Perspective can make airplanes the size of planets and moons the size of stars. The scale of our solar system can be expressed in powers of ten, even if our perspective indicates otherwise. In this photo, we first see the sun. Our sun is measured on the scale of 10^9 meters, and accounts for well over 99 percent of the mass in our solar system. Overlaying the sun, we see our moon, ostensibly the same size as our star. However, the moon is three orders of magnitude smaller than the sun, measured at a scale of 10^6 meters. Also visible in this image is a small aircraft. This aircraft, which has a wing span of roughly 10^1 meters, appears noticeably smaller than the sun and the moon, but looks to be significantly larger than the spots that mark the sun’s surface. From the perspective we have on Earth, these spots are tiny, mere pinpricks on the surface of the giant body, far smaller than the passing aircraft. However, these spots are comparable in size to our own planet, on the scale of 10^7 meters in diameter, dwarfing the aircraft.
Capturing this image required a 3-hour journey south for me and my father, starting in Olympia, Washington, and ending in Dallas, Oregon. We arrived at our shooting location in the early morning. Even 6 hours before the eclipse, the roads were saturated with eager eclipse viewers. There was just enough darkness left to allow me to align my telescope mount with Polaris. By doing this, my equatorial mount was able to cancel out the Earth’s rotation, making the sky appear stationary from my telescope’s perspective, ensuring uninterrupted tracking of the sun. Once alignment was achieved, I placed a filter on my telescope to protect it from the sun’s harsh rays that would otherwise melt the sensors. Then, the waiting began.
The Solar Eclipse of 2017 fully lived up to its awe inspiring billing, with more vivid and bizarre memories than imaginable. A 20 degree drop in temperature in the middle of the day. Crickets chirping at noon. The sudden surrounding sounds of rooster crows after totality. The vivid view of the corona arching through the Oregon sky. I was fortunate to record all of these experiences. However, this one image stood out over all the others. This one image changed my perspective on our place in the solar system. I do not feel small, rather I feel empowered by it. Our solar system is massive, yet we have the ability to explore it, to study it. These distant objects are all within grasp. Science will never run out of questions to answer. Humanity will never run out of places to travel. Perhaps, in the not so distant future, a spacecraft not much larger than this airplane, will eclipse the sun once more, on a journey to far off places, and new perspectives.