclipse on October 14th, 2023, and a Total Solar Eclipse on April 8, 2024. Fortunately, the annular eclipse precedes the total eclipse, so it provided the perfect opportunity to test out new methods and equipment acquired since my first attempt to photograph a Solar Eclipse in 2017.

High contrast image of totality detailing the solar corona
Key phases of the annular eclipse

We were fortunate to have the opportunity to view the eclipse with friends from the campgrounds of Lost Maples State Natural Area. The weather was unreasonably hot in Texas this summer so I was worried that we were in for a scorcher, but we were fortunate that this trip happened to coincide with a nice cool front that made the trip much more enjoyable.

I was excited to view my first full annular eclipse with my family from the center of shadow's path. I had previously photographed a partial solar eclipse in Houston well over a decade ago, but it's low angle in the sky provided few opportunities for photography. However, this time I had purposely planned on maximizing the experience to test out some new methods that I didn't have access to in 2017 during my first total solar eclipse. Primarily, I wanted to get the iOptron Skyguider Pro star tracker set up to track the Sun and hopefully increase image clarity and reduce the complexity of post production. I also increased the focal length of the rig to increase the detail of the surface of the Sun. The result of those efforts can be seen in the following composite image (more detail is visible if you click on the image to enlarge):

The phases of annularity surrounding a large image of the surface of the Sun.

I took a bit of a risk by putting a 2x teleconverter into the image train as it can often induce softness, reduces exposure value by two stops, and can make focusing very difficult. However, when it comes to the detail of the Sun's surface, getting more pixels inside the image of the Sun remains paramount compared to perfect sharpness. Additionally, the exposure value reduction wasn't a concern because the Sun was plenty bright, even through the very dark Kendrick solar filter. Lastly, I focus manually using Nikon Live View because the atmosphere is so disruptive at this focal length, so I didn't need to worry about the effective aperture being greater than f8 where autofocus often begins to falter.

A detailed image of the surface of the Sun showing multiple Sun Spots.
10.14.23 Post-annular eclipse Sun aligned to the Ecliptic with NOAA/SWPC Region Numbers and a scale silhouette of Earth for a size comparison near sunspot 3465

I waited anxiously as the edge of the Moon neared the corner of the Sun hoping for a phenomena similar to Baily's Beads during a total solar eclipse. However, I did not see any notable spikes in brilliance across the surface of the Moon as it crested the edge of the Sun, but I was able to observe some of the undulating surface of the Moon in the series of broken lines that appeared briefly along the edge (see the timelapse video below for more detail).

The edge of the Moon cresting the edge of the Sun's glowing sphere.

One of the greatest benefits of a german equatorial mount is that it can track the Sun reasonably well if properly set up. I spent the previous night leveling the tripod and polar aligning the mount before heading to bed around 4am when the clouds rolled in (I also prepped my astrophotography rig and took some test shots). Solar tracking allowed me to reduce exposure frequency down to an image every 60 seconds for the partial phases, and every 2 seconds during max annularity. However, after creating the timelapse, I think I would prefer to reduce both those intervals by at least half to create a smoother video with more data, especially during max annularity.

The solar eclipse viewing rig in action.
Nikon Z7II, TC 20E III, Nikkor 500mm f5.6 PF VR II (1000mm) on the iOptron Skyguider Pro

The iOptron Skyguider Pro did a great job of keeping the Sun from rotating in the frame (which was a huge headache while post-processing the 2017 eclipse data). However, it rotated around polaris slightly slower than the Earth rotated around its axis (likely due to the difference in speed at my latitude), so the Sun progressively moved across the frame from left to right (though thankfully not out of frame). Of the 383 images in the timelapse, many were reasonably aligned, but there were notable jumps in alignment over the 3 hours of the eclipse. Some of the deviation was due to thick cloud cover and wind, but some may have been induced as I checked the images from time to time. I tried to touch the camera only just after an image was taken to allow the rig time to settle and not disrupt any images, but I may have had more of an effect on the tracking than I had anticipated.

Given how long it would take to manually align 383 images, (considering how long it took to pain-stakingly align 23 images for the 2017 total solar eclipse timelapse), I tried using image stabilization from within Final Cut Pro to hopefully expedite the process. It was finicky and still required a lot of finessing, but the result was certainly better than the original file and it took notably less time and hard drive space than going frame by frame manually. I will likely still try to find an automated alignment process before the total eclipse, but only time will tell if I choose to commit time to that over working on my long list of pending projects.

There are unique experiences all around during a solar eclipse, and this is particularly evident anywhere that the rays of the Sun pass through a small aperture (pinhole). Many people had pinhole cameras that did a great job of showing a mirrored image of the Sun safely onto a flat surface, but natural instances of this effect existed in the shadows of countless trees surrounding our campsites. The image of the Sun was mirrored through the small spaces between the leaves and appeared as blurry, glowing crescents along the surfaces below. Of course, this phenomena happens all the time, but we have become accustomed to the small, blurry circles of a normal Sun and pay them no mind. However, the crescents of an eclipsed Sun dotting the landscape looked strikingly unnatural.

Mirrored crescent Sun images in the shadow of trees

In one particular instance, just before max annularity, I noticed the shifting mirrored images of the near-max eclipse undulating along the concrete sidewalk beneath my feet. I had to stop for just a moment to record the show with my phone because all of the previous examples I had seen had been largely stagnant, and the moving crescents were rather disorienting.

While the annular eclipse was amazing, it wasn't the only beautiful site to be seen. Lost Maples State Natural Area is a unique oasis in the Central Texas hill country that protects one of the few remaining natural groves of Maple trees in Texas. It wasn't quite time to see the colors change, but all around there were small hints of the impending shift to fall.

Red and golden fall leaves backlit by sunlight.

The park has many hikes ranging from easy to moderately strenuous. The environment shifts from open grassy fields, to heavily wooded forests interweaved with massive limestone boulders, to flowing rivers of glistening water flowing under broad limestone cliffs.

Golden leaves in Lost Maples State Park

However, the greater the beauty and isolation of a location, the greater the multitude of life that call it home. Our group happened upon a large tarantula (likely a Texas Black Spot Tarantula - Aphonopelma Armada) that was quite calm and seemed to enjoy the mottled green sleeve of one of our campsite friends. It was also great at posing for photos.

Texas Black Spot Tarantula

Overall, the annular eclipse was fantastic experience that was well worth the 6 hour drive across Texas. This trip was our first camping trip with our son, and the first camping trip for our new green Subaru Outback. Fortunately, our son loved the experience and the Outback performed perfectly, so we are looking forward to many family camping adventures in the near future..

Green Subaru Outback underneath the stars at Lost Maples State Natural Area
A Subaru Outback in its natural habitat

I spent the nights before and after the eclipse photographing the dark (approximately Bortle Class 3) night sky with a new monochrome LRGBHa imaging rig. Astrophotography requires a lot of post-processing, so it will likely be a while before I am able to post those images, but they are definitely in the queue for 2024.

I started planning for the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse over 6 years ago as we left the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse. The experience was so inspiring that I just couldn't wait to see and photograph another one. The 2023 Annular Eclipse was a fantastic stepping stone to that goal, and I can't wait for the next chance to bask in the shadow of the Moon.

2017 Total Solar Eclipse: The 2017 Great American Eclipse 1.1

Detailed Eclipse Photography Guide: How to Photograph a Solar Eclipse

© 2017-2023 Shaun C Tarpley

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