2018 Honorable Mention – Dylan Ma


The greatly anticipated Total Solar Eclipse revealed a rarely seen part of the Sun, and for two short minutes, transformed the shadowed landscape below. For nearly two years I planned exactly where I would be and what cameras to bring. Deciding on the climatologically clearest part of the shadow’s path, on the Oregon-Idaho border, I saw a celestial event that has captivated humans for centuries. Early Chinese astronomers were able to predict eclipses from past observations. The Lydians and the Medes, late Mesopotamian-regional empires, ceased fighting when the sky blackened in the middle of the day. Ever since, eclipses have been a source of awe and answers to our most fundamental scientific inquiries. The May 29, 1919 total eclipse proved Einstein’s theory of general relativity, and Jules Janssen discovered helium in 1868 (the element named after Helios, the Sun).

My experience in the shadow of Moon was also one of discovery. That first “bite” taken out of the Sun —first contact— marked the beginning of the eclipse. Over the next hour, the sky darkened, the air cooled, and the light painting the landscape faded away. Looking to the West: a foreboding sense that a storm was approaching. That storm was the Moon’s shadow. The Sun was now a crescent, like the Moon would be the next day. So too were the shadows cast by leaves on the trees. And without any hesitation, the last beads of sunlight flashed through the lunar valleys, and began totality.

What first caught my eye were the red flames ringing the black disc. These prominences were massive and part of the chromosphere. Further out was the silvery corona, spanning nearly ten degrees around the Sun. This part of the solar atmosphere is rarely seen, but affects our planet with solar winds. To capture what I was seeing on camera, I tracked the eclipse with an astronomical mount. Using a telephoto lens and a Nikon D610 DSLR, I took photographs of different exposures. Stacking these would produce this single high-dynamic range photograph. This closely approximates what I saw firsthand, but only shows part of the total eclipse experience.