During the darkest moments of Monday's mid-day eclipse, Christel Essay appeared to have the sun in her eyes.
But she didn't know it until 10 hours later, when she checked her phone.
She had gathered with co-workers at 9 South CharGrill in Hickman to watch the total eclipse, but their brush with totality was obscured by a bank of inconsiderate clouds. Still, when the parking lot darkened, she put her phone on selfie mode, turned her back to the sun and snapped three self-portraits in rapid succession.
“It was like: click, click, click,” she said.
Nothing unusual about the first two photos: Essay in the foreground, other eclipse-viewers and the dim, cloudy sky in the background.
But the third photo caught her eyes, because of what was in them. Two tiny eclipse-looking images, each to the left of her own irises in the whites of her eyes.
“It’s crazy. I have three pictures and they’re exactly the same. But the last one, I was like, ‘OK, I have four eyes.’”
She’s not sure what created the other pair. She doubts it’s a reflection of the sun, for two reasons. First, the sky was so cloud-covered during totality she couldn’t see any part of the eclipse. And she would expect the reflections to be perfectly round, and these images seemed to conform to the contours of her eyes.
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She found eclipse experts online, and sent them questions, but hadn’t yet heard back.
She asked an eye doctor, who blamed camera movement when the picture was taken. That type of error occurs more often in panoramic photos, but they can show up in a regular snapshot, the doctor told her.
“I know what he’s saying,” she said. “But it just doesn’t quite fit the bill here.”
Rebecca Harbison, an astronomer at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, took a look at the photo and didn’t immediately know what to make of it. It could be a reflection, she suggested. Or it could be a confused phone.
“When too much light falls on a camera's chip, you can get some weird effects,” she said. “If the camera was trying to photograph a dark setting (like near totality), the bright reflections might have overloaded the chip.”
Essay said the photo wasn’t doctored. She hopes it's related to the eclipse.
“It’s either that or some alien spirit, which I don’t want.”