Thursday, 21 April 2016

Transit of Mercury 2016 May 9

On the 9th of May (this year) there will be a rather rare event. The planet Mercury will transit the face of the Sun. This does not happen every time Mercury passes between the Earth and Sun. The distances and sizes are very large.

Mercury, even when closest to Earth, is a mere 11 arc seconds in size. For comparison, the Sun is half a degree (30 minutes or 1800 seconds) in size. In addition, the inclination of Mercury's orbit is 7 degrees meaning that it misses the solar disk by up to 14 times the size of the Sun. (More Mercury facts available at:

After this transit of Mercuy, the next one will be in 2019 then we wait until 2032. There are only 14 transits of Mercury this century. Here is a list of Mercury transits.

Okay, so a transit of Mercury is rare. But is it spectacular? Well, to be honest, no it isn't. You need a telescope to see it. And at that, a safe solar telescope with either a good solar filter or set up for projection. The picture below is one taken through a small telescope. Mercury is the little dot (shadow) on the edge of the Sun on the bottom right of image.

Mercury Transit - Questar prime focus

Thus I cannot say it is worth getting too worked up about unless, like me, you marvel at the ability of science to predict such things and our ability to see it. These are things that only came about in the past couple centuries. People have not been watching Mercury transit the Sun for many generations and you could end up being the first ever in your family to have seen one. If you have the right gear, then by all means get set up for it (if clear and you are on the right side of the Earth - check the transit visibility map here) and share the experience with others. For real geeks, here is an online Mercury transit calculator with great details from your (or a specific) location.

For us, the transit will be visible in the morning hours which works out best. We have the clearest sky in the morning and should be able to see the entire transit. The problem will be clouds over the hills to the East of us, if any.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

New Website of Note, EclipseWise

There is a great new website containing eclipse summary information for centuries of eclipses by retired NASA eclipse expert Fred Espenak named EclipseWise. Click here to visit.

Fred Espenak used to maintain the primary and very popular website for NASA's eclipse prediction service and now has taken it private, so to speak. Books and more are for sale there to help support his effort (passion).

Just this past week I was updating some of the Javascript utilities for his webpage. A new utility will be presented soon to list cities able to view an eclipse event. The cities are presented in geographic groups and you can add you own city to the list for display (private entries are not saved, at this time).

For those that do not know Fred Espenak, he is a long time guru in the eclipse chasing game. He has seen well over an hour of totality. His presentations about eclipses and his experiences are in high demand and well attended. And he has written some excellent books about eclipses and eclipse chasing that you can find at his web site. One of his earliest publications was a detailed set of tables and maps for eclipses up to the year 2035 that has served as my travel guide since the late 1970s. More recently he produced a canon of eclipses spanning a millennium. That tradition continues although now he has teamed up with others to create awesome books for each major eclipse. Click here to see the 2017 eclipse book, highly recommended!

Sunday, 10 April 2016

More web page work, plans for 2017

I added a link from the summary page for upcoming eclipses to the larger map format instead of just the local circumstances. The larger map provides an option for locating an eclipse position by name in addition to coordinates or picking it on the Google Map.

2017 Eclipse Track - bigger map
Another change to the eclipse-chasers web site is the color of the timing for totality duration in the eclipse chaser summary. The color is changed for each five minutes of totality duration seen. At one minute of time the colors go bold as well. If you don't like the color scheme, please let me know. I selected the colors kind of at random and based on how well they showed up against a white screen. Your input is always appreciated.

***2017 Update***
We have been researching options for the 2017 eclipse, as I am sure many others are doing as well. There are numerous resources on the Internet and it can be quite overwhelming to read all the ideas and plans people have been making in anticipation of the eclipse. Although I do find it even more amazing that a lot of people still do not know about the eclipse! Even those living right in the central path of the shadow.

Last week I thought we had a solution in Casper Wyoming but it turned out the hotel had the wrong year for the reservation. We cancelled that opportunity and began an earnest search for another option. Some of the hotels indicated they will not take reservations until one year in advance. I suppose they know they will get a flood of phone calls.

So where are we going? That is a good question. We are still giving serious thought to Wyoming if a place can be found to sleep the night before on the central path. Our second choices vary quite a bit from Nebraska all the way to South Carolina. The reasons vary just as much from good transportation options and accommodations to friends and family located near or in the main shadow path. The thought process continues forward but so far there is nothing concrete in the planning.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Website updates March 2016

After a long series of flights and airport time I am slowly adapting to time back on this side of the world again. Not that it matters too much, it is just that things are easier to deal with in the daylight when people are at work and so on.

Some updates to the website took place over the past week. Here is a summary.

References - I found several dead links in the references and added a new one. Fred Espenak has created a new site called EclipseWise and it is a cool set of tools for eclipse predictions.

TSE2016 Reports and Images - A summary report, images, and links to other reports are now posted. If you know of a link that should be added, please let me know and I will do it.

Who saw the TSE2016? - Map and list of eclipse chasers who were in the path of the shadow in March 2016.

Cartoons about Eclipse Chasing by Aircraft - A new cartoon lampooning the possible problems of too many eFlights.

Cartoons about Eclipse Chasing by Ship - a new cartoon about the management of eclipse cruises.

I am sure there will be more coming soon.

By the way, during the eclipse of March 9/8 2016 an interesting glitch occurred for those wanting to post results right away. You couldn't. Sorry about that. The reason is kind of amusing, albeit a bit nerdy technical. You see the server for this web site is located in the Eastern Time Zone of the USA. As the eclipse finished and loggers attempted to add data, the system said it was not the right date and that eclipse was not available. This situation lasted for a day and then the eclipse was available. Okay, not that critical, but I will fix it before the next event. Sheesh, that date line thing got my sleep screwed up as well as the eclipse-chasers server programs.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Canon Powershot SX60HS 65x Solar Eclipse results

The most recent TSE in Indonesia was a long travel and to cut space I did something I've never done before. I did NOT bring a tripod. But I still took pictures. Using a Canon Powershot 65x hand held was a gamble and most of the shots did not turn out well - as expected. BUT some came out great and I can say I am pleased.

To use the camera for totality I did not just rely on the standard camera settings. I turned off the automatic flash. This is important. I ignored the request from the camera to raise the flash. Another thing I did was go to the fixed aperture setting mode. I could use the dial to change exposures and the lens would remain at the fastest possible focal ratio (focal length over objective size) - wide open. I also set the ISO/ASA to 100. A bit slower than recommended by most photographers however I found it produced cleaner images with the Canon. The last major thing I did was manual focus. Setting manual focus (at infinity) using the dial was not really the best and the focus is a tad soft in my mind, but not bad as seen by the results.

So lets start with the mistakes. I started WAY TOO EARLY. When I looked through the view finder about 15-10 seconds before second contact I could see the corona! The following pic would have been unthinkable in the days of film. But the electronics survived.

1/2000s about 5 seconds before C2, note corona visible.
To get the corona at this stage in the eclipse move the brighter part to the edge or off the frame. Hand held was not easy to hold in position between the movement of the ship and the general excitement of a total solar eclipse.

A bit earlier I snapped an image. About 10 seconds before 2nd contact. This is not recommended at al and could have resulted in a blown camera. I was amazed the camera handled the brightness but look at all the internal reflections!

1/2000s about 10 seconds before C2, corona and internal reflections.
I kept on snapping images right into totality. The results are a lot better than I expected.

1/1250s about 5 seconds into totality.

1/800s - Adding more exposure time reveals corona but over exposes the prominences.

Corona structure revealed about 1/500 second.
Longest exposure I got hand held - 1/125s
So I am quite pleased with the results of the camera. Hand held, no tripod. Amazing. Highly recommended, even to beginners. Just remember to turn the flash off.

I won't do that again. Next time I bring a tripod because next time it will be on land and not a moving platform. Next time it is the "Great American Eclipse". Oh yeah baby!

Yes, we saw it!

First off, let me apologize by saying Internet access from a cruise ship is expensive and horribly slow.  That is why I did not add any updates since Singapore. Downloading email and responding to just a few reminded me of the 1200 Baud days. For those of you not used to such terms, just think about typing a character on the keyboard and taking a breath or two before it appears on the screen. Kind of hard to do.

Well, as the title says, we saw it! The eclipse was fantastic. A bent streamer about a rolling wave prominence [with helmut] dominated the view near 2nd contact. Nearer to third contact was another, more classic helmut formation in the corona. I used 15x70 binoculars to view the corona and it was amazing as always.

The hand held camera experiment was a success. The image in the viewfinder when the lens was fully extended (1365mm effective) showed corona 5 seconds before 2nd contact with no filter. The camera had difficulty focusing until the last big of photosphere went away. Using manual exposure with fixed aperture (wide open) the exposure range was from 1/2000 to 1/8 of a second.

I will post more pictures soon with some analysis. After flying east from Singapore to Japan to Los Angeles to Ohio things are still in disarray. I am jotting down this blog as a test of the iPad. It will not upload images, fail!

Here is an image I posted to my website eclipse-chasers.

Monday, 29 February 2016

Weather in Indonesia

Many thanks to Jay Anderson who posted this link for weather images anybody can understand! The following link will take you to a page for weather around Indonesia with easy to follow instructions and graphics.

As of this morning things are looking very good for the eclipse of March 9th. Of course, weather is what you get and we have a week to wait that out.

From Singapore, the weather is classically tropical. Clouds can be seen up in the sky at all times of day, fast moving, some with a drop or two of rain, however one can say it has been sunny most of the time. In other words, the weather is a tad chaotic and the situation is beautiful. There are no major storm fronts coming our way and even if a stray cloud occludes the eclipse for a few seconds, it will not be a show stopper!

Clear sky for the eclipse is what everyone wants. But I am willing to settle for a mostly clear day with fast moving clouds too.