Our Family’s Experience


Astronomy Merit Badge Supplementals

Eclipse: Monday, August 21, 2017

This is an extension of
Astronomy Merit Badge page.

The “The Great American Eclipse,” the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, was amazing!

The purpose of this page is to share our family’s experience at the Perryville (MO) Municipal Airport.

This page is for the photos.

The “Eclipse Videos” page has some videos, including the full 2:40 totality.


Why did we watch the eclipse in Perryville, MO?

In 2016, our summer vacation was a visit to Augusta, GA, Charleston, SC and Hilton Head Island, SC.

On the drive home - http://vanvooren.us/Travel/HHI_2016_-_Drive_Home.html, Ann Marie had a great idea... skip St. Louis rush hour traffic by driving across the Mississippi south of town... at Chester, IL, the home of Popeye the Sailor Man.

We’re thrilled we took that route, because on the drive we saw some awesome scenery in southern Illinois and Missouri and that led us to planning  where we would see the Great American Eclipse - Perryville, MO.

As we thought about watching the eclipse near there, I saw the the center line would run right through the airport.  And they would have 2:40 of totality... a mere 0.6 seconds less than the maximum in Carbondale / Makanda.  And then I saw that the airport was planning to host the public to view the eclipse right there - awesome!




We have family friends who grew up near Perryville, and they were planning to view the  eclipse there, too.  I was able to talk with Trish at the airport,  and she shared their awesome plans - scientists releasing weather balloons, food, water, glasses, the center line of totality splitting the runway in half... and then I knew that is where we should we be.

As the day drew closer, we wondered about that day’s weather and traffic factors, and in the end, we decided to stick with viewing the eclipse at the Perryville airport.  Our friends drove down the night before, camped out, and secured a great space to watch the eclipse, and we then drove down the morning of the eclipse.

“The Beauty of God’s Creation!”

So we knew where we would see the eclipse...

.... and then we were blessed with improved perspective on the eclipse itself.

In the weeks leading up to the eclipse, our son’s high school communicated what we had heard - they were cancelling school that day, so the students could see the eclipse.

The new school President, wrote some quite inspiring words in an email to parents explaining why there would be no school that day:

  1. “Dear Members of the SLUH Community,

  2. “The Great American Eclipse will occur coast to coast on Monday, August 21, 2017.


  4. “... The last one to move through the continental United States was in 1979 and the last in the St. Louis region was 1442! ...


  6. “Clearly, this is a remarkable opportunity for science education but it has an even wider and deeper appeal formationally for us as a Catholic and Jesuit school. What follows is an "Ignatian" perspective on the eclipse from David Baron, an award winning journalist, former science correspondent for NPR, and former science editor for the public radio program "The World."


  8. "To be human, it seems, is to seek purpose in our transient lives. A total eclipse is a primal, transcendent experience. As a science journalist, I thought I knew what to expect. What I had not anticipated was my own intense reaction to the display. For three glorious minutes, I felt transported to another planet, indeed to a higher plane of reality. Above me, in the dim vault of the heavens, shone an incomprehensible object. It is an ebony pupil surrounded by a pearly iris. It is the eye of the cosmos. As I stood transfixed by this vision, I felt a visceral connection to the universe . . ."


  10. “This passage captures the spiritual potential of this once-in-a-lifetime event. Our students will witness, in a very direct and powerful way, the glory of divine creation. Testifying to God's "greater honor and glory" is a foundational element of our mission as a Catholic and Jesuit school. Jesuits are among some of the greatest scientists and mathematicians of all time and dozens of craters on the moon have been named after Jesuit scientists. August 21st can, indeed, be a way for our students to connect the Jesuit motto of "finding God in all things" to the world of their direct experience.

  11. ...

  12. “As a Jesuit school on the eve of our own bicentennial, and given the incredible tradition of Jesuits in astronomy, we hope this experience will inspire the hearts and minds of Jr. Billikens to find God in all things, to revel in the beauty of God's creation, and to embrace the opportunity to learn outside of the formal classroom.

  13. “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam!”

  14. (for the greater glory of God!)

Fr. Gibbon’s words were echoed a week later in the St. Louis Review, in their article: 

Between Heaven and Earth - Historic Eclipse Reveals Beauty of God’s Creation

"The stars, planets, moon and sun, these follow the laws of classical mechanics," Sheahen noted. "God thought up those laws. In the present time, you can calculate if there is going to be an eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017 — you could have calculated it in the 1960s. The regularity and predictability is a testimony to the fact that God thought up the laws with great precision."


"We admire God's creation and the laws that cause things like this," he said. "There is a popular impression that science is somehow out to destroy religion, and we deliberately say no — it's the other way around. We want to see this as blended and complementing one another. Certainly the solar eclipse reflects the glory of God because of the precision of the laws that God thought up."

- source:  http://stlouisreview.com/article/2017-08-10/god-s-perfect

We had a hint of this perspective before reading these words... we knew God created all, and made the laws of nature that make eclipses possible, but reading these words really ignited our reason for seeing the eclipse!

Some other related articles:

“Solar eclipse in #CatholicSTL”


Brother Sun, Sister Moon display awe and wonder of God’s creation for Poor Clare Nuns


“Final Preparations”

So, going into the last couple weeks and days before the eclipse,...

  1. -Thanks to reading articles in Astronomy magazine by Bob Berman (aka Sky Man Bob) we planned to worry less about recording the eclipse and more about experiencing it, about seeing it with our own eyes...

    “Second, don’t use up those two precious minutes fiddling with your camera. Getting a good image requires time-consuming exposure bracketing. You sure you want to do that? If you must photograph, I strongly suggest you sacrifice no more than half the eclipse to the process. Then stop twirling that f/stop dial and look up.

    source:  http://www.astronomy.com/magazine/bob-berman/2016/11/talking-totality

    Beyond the science and the aspects lending themselves to verbal description is a feeling, a flavor, a vibe. Totality feels like nothing else in life. Just let it in. I still can’t explain it rationally. Something happens when the Sun and the Moon and your spot on Earth form a perfectly straight line. As my ex-wife put it, “It felt like the home of my soul.”

    “Cooper didn’t put it that way. It was a different time then. He ended up saying, “I’ve traveled the world and sailed the seas, but never have I beheld any spectacle which so plainly manifested the majesty of the Creator, or so forcibly taught the lesson of humility, as a total eclipse of the Sun.”


  2. -We knew we couldn’t do anything about the traffic, so we just planned to get up and get going early (minus a little slow-down near Festus, the drive south was normal... actually seemingly light as we got further south)

  3. -we couldn’t directly control the clouds, but we earnestly prayed for clear skies so we could see the glory of God’s Creation... and it paid off!  One cloud could have continued its course and blocked totality but it stopped and dissipated mere minutes before totality... awesome!

“Our impressions”


“That was awesome!”

Abby was also participating in an experiment with the other kids in her class.  They were monitoring the temperature during the eclipse.  We experimented with the thermometer’s location a bit... it registered up to 118o when in the direct sun... it wasn’t quite that hot, but did almost feel it... it was in the mid to upper 90s, and it did noticeably cool off during the eclipse, beautifully so. And then it heated back up, and the breeze / wind did noticeably pick up after the eclipse.  Awesome!


“Today, it was an amazing day.  My dad’s been talking about the eclipse for over a year now.  For me it felt like going into night, and then all you can see is the moon covering the sun, and it was amazing!”

Ann Marie:

“That was amazing!”


The temperature changed from sweltering in the upper 90s to pleasantly cool, the winds calmed, and then the stars of the show - the sun and the moon - Wow! 

There is nothing to compare to how the sky was dark but had a deep blue glow, and the sun's corona seemed to pulse... Venus shone brightly off to the right... time seemed to briefly stand still, and then it was over... and then the shadow bands waved across the grounds right after totality ended (caused by temperature changes in the atmosphere) - all absolutely amazing. 

And to think that a total solar eclipse only happens here in earth, and nowhere else in the known universe.

“Our photos - the cameras”

We set up the following cameras:

  1. 1.Matt’s GoPro HERO4 Silver - recording live video, positioned on his gorillapod right on the airport taxiway, looking up

  2. 2.Matt using his iPod Touch to take his own hand-held photos and videos

  3. 3.Abby’s iPod Touch sitting on the cooler, looking up, with the wide-angle Olloclip lens, recording live video

  4. 4.Abby using her Kodak Z1285 camera (pre-dates iPhone 4... and still takes great photos!) to record her own hand-held photos and videos

  5. 5.The iPad also sitting atop the cooler... positioned so you can see the screen and type on it, which meant the camera lens was pointing down, just where we wanted it, so it could capture the shadow bands - and it did capture them!

  6. 6.Ann Marie using her iPhone 6 to record her own hand-held photos and videos

  7. 7.Michael using his iPhone 6+ positioned on the tripod, to record live video of the eclipse, and to also capture some stills as the video recorded

  8. 8.Our eyes, pointed upward

You’ll recognize that we don’t have a DSLR, and we knew that we would only have small images of the sun.  Our goal was to see the eclipse and just “capture whatever we could,” without looking at the screens too much, as we could watch later.

“Our photos”

Trish and others at the Perryville Municipal Airport planned a great event:

  1. -The Adler Planetarium and several colleges, including De Paul University, the University of Illinois at Champaign, and Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO) were there launching weather balloons.  The Adler team was launching their balloons as part of their Far Horizons Project

  2. -Other students were capturing images of the sun’s corona with telescopes; they will combine the videos from other colleges across the country, and make a two-hour video of the corona, from which we look to learn more about the sun’s hot outer layer

  3. -https://www.britannica.com/topic/corona-Sun

  4. -https://www.space.com/37832-corona-of-the-sun-is-a-mystery.html

  5. -https://www.space.com/19396-sun-atmosphere-corona-photos.html

  6. -https://solarscience.msfc.nasa.gov/corona.shtml

  7. -Food, snacks, etc.

  8. -Fly-ins for pilots to land and see the eclipse

  9. -a taxi-way dedicated to visitors like us who were thrilled to stand within feet of the centerline of totality, as it crossed the runway

Southern Missouri (and Illinois) in and around Perryville is home so some great farmland.

Students setting up their weather balloons in the airport’s hanger.

The balloons were primarily sent up with cameras - GoPros, and also devices for measuring temperature, air pressure, altitude, etc.

We were so thankful for the pop up tents!

Thankfully, this cloud slowed and did not block the sun, not from our vantage point.

These photos show the sky darkening about 10 minutes before totality.

As captured using 1) the eclipse glasses over the front of 2) the 2x Zoom on the Olloclip Active Lens, attached to the iPhone 6+, using ProCamera app zoomed to 2x, for 4x total zoom. 

The phones definitely captured the sky as black, but it was not black, but a deep twilight blue.

One happy Jr. Bill.

360o sunset, as captured by Abby on her Kodak Z1285 camera

The 360o sunset, looking to the South, as captured by Ann Marie

The 360o sunset, looking to the East, looking across the Mississippi River into Illinois

Carbondale, with its 400,000+ crowd saw “a few seconds” of the totality that was supposed to be the longest of the day.  I suspect that cloud in the lower center of the photo is one of the clouds that reduced their visibility.

Happy Abby!

Photo by Debbie Lieberman

These stills were extracted from the video Matt captured on his GoPro HERO4 Silver... the colors are just what the eye captured... nice work, GoPro!

Notice, also, how that cloud, which was moving straight toward blocking the eclipse, dissipated as totality arrived... what a blessing!

We captured several videos of the eclipse, and have three to share.  Since they are larger, they are posted to YouTube.

Links to those videos, and from the weather balloons, are on our Eclipse Photos & Videos page.

Our happy family, all decked out in our SLUH Jr. Billiken eclipse shirts!

These photos were captured as totality ended - you can still see the 360o sunset at the edge of the moon’s shadow, off in the distance behind us.

Totality as captured by the iPhone

The Perryville Airport reported a record plane and pilot population today.

5-10 minutes after totality some planes took to the air.

And a few minutes later this one was upside down.  Unsure how, it sounds like the landing gear clipped a light in the grass and flipped.  The pilot walked away unhurt!

Our friends showed us Popeye’s home in Chester

and we visited St. Mary of the Barrens Catholic Church, on the property that is also home to the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.

“Our videos”

We have posted additional photos, and a few videos on another page:

Eclipse Photos & Videos

“Some interesting links”

The Best - and Quirkiest - Maps of the 2017 Solar Eclipse

National Geographic


Threading the celestial needle: Catching the Great American Eclipse at 35,00 feet

Alaska Airlines


KFVS is the CBS affiliate in Cape Girardeau, MO.

We happened to have our tents set up next to them, so we saw them recording many people through the course of the afternoon.

I watched several of their posted videos after we returned home.

The gentleman in this video shares some good perspectives that I really identify with.

Makanda is the town south of Carbondale where the maximum totality: 2:40:06 was experienced.

“Eclipse reaction from Makanda, IL”


image source: 


Credit:  'Michael Zeiler, www.GreatAmericanEclipse.com'

Credit:  'Michael Zeiler, www.GreatAmericanEclipse.com' - their Facebook page

Thank you, all who made GreatAmericanEclipse.com possible, for helping us better understand and appreciate eclipses!

These are all of the links to the Astronomy Merit Badge pages:

Astronomy Merit Badge Page

Astronomy - Planetary Motion

Astronomy - Solar Eclipses

Astronomy - Great American Eclipse

Astronomy - Great American Eclipse 2017

Eclipse Photos & Videos

Astronomy - Eclipse 2024

The images from Mr. Berman’s “Secrets of the Night Sky...” and Outdoor Photographer were scanned directly from the book using the Halo Scanner Mouse - http://shop.halo2cloud.com/collections/computer-and-backup/products/scanner-mouse, which I received as a Christmas present from my mother in 2013.