21 May 2012

Eclipse + caldera = an excellent evening for a volcanologist

Posted by Jessica Ball

I had the excellent opportunity to view today’s annular eclipse from the top of Pajarito Mountain, just outside of Los Alamos, New Mexico.┬áSo this afternoon, my hosts in Los Alamos took me on a hike to the top of the Pajarito Mountain (ski central for the town). We started off at about 5:30 and proceeded to climb from 9,200 feet (2,800 m) to 10,400 feet (3,170 m).

We arrived just in time to get our eclipse-viewing paraphanelia (binoculars and a temporary whiteboard) set up. This being Los Alamos, there were a whole bunch of science-y people up there already, armed with everything from pinhole cameras to welders’ masks to specially-prepared glass filters. (No one that I noticed dragged a telescope up to the top of the mountain, but there could have been one.)

While we were setting up, I took in the view – an amazing panorama of the Valles Caldera, with the Valle Grande below us. I was almost as excited about the opportunity to see most of the caldera as I was about the eclipse!

And then the eclipse began. We saw it from start to about five minutes after the ‘ring of fire’ stage, watching through our trusty binoculars.

Here’s the whole sequence:

One lady with a chunk of what appeared to be welder’s glass loaned it to me, and I managed to take a few blurry shots through it:

And at last, the ‘ring of fire’!

My backpack being put to use holding up our eclipse-viewing board:

Just after this photo, a few clouds drifted over the sun. I was all set to be disappointed , but if those clouds hadn’t arrived, I never would have been able to take this shot, which is my favorite of the day.

Watching the eclipse was amazing, but we were still over 10,000 feet and boy, it gets cold when you take away the sun! We stayed for a few minutes after the moon started moving away from center, but the breeze and our watches reminded us that it was time to head down the mountain again. So I took one last photo of the Valle Grande, and packed my bag up for the hike down. (Brownies and wine are excellent eclipse-watching fare, by the way!)

On the way down, we had great views of Los Alamos.

And now that the excitement is over, it is way past time for me to take some post-hike aspirin and collapse in bed.