A Couple of Minutes in One Moment

Kristaps writing:

On the road, something grabbing passes by and wakes me up, it’s already over 6am, light and very dusty. For a change I slept in the car tonight. I did not want to get cold again, yesterday someone had seen a rattlesnake and warned us about it when coming from the Painted Mountains, and there are also fire ants here. Full set. Besides, we returned to the camp late last night, when many of us had gone to sleep very early before the day of the climax of the trip, and I did not want to disturb them in the dark by rustling around in the tent when setting up my place. Enough of excuses. I did get cold anyway, the warm hills of yesterda had cooled the air down to + 15 ° C in the morning. (I train looking at the thermometer at regular intervals.)

Yes, I have a thermometer! Agnese had by the way sent information about NASA Citizen Science project on the eclipse, called GLOBE Observer, where every wannabe scientist can participate by recording data on natural processes on the eclipse day. I left the preparation up until the very last night before the flight, when I decided that if I had the opportunity once, then why not try and I adjust one of my UKHAS.net nodes as a thermometer – I put the display, the solar panel, fixed code, then again and then again, and ready, works. Because DIY is better than buying!
With the GLOBE Observer, however, there is a problem, the application requires the internet, but of course there is no such in a desert. Well, ok, I’ll record the data just for my joy.

The sky is clear, just a thin band of clouds in the southern side. While still sleeping in the car, I looked at it, trying to figure out where it was going, and decided that everything would be fine, as it looked like it calmly slided past and would not approach. Daumants, however, investigated it more critically and expressed pessimistic comments on how everything will be bad.

It’s only half past 6, but the road to the park’s parking lot and the parking lot itself is already full, but the stream of cars is just flowing and flowing, till there is an endless line on the road. The idea was already mentioned yesterday that some might not go up in the Painted Mountains in the morning, but will stay to observe the eclipse right here at the camp site. I like this more and more, as almost all the drivers and passengers of the visible cars will go to the mountains, but there really is only a road and a small roadside on the hill where to stand, so it smells like a crowd for a couple of hours. It can be that the solar eclipse is a very social happening, I do not know yet, but it doesn’t tempt me. Salvis and Laura will stay here, yay. I courtesy ask again if this will not be a private event for them, but no, and the three of us stay at the camp, take mats for laying down and climb higher up the hill – closer to the Sun.

At 9:07am the moon begins to bite in the cheek of the Sun, which from a round pancake slowly transforms into a classical [Latvian] patty. Meanwhile, it has slowly become dark and much cooler. The two others even put on their jackets, I was not so provident. 22 minutes after 10am is THE moment. As we look through the special glasses that hold off 99.99% of the light, we see how the sun disappears completely, and removing the glasses is woooww .. It’s so unusual, it’s dark around, there are three or four stars or planets visible in the sky, I think they are Venus, Pollux and Capella. It seems that you can see the sun’s crown – something there looks like three huge rays.

It is not completely dark or black night, it is quite deep dusk – Ilgonis later says that it is due to the same clouds that dissipate the light from outside the shade. Yup, even at the place which by statistics should have the slightest chance of clouds, there are clouds. At first they were on one side, but now they have already taken over all the sky. They are thin, transparent enough to see the darkened Sun, do not interfere too much.

Two minutes and four seconds pass in one moment. Too fast. Although my camera does not really allow it, I am still trying to capture in pictures the darkness in the middle of the day for memory, until Laura suddenly exclaims: “Kristap, look!” And this is the best view – a diamond ring, a moment when the Moon still covers almost the whole Sun and only the very edge of the Sun has gone past. There is still visible the pale ring and the brilliant Sun, which for people in ancient times has probably looked as a diamond. Impressive and thrilling view. Was it worth it? Yes!

Well, and beyond all in the reverse – once again it becomes brighter, warmer, the world is waking up, cars start to drive, the masses dissipate, and all the eclipse-tour participants gradually return to the camp to share their impressions, gradually gather their belongings and prepare for the road.

After this only entering Washington is in today’s plan, where a visit of LIGO Gravitational Wave Observatory is scheduled for the evening, but there is still a ride of several hours to Richland.

It turns out that a congestion is possible even on such a outskirts and in a desert. Back to Mitchell to send out postcards we get fairly quickly, but there are many miles after that which we do in a walking pace. This is not Yosemite, here nobody offers carrots while being in a traffic jam, a shame. When traffic finally disperses, one of our drivers lets his feelings wild and then talks to the local police about the consequences of speeding. Nothing too bad, just a warning.

The following road is fairly smooth and runs along the Columbia River, which separates Oregon from Washington, but we don’t get to cross the river that soon. The bridge has been narrowed and there is an accident somewhere, resulting in another giant congestion in which we spend more than an hour. In this way we may be late LIGO! In fact, this is the case, because we have to be there at 6pm, but we are there only at 7:30pm. The second team has already managed to check out everything and leaves when we just arrive. Fortunately, the tours are still going on. It is quite interesting in LIGO Gravitational Wave Observatory. Comments on how meaningful it is to throw in such a money in order to have only two validated gravitational wave occurances and another potential one within these years I will keep to myself, but it is interesting enough anyway. LIGO is a very sensitive instrument (although not the best in the world), its resolution is less than the the size of an atomic. A large instrument seeking to measure vanishingly small. It senses both the wind-induced pressure on the walls of the building and even such distant events as the ocean waves off the coast far away in Alaska. True story.

After the excursion we visit the local amateur astronomy club’s star-watching event at the car park for a bit. As far as I understood, they do that on a regular basis on Mondays or so. They have two telescopes, through which one can look at Jupiter and Saturn. Jupiter is as usual, but I have not seen Saturn this year yet. It’s always interesting to look at the planet with ears, and here in the south, it is much higher above the horizon than in our latitudes.

We find the city of Pasco and our motel quite easily, and, hey, even here they have a pool! If it is there, then it should be used, but the water in it is coooold. This is no longer the hot south. Bit by bit also other people who are awake come around the pool to simply sit and talk. The first team, unfortunately, did not reach LIGO, they had to spend about two hours in that huge congestion to Washington. Well, maybe tomorrow morning?

The evening is spoiled a bit by Rihard’s arguing with Agnese about me and my arguing with Agnese about it. I expected something like this all day long, it is not a surprise. The problem is apparently that Rihards is not getting to drive enough, but in turn I have reservations about his driving style and attitude. And also, both me and Agnese have rebuffed him without even knowing it. Not sure why other main drivers can drive when they want, and I need to be some sort of exception. At the end, we reach an agreement that he will be driving for two hours in the morning. Gleb says that I have to bear “for only three more days, three days!” Someone else adds that it’s a bit of a feeling that everyone is fed up with everyone and we just need to wait the end of the trip. Oh, well.

Monument Valley. Antelope Canyon. Powell Lake Boat Ride.

Rihards writing:

Our run continues. We wake before 5 a.m. to watch the sunrise in Monument valley. There were many like us, both in personal cars and driven in tourist trucks by locals.

We drive on bad dirt road, behind the sign that says “Drive at your own risk”, sometimes scratching the bottoms of some cars, but it was certainly worth it. We saw the rock “monuments” from all sides, but soon the clouds covered the Sun for a pity- the views would have been even more photogenic.

We are leaving at 9 a.m. sharp, as we have reservation to Antelope canyon and we can not be late. We are glad that it was possible to see it at all.

Antelope canyon is impressive, though – it is one of the rare places that look even better in photos than in reality. The place was as crowded as the railway station tunnel in Riga, but in much narrower way. The canyon itself is just couple of hundred metres long, hidden in the ground. When we arrived in visitors centre, I did not even notice it. It looked as a gap in the ground. But from inside- it made a long lasting impression. Well spent USD33.

Later we take a boat trip in Lake Powell for leisure. In an hours ride we go to see the lake and one of the canyons. Later in evening we get one more superview- Colorado river canyon Horseshoe bend.

We continue our run- this time to Utah, to mormons. After almost 3h drive, we arrive in camping in woods after 10 p.m., well after sunset, wishing only to grab something to eat and fall asleep. It later turns out that the first three cars have arrived at a wrong camping area in the darkness, but as the tents are already on- we stay where we are. Agnese’s suggestion to move gets ignored. When we arrived in the camping there was no reception either. In addition to that- it was chilly, ~6°C. But otherwise: “А в остальном, прекрасная маркиза, все хорошо, все хорошо.”.

Supersightseeing objects are now done, if we don’t count the Total Solar eclipse itself, of course.

Agnese comments:
We had booked a tour to the Lower Antelopes canyon as it was said that it’s visited by less people than the Upper one which can be crowded. After those masses and queues that were waiting for the lower one, I don’t even want to imagine what happens at the Upper. We had reserved the tour for a particular time, but in reality we got in about an hour or one and half later – at the beginning we were waiting for half an hour for our guide and then half an hour or an hour we had to stand and wait at the entrance to the underground.

With reservable campgrounds in the US National Parks everything is very easy. When arriving at the campground, need to find your number or the name in the map or on a post where you will also find a sheet of paper with your surname and the date till which the reservation is valid. Of course, the note is not reflective so in the darkness a torch will be useful.

The joys of astronomy enthusiasts

Ausma writing:

It’s August 8th and the tenth day of our trip. Today – full science program: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and Mt. Wilson Observatory.
We leave the motel at 7.30am and reach the Jet ter in already an hour. The visitor parking space is full, we place the cars quite far. Everyone quickly goes to the entrance, but it turns out that our time is only at 9.20am. In briefing the time, we are discussing the first health problems and the adventures of the previous night: someone has his feet swollen from heat, someone else slept for only two hours. The rest entertain themselves by giving clever tips, and judging the missed opportunity to sleep for at least half an hour more.
Everyone is having their documents checked and issued a promotional tour of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory sign to put around our necks.

We are a group of about 80 people. First, we are lead to the big Professor Pickering Hall, where we get introduced to safety regulations, a tour plan, and shown a video about the creation and operation of the Jet Propulsion Lab called “The Journey to the Planets and the Universe.”
The US has 10 such NASA laboratories responsible for various flight related matters: Houston is the flight control center, Kennedy in Florida is manned flight center, JPL is unmanned flight center etc.
Then the big group is divided into two parts, and we learn both about the mission management center and the how the Mars 2020 mission is prepared. At the flight control center you can follow each mission in real time by pressing its icon. To view real-time flights online, you can open DSN.now.
The visitor center has a retrospective and informative view of the laboratory’s activities. Everyone has the opportunity to view and take a photo of oneself in the infra-red version.
Morning quote: You can not become rich by selling gold, but you can become rich by selling tools for gold digging.
We drive next to Mt. Wilson Observatory. It is hot outdoors – over 30 degrees Celsius. We have arrived too early need to wait for one hour. The cafe only works on Saturdays and Sundays, when there are official tourists. We entertain ourselves by looking for a shadow, filling bottles and reading posters at the Observatory Museum, not yet knowing that guide Bruce Padget will lead through them in a binding story.
Many members of our group filled their dream of visiting the 100-inch telescope with which several significant discoveries of the 20th century have been made – Hubble using the 100-inch telescope confirms that there are other galaxies and the universe is expanding (1924).
In 1931, Albert Einstein visited the observatory, as evidenced by photography on the bridge before the telescope building. We must also take a photo there, of course.
Of course a group photo at the telescope.
The founder of the Observatory is George Ellery Hale, who built four telescopes, each of which at one time were the largest in the world. Two of them are on Mt. Wilson in Los Angeles.
We were lucky because the telescope was being maintained and we could observe how the telescope mechanics works.
In the evening, a quote from the guide, Bruce Padget, “The work in radioastronomy is boring because they explore rainbows and listen to stars.
Evening at Budget Inn Motel in El Monte.

I Love SF

Ilgonis writing:

“I love SF”, this slogan was stamped on our hands while we waited to climb a Coit tower where we enjoyed a panoramic view of the San Francisco. I think I can agree with these words because during the day we experienced many wonderful things. We visited Chinatown with it’s busy street’s, rushing people and vegetable markets. We admired steep hills of the city that previously I had seen only on Hollywood movies. We wondered how people can park cars here and they do not roll downhill?

Then we went by a ferry to the famous island of Alcatraz. Do you remember a scene from the movie “The Rock” where Sean Connery sings a song about Sanfrancisko while taking a shower? Apart from the fact that this song was buzzing in my head for a whole day, this movie was all that I knew about Alcatraz prison. Reality was quite a different but not less impressive mostly thanking the good audioguide that revealed history of the prison and its inhabitants. After returning to mainland we listened to the furious cries of sea lions on a Pier 39. Did you know that wet sea lions are black but dry specimens lazy lying on the platform become moss green?

We were already tired and it was not easy to climb five blocks to the Lombard street but it was worth of it because we could watch cars slowly going down the narrow serpentine among flowers that are on the both sides of the road. A final crescendo (literally) was a ride on the famous San Francisco cable car that took us from the Fisherman’s Wharf to the train station. We went up and down banging and clinging while the most brave persons of our group were hanging on both sides of the cable car. The only disappointment was the Golden Gate Bridge that was hiding in the fog for a whole day. Let’s hope tomorrow we will be more lucky.