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Capturing the Ring of Fire

The progression to Annularity
Credit: Astrid Cordero

It has been six years since the Great American Eclipse of 2017, when a total solar eclipse swept across the contiguous United States, casting the shadow of the Moon from Oregon to South Carolina. Millions saw what was the first total solar eclipse in the United States in decades, and the first in the age of smartphones and social media. While the path of totality was narrow, a partial solar eclipse was still visible across the entire mainland United States, and even Hawaii. Now, in 2023, Americans stand at the eve of another total solar eclipse set to occur in 2024, but this time we’ve been given a pre-show: an annular solar eclipse on October 15th 2023. 

The path of the 2023 Annular Eclipse over the continental United States.
Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio

An annular solar eclipse is different from a total solar eclipse, because the Moon does not completely cover the Sun. The reason for this is simple: the  Moon’s orbit is elliptical. This means that at different points in its orbit, its distance from Earth and its size in the sky change. In a total solar eclipse, the Moon is large enough in the sky to completely obscure the Sun. Contrastingly, during an annular solar eclipse, the Moon is near the furthest point in its orbit around Earth, known as its apogee, so it cannot completely cover the Sun. At the height of an annular eclipse the Sun is still visible as a ring poking out from the limb of the Moon’s silhouette. This is the reason these eclipses are often referred to as annular eclipses, annular is a word meaning ring-shaped. This is also the reasoning for the “ring of fire” nickname. Space Scout’s photographers were positioned across the country at the time of the event, and were poised to capture the eclipse from various vantage points.

Brandon Berkoff is a relatively new member of the Space Scout team, but he has been doing astrophotography since 2018. Brandon captured a variety of events through his telescope in New York, including the James Webb Space Telescope during its coast to L2, and Artemis I on its way to the Moon. Brandon’s location even allowed him to capture a partial eclipse rising over a local beach in June of 2021, an event that was not widely reported in the States for it was not visible in most of the US. Using experience from his previous eclipse, and placed into the path of the latest eclipse by a recent move to Florida, Brandon was well set for round two. While his previous eclipse photo was a single frame through his telescope, this time Brandon took around twenty different photos. By taking multiple images of the event and assembling them using a technique called stacking, Brandon was able to create an image which shows much more detail on the surface of the Sun, including a prominent sunspot. When using a solar filter, the surrounding image becomes pitch black, however using a longer exposure time the details of airglow can be revealed, at the cost of washing out the subject. Brandon combined his stacked image of the eclipse with a higher exposure image showing airglow, so both details on the solar surface and the interactions of sunlight with foreground clouds can be seen in the same image, creating a result that is both technically and artistically impressive.

Staring at the surface of the sun, Brandon’s image captures our dynamic star at work.
Credit: Brandon Berkoff

Nick Boone became part of the Space Scout team, alongside many others, as part of our recent rebranding. Nick has a diverse portfolio, one which consists of subjects ranging from aviation, spaceflight, and astrophotography, but also including portraits, landscapes, and  other natural subjects. While Nick saw the Great Eclipse of 2017 from his own backyard, he did not photograph it, this time was different. Nick drove out to Hamilton Alabama to see the eclipse in optimal weather, and using his DSLR camera and a solar filter held in place by cardboard and scotch tape, he captured multiple images of the eclipse. Nick explained that choosing the correct exposure provided a slight challenge, as he wanted the image to show sunspots but not be especially dim. Once a proper balance between detail and visibility was found, the process ran smoothly. Unlike Brandon’s stacked photo, Nick’s photos were not taken to be combined into one detailed image. Nick’s images of the solar eclipse were spaced out over five minute intervals. The resulting series Nick captured shows the progression of the Moon across the face of the Sun, and when shown together the images provide a moment by moment view of the eclipse. Nick took this one step further, by using software to carefully align each image, Nick created a video which shows the Moon’s progression across the Sun’s face. Thanks to his capture of sunspots, the video format allows one with a keen eye to notice the Sun’s subtle rotation during the event. The results of Nick’s efforts grant a fantastic animated glimpse into planetary motion.

Matt Dahle is another addition who came in with Space Scout’s rebranding, and has had a passion for photography from a young age. Starting out using phone cameras to capture subjects of which they had interest in, Matt originally understood photography to be a cost-prohibitive hobby. However, following the advice of a friend in 2019, Matt purchased a used camera and lens, enabling him to increase the quality of his work significantly. Since then Matt built up a massive portfolio capturing various subjects, but with particular focus on rocketry, large and small. At the time of the eclipse, Matt was partaking in a local amateur rocketry event held by the Utah Rocket Club. Matt describes the experience as “taking pictures of the eclipse with one camera and shooting rockets with the other.” Their attendance at the event also placed them close to the path of greatest eclipse, meaning their shot taken at the event’s height shows a near-complete ring of the Sun around the Moon.

The progression of the eclipse as seen from Frank Hunt Field, Utah.
Credit: Matt Dahle

David Diebold is one of Space Scout’s co-founders, and is the Space Scout Photography Team Lead. Prior to founding Space Scout alongside Lavie Ohana in 2019, David was in Madisonville, Tennessee to image the Great Eclipse of 2017. David notes that while he was inexperienced at the time, his experience since allowed him to capture a sequence of images he’s prouder of for this latest eclipse. Already down in Florida with other team members covering and photographing the launch of NASA’s Psyche Mission, delays made his original plans for capturing the eclipse fall through. Team member Derek Newsome, also at the Cape for Psyche, suggested capturing the eclipse’s progression across the sky from the Kennedy Space Center’s Rocket Garden. Using a Canon EOS 80D Camera and a 18-55 mm lens, David took images of the eclipse as it passed behind the Rocket Garden’s newest addition, Delta II. 31 images of the eclipse were taken, each five minutes apart, with an image taken of Delta II itself backlit by the Sun to serve as the foreground of the image. The resulting 32 image total was combined in Photoshop to create the final sequence. While it does not show the entirety of the eclipse, it does record how the event appeared from a historic site.

Delta II appears to take a bite out of the sun as the eclipse passes behind it.
Credit: David Diebold

Lastly, Astrid Cordero, who has been with Space Scout for two years, and whose photographs of the eclipse were years in the making. Astrid’s journey with photography began when encountering the work of photographer John Kraus on Instagram, being inspired by his work she eventually reached out for advice on getting into the hobby for herself. While Astrid’s work focuses primarily on capturing rocketry, astrophotography is also a subject of interest, and along that vein, the recent eclipse was something of a date with destiny. After seeing the Great Eclipse of 2017 from Miami as a partial solar eclipse, Astrid vowed that when the next eclipse passed over the United States, she would be there, armed with experience and equipment, to capture it in full. In the last six years, Astrid has put money towards a Celestron Telescope, as well as accessories including a monitor and solar filter. She flew with her girlfriend to San Antonio, directly in the path of the eclipse, to capture the complete ring of fire. The morning of eclipse day was clouded, causing some initial alarm, however the sky cleared in time for the eclipse. Issues continued however, the telescope was not properly calibrated ahead of time, meaning Astrid had to align it manually, and then as the eclipse began the telescope failed to focus. Feeling frustrated, Astrid was willing to resign to simply watch the eclipse through filter glasses, and abandon hopes to capture the event in her camera. At the height of the eclipse, and after assurance from her partner that she should try again, Astrid gave the telescope another try, and to her astonishment, it worked. Astrid explains that she screamed like a kid when the ring of fire appeared on her telescope’s monitor, and she was allowed to capture four images, showing the eclipse from its height to its end. After years of effort, Astrid captured her dream shot, and is now determined to apply the lessons she learned to capture the total solar eclipse next year.

The ring of fire in all its glory – a once in a lifetime event for many.
Credit: Astrid Cordero

We live in a time where capturing and preserving unique experiences via photography is becoming more and more accessible, events like this stir our imaginations and brew excitement. Anticipation of next year’s total solar eclipse, which will be the final event of its kind in the mainland United States until 2045,  is already brewing. If one wishes to enjoy it fully, or perhaps photograph it for themselves, the time to start making plans is now. Resources describing the timing and location of the upcoming total eclipse can be found on NASA’s website. In future, Space Scout intends to have a gallery page on our website, to showcase photographs, infographics, and other visual aids created by our team members.

Edited to update location from Black Rock, Utah to Frank Hunt Field, Utah.

One thought on “Capturing the Ring of Fire

  • I love seeing the different photos the Space Scout team captured. The passion everyone has for astronomy really shines.


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