Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Book of doodles coming soon

I just uploaded a book (102 pages) of cartoons/doodles related to eclipses and astronomy to a web site called CreateSpace where they print on demand. That is, if you give them a little money, they will print a copy and send it to you plus they will share a bit of that money with me. Saves printing a bunch and trying to sell them door to door. The Internet is really a wonderful place. Plus only really interested people will demand a copy, that's a couple hundred at best I figure. It was all in good fun at the urging of Fred Espenak and Michael Zeiler, two eclipse chasing experts that are frequent targets of my silly doodles.

Many of the doodles have appeared in various lectures by myself and other chasers. Some were requested and others just came to me as funny ideas. At the Solar Eclipse Conference in 2014 a lot of the doodles were used to introduce the various speakers and topics. Expert eclipse chasers appreciated the humorous look at their hobby or vocation.

When the book is ready for demanding I will post a link at the main web site as well as a note here in the blog. In the mean time, get ready to get to totality in August 2017!

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Transit of Mercury - 2016 - a rare and boring solar system event

Maybe boring is too strong a word. Or maybe I just undersold the event to local friends. No one showed up to take a look except the gardener (and that was the first time he'd ever looked through a telescope). Oh well, I got to hog the eyepiece the entire time! Using my 8" SkyQuest (from Orion) and a full aperture solar filter, I watched for a little over an hour.

Is a Transit of Mercury worth travel to see? Maybe for some, but not for me.

Holding my iPhone to the eyepiece I snapped a couple images. The first shows the full disk of the Sun. Mercury is the tiny dot at the 1:20 position (12:00 is up) about half way from the center to the edge. There are several sunspot groups visible too. This is the view through the 40mm eyepiece.

Amazed by the success of holding the phone/camera to the eyepiece I upped the magnification by putting a 10mm eyepiece in. Mercury is on the top and a sunspot group is visible towards the bottom. 

Below is the set up area. I am in the lower left of the image with my telescope. While it looks windy, it is not too bad. The prevailing winds have blown the palms to look like it is always windy.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Is that Mercury?

The upcoming transit of Mercury (9th of May) falls at a great time. It can be seen, at least partially, across much of Asia, Europe, Africa, North & South America. Sorry Australia, you miss out on this one.

For details, see:

Like a partial solar eclipse, observing the transit requires looking at the Sun. Looking at the Sun is a dangerous  activity without the proper equipment. If you don't have a proven solar observing system in place, then seek out someone that does to see the transit.

So what makes up a proven solar observing system?
McMath-Pierce Solar Observatory

How about Solar (Eclipse) Glasses? - Not good enough. You will need magnification to see the Mercury transit.

Mercury is very small. Even at the closest point it is only 1/150th of the size of the Sun. That is too small to see. The human eye can resolve about 1-2 arc minutes at best (ref.). The Sun ends up being about half a degree (30 arc minutes, 1800 arc seconds) in size up in the sky. Mercury is a mere 12 arc seconds.

You will need a telescope.

Please remember, solar glasses are NOT TO BE USED WITH A TELESCOPE.

Solar filter on a telescope?
Might be good enough, with some magnification. You will need about 50x to see the dot clearly. Higher magnification reveals a small disk. And it can be easily mistaken for a sun spot.

My favorite method of observing a transit is to use a projection set up. Any telescope, carefully monitored, can be used to produce a clear image of the solar disk. Practice is always recommended and be careful. Having the telescope pointed at the Sun is potentially dangerous and should be done in short intervals to avoid heating the optics or tube too much. Use extreme caution.

Transit of Venus projection

The transit is a rare event. Only a dozen or so times per century can one see Mercury go across the Sun. If you have a proven solar observing system or know someone who does, try to catch on the 9th of May. In Jamaica it will be taking place shortly after sunrise. We normally have clear sky in the morning so I hope to get a few images. They will be posted to this blog of course!

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.