Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Columbus Astronomical Society - Eclipse presentation

On Saturday 9 July I will be speaking at Perkins Observatory which hosts the Columbus Astronomical Society (Ohio). The topic - eclipses of course!

Meetings are open to visitors so if you are in the area on the 9th of July, come on up. Meeting starts at 8pm. For directions to Perkins Observatory, see the web site. Your GPS may not get you there since it sits in a forested area in the middle of a golf course.

Perkins Observatory is a cool place to visit any time. Public programs and special presentations are listed on the website. Perkins Observatory has a great history. Big Ear radio telescope, the 69" telescope, and much more used to be deeply involved in astronomical research. When the 69" was moved to darker and better sky out west it was replaced with a 30" that is still used for teaching and basic research. Visitors can also enjoy a museum of astronomy that has an impressive collection of model rockets on display. The director, Tom Burns, is a rocket enthusiast. He is also a great guy to meet if you get the chance.

Some years ago I was president of the society and it is an excellent group of astronomy enthusiasts. I am really looking forward to the presentation and renewing some long time friendships. Since moving to the West Indies I have not been an active member so it will fun to check things out.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Where can you get Eclipse Nuts?

There are only a few places you can purchase your own copy of Eclipse Nuts.

First is online, at an eStore set up by the print-on-demand company CreateSpace. Click here for the Eclipse Nuts ordering page. They are US$20 each plus shipping. You will have to set up an account at Create Space and many of you already have one if you ordered Fred Espenak's book(s) about the eclipses. (Fred is the one that turned me on to the web site print-on-demand.)

Second, the store at GreatAmericanEclipse.Com will have copies for sale. You can order a copy in conjunction with the great eclipse stuff they have for sale (maps, shirts, hats, pins, books, posters, and a lot more).

I'd like to mention that the cartooning has not stopped. I am still creating more and there will be another Eclipse Nuts coming soon. Drawing is a lot of fun if you don't worry about the technical details....

Up the entire night before, all set up, completely wired, red filters on glasses, everything charged - ahh, eclipse chasing!

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Eclipse Nuts - announcement

It is done! My first real "self published" book about eclipses.

And this book is unique. It is unlike any other eclipse book you may have seen before. This is a book of eclipse cartoons poking fun at eclipse chasing and astronomers.

At the most recent TSE in Indonesia a group of eclipse chasing experts were talking about self publishing. As a former author of computer programming books and a long time magazine contributing editor I was very intrigued and joined the conversation. The industry has evolved a lot since the days when I wrote books and at the prodding of two of my friends I started to put together a set of my cartoons (doodles) to be self-published.

The result is Eclipse Nuts.
The cover of Eclipse Nuts - available now from Create Space (an Amazon company).

I like drawing doodles. When inspired by something that strikes a funny nerve in me, I act it out in a doodle.  I have a strange sense of humor. Sometimes I do what I heard or saw directly but most of the time the doodles are an extension of my bizarre way of seeing things. Things like extreme eclipse chasers strapping rockets to themselves do not really exist except in the imagination.

So here is where you can go to buy a copy of the book. 

The e-store and Amazon.Com are the only places you can purchase a copy. They are printed on demand. When you place an order, the machines go to work and produce a brand new copy of the book. It is then sent to you arriving in just a few days.

Over 100 cartoons are included in the book for only US$20 (plus shipping). That is better than 5 cartoons to the dollar that you can enjoy over and over again. I like to use them to answer those standard questions I hear all the time. Somehow a cartoon gets the point across best in many cases. I also use them when doing eclipse lectures to spice up powerpoint presentations.

Once I had a prototype of the book ready, Fred Espenak gave it a look and immediately suggested the name "Eclipse Nuts". It took all of a few seconds for me to like it and that is how the name was born. Originally I had a longer name like "Eclipse Chasers are funny people" however you have to admit, Eclipse Nuts sums it up better.

By the way, I am still creating newer cartoons all the time. If enough copies of this book sell, I will produce another one. The creative juices are not empty. Especially when it comes to my favorite hobby of astronomy and eclipses.

Clear sky!

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.