Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Public Outreach

As a "Solar Eclipse Expert" my input is often sought after by journalists. The reach out via email and ask for phone interviews, video shoots, quotes, and so on. Sometimes I respond and the results can be interesting. Here are two recent articles where I consented to phone interviews.

We eclipse chasers can be difficult to interview. Terminology is important to us. Spelling is important (it is Baily, not Bailey!). Safety is important to us. And this can sometimes put us in conflict with the published result. An example is the use of a picture showing unsafe viewing of the Sun. Too often stock footage is used where people are seen using various things to view block out the Sun that are not recommended. The only recommended item is a solar filter, a modern one, that meets international standards. Sun glasses, CDs, film, and so on are simply not safe for a variety of reasons.

I have great respect for journalists. I used to write regular articles in magazine about subjects I knew intimately. As a result I did not have to interview people and try to understand what they were saying. Too often I have had experiences where journalists do an interview and then write what they understood or thought they understood. The result can be something that is wrong in one way or another. Should we blame that on modern education? Or our inability to clear communicate what we mean? Either way, the gap exists and one must be careful about what one reads.

See more Eclipse Cartoons at

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Coming to America?

Solar Eclipse Conference 2014 (New Mexico USA)
Eclipse chasers are an international community. Because eclipse chasing involves travel all around the world it is necessary to navigate the international travel visas, restrictions, and so on to get to the eclipse path. Sometimes getting a visa is not an easy situation, which can be greatly exasperated when the eclipse is only visible inside of one country - and that country imposes restrictions. I first encountered that when going to the USSR in 1981 to a total solar eclipse. The authorities (on both sides) were not easy to convince. To get into the USSR required invitations (granted to eclipse travel groups) and then individual visas. On arrival our equipment was carefully checked and recorded. Oddly they did not check serial numbers and so on as we left. But it was still a bit of an uneasy situation.

Well, this summer's TSE only touches the USA and for many eclipse chasers, this presents a problem. Several eclipse chasers have been denied visas (after filling out the proper forms and visiting the embassy) and of course, there is a travel ban for people from a certain set of countries.

We experienced our own difficulties trying to bring two friends from the West Indies (Jamaica). They filled out the DS-160 (an exhaustive multiple page web form), paid the fee of US $160, scheduled a visit to the embassy, and then went to visit the embassy. At the embassy, officers asked a variety of questions including "Why do you want to see the eclipse?" (a rather stupid question from an eclipse chasers point of view yet perfectly valid one from someone who doesn't know about eclipses). The result was that one was granted a visa, the other was not. And the really odd thing was that the gentleman rejected was told to apply for a work visa (he does not want to work in the USA, just visit and see a total solar eclipse).

I have heard of other eclipse chasers having trouble getting visas to come visit the USA and see the eclipse from countries such as Ireland, Romania, and others. Most of the time, visas are granted but for a small number of unfortunate people, getting one is proving very difficult.

Of course, there are also eclipse chasers from a small set of countries are automatically rejected due to difficulties vetting people from those lands.  The situation is very unfortunate since other options are simply do not exist. (Ships and planes would have to come near to the USA border but not enter.) I just hope that issue can be cleared up in time for the eclipse. It would be tragic if astronomers could not come due solely to their country of origin. Most scientists are not political (until funding or tenure is involved) thus it is difficult to comprehend.

If you are reading this blog entry and have any ideas on how to help people stuck in the visa situation, please leave a comment or contact me directly. There are others out there facing the same problem so your input might be just what they need to get to totality in August.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Cartoons pages

I have added a new feature to the eclipse-chasers web site. Cartoons!

A couple years ago I started to doodle some cartoons related to solar eclipses. After showing them at a solar eclipse conference (SEC2014) I was encouraged to assemble them into a book, now available and called Eclipse Nuts.

But I did not stop drawing after making a book, so I needed a way to release these visions to the general public to be used and abused by eclipse chasers around the world. The result - a new web page sequence that I will be adding to every couple days.

So far I have about 30 cartoons posted, with short descriptions about each. Let me know if you have any ideas for other cartoons or silly eclipse stories to share. Most of these cartoons are based on real people and real events, just embellished a bit for humor purposes. Hope you enjoy them.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

TSE 2017 from balloons, drones, and rockets

People are proposing some pretty absurd ideas about this upcoming eclipse. Some want to photograph the ground from up in the air with their drones or from balloons or rockets. I want to take a stand against these notions. What follows are my reasons.

1) You should really watch the solar eclipse, not worry about some aerial contraption.
2) It is not nice to block the view of someone else watching the eclipse.
3) There is a possibility of something going wrong.
4) There is even the possibility of something going horribly wrong.
5) The solar eclipse is pretty cool, watch it!

Drones Last View during a Solar Eclipse - Bill Kramer

A kick start type of project was started not long ago for balloon observations of the ground during the eclipse. This has been done before for scientific purposes. See my list of solar eclipse observations from the air. It was also done in 2006 for tourists in Turkey using hot air balloons.

Several people have expressed interest in flying drones during the eclipse. This is a really bad idea. The eclipse is cool, the eclipse happens, you will suffer some sort of issue no matter how practiced you are. Set the drone down and watch the eclipse instead.

Eclipse drone attacks! - Bill Kramer

Another project is to fly a weather balloon near the eclipse path photographing the ground. The idea is to try to detect the "edge" of the shadow. This has some value to cartographers trying to model the same. You see, there is a MAJOR difference between being inside the path of totality and being outside. In addition, eclipse observations at this dividing line are assisting in refinements to the visual solar diameter.

And then there are rocket opportunists wanting to launch during totality and take images. I am very concerned about this sort of activity except by professionals who know what they are doing. Rocket trails into the sky could obscure some observers and that makes me even more concerned. So my advice when asked is not to do anything like that. Would you shoot a rocket up during a sporting match while your favorite team is scoring the winning points? (If you answer yes to that, please leave me a comment letting us know where you will be so we can be far away!)

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Is your hotel reservation okay?

Update March 27 - Hey check this story out! Oregon Hotels canceling reservations and raising prices under investigation.

Want to hear an eclipse chaser horror story? Imagine making a reservation a year before an eclipse, getting a great rate on a room that the hotelier doesn't know sits in a good location only to find out your reservation did not exist when you called to make a minor modification? The horror! Months before the eclipse, almost every place sold out, outrageous rates for the remaining locations and you don't have a reservation that you thought you had just a few minutes before!

This happened just recently according to a story circulating the web. Kind of makes one nervous. Especially if the story matches in any way with what you have done for reservations. To remove that fear, simply check your reservation with the hotel directly.

The story has prompted some to give up reservations too. So you might want to look into finding out if any cancellations have come in at a place you thought might have filled up earlier. Worth a long shot to check every couple of weeks from now on too unless they tell you they have a waiting list already - at which point join it!

The night before the eclipse could be hectic with people seeking rooms. If you plan to arrive late at your room make sure it will be there when you arrive by calling ahead and requesting a late check in. Most hotels will honor that commitment.

I hope everything runs smoothly though. It will be a great day for many to see a wonderful eclipse of the Sun by the Moon!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

March 7 1970 memories

A lot of eclipse chasers were recently sharing memories of the March 7, 1970 total solar eclipse that went up the eastern seaboard of the USA. Like this summer's eclipse, the path could be accessed by many living in near by large cities. And thus many did.

From some well know experts in eclipse chasing from the Solar Eclipse Mailing List on Yahoo:

  • I watched that same eclipse on TV, with Frank Reynolds of ABC doing the "play by play" of it, while I was sitting in the den of the fraternity house I was a member of at USC, in my sophomore year there.....   I had always wanted to see a total in person, but had had no clue as to how to actually go to see one....
  • For various reasons we ended up in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn near Cape Charles. I think it has since been taken over. It was not the existing Holiday Inn further north. If necessary, weather-wise, we would drive south on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, which had just re-opened after having been attacked by a ship! However, the weather was absolutely perfect! There were white sheets from the motel beds in the back of a truck, on which shadow bands were quite evident. I have a set of slides, with fixed exposure. As it gets dark, the slides get dark on the outside scene, but the lights inside the motel room windows start getting brighter! And of course, during totality, cars with headlights on drove happily in both directions on the highway beside the motel!

My own experience with that particular eclipse is less dramatic. I was unable to attend totality because I was involved in a swim meet that weekend. My only view was wearing a Speedo walking out front of the natatorium with a solar filter. I was in Ohio, so it was only a deep partial, yet I was not going to miss it. The result was a view through partly cloudy sky and a thorough tongue lashing from my coach. It was March, in Ohio, there was still some snow on the grown, and to make things worse, I almost missed my event. No one knew where I had gone and I barely made it back to the pool deck in time to swim. I will say this, I remember the water feeling nice and warm.

This summer's eclipse occurs on a Monday and I do hope many are able to get out school or work and see it. Even the partial is fun to see.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Eclipse 2017 - To Photograph or Not (Part 5)

If you have read the previous posts, we reached the point where you decided to photograph it. No more debate on that point. Now the question has come up about using a smart phone.

I am going to state right away that my experience with a smart phone is minimal. The lens size is too small to do any good. It is kind of smart but does not account for a smart user, one that knows what settings will work. And that bloody autofocus simply will not cut it.

So the first thing I've learned is that if you want to use a smart phone and it does not allow for settings where the user is controlling the smarts, forget it. Use it to get people pictures before and after. And do make sure that flash is set of always off.

It is pretty amazing what a small lens and chip can "see" though. Wide field images are great while close ups may be relying a bit too much on software to clean up the image. There are also attachments for the phones to add a macro lens on the front. This increases the magnification of the system. Lunar experiments show it has a strong potential to achieve satisfactory results.

I am interested in seeing the results after this next eclipse. Are you an eclipse chaser yet?

But let me toss out a few cautions and tips.

  • Turn off the flash. Cover it with black electrical tape just to be sure.
  • Be aware of what and who is around you.
  • Set the screen brightness to minimum for totality.
  • Don't hold the camera up in the air, hold it steady in front of you.
  • Being seated lets you use your knees to help keep the camera steady.
  • The flash is a real problem, make sure it is off.
  • Experiment by taking pictures of the Moon to learn approximate settings.
  • A decent image of the gibbous to full moon phase is a good setting for the diamond ring.
  • The settings from a good image of the thin crescent moon phase works for a nice corona.
  • No selfies during totality, you are missing the eclipse!
  • To show lots of corona, use the settings of a good image of the earth shine.
  • Make sure you have plenty of battery power before the eclipse starts.
  • Turn off the flash. Really.

There are also after market mounts to help hold the smart camera phone steady. If you are going to shoot longer exposures or make a movie then you really want to have one.

Making a short movie with the smart phone could be fun. Showing people as shadows against the brighter sky and hearing the comments is pretty easy to set up. Just start the movie mode and mount the camera in a sturdy way behind you. It should catch your reactions and the eclipse sky.

Above all, don't get obsessed with taking pictures during totality. Experience it!