Monday, 31 August 2015

TSE 2016 where to go?

In March there will be a total solar eclipse visible in the Pacific Ocean. It starts in Indonesia and crosses numerous islands before going to sea for the remainder of the path.

So where are you going to be? We are going to be on board the Vollendam in Indonesian waters. The mobility of the cruise ship and luxury method of seeing the sights combine to make this an exciting opportunity. My last visit to Indonesia was in 1983 for a solar eclipse. This was also my wife's first total and thus it has special significance to us. It will be interesting to see how much Indonesia has changed since then. Plus the ship will visit places we have never been before.

I guess we are continuing a trend too. This coming eclipse will be the first for our younger daughter's husband. In 2012 we took our other daughter and her husband to the eclipse in the South Pacific. Seeing an eclipse from shipboard is one of our favorite methods!

If you are interested in joining us, let me know, there are still cabins available.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Eclipse 2016: Wide angle

For the total solar eclipse of March 2016 we will be on board a ship in Indonesian waters. Shipboard photography of a total solar eclipse is not as "straight forward" as land based photography. The platform is moving under you and that means that the camera is not going to track the eclipse unless you come up with a mount that counters such movements.

Some tips for photographing eclipses at sea can be found by clicking here.

In the past I have always used longer focal length lenses (200mm on up to 1300mm) to get images of the corona and prominences. The view through the eyepieces of a good set of binoculars cannot be captured by modern cameras and after trying over a dozen times I have come to face this reality. I've seen numerous images that are the result of some post processing that attempt to capture that view, but sadly they fail even though they are magnificent.

2015 Eclipse composite image by Fred Espenak, Mr Eclipse
In 2012 I tried to catch a wide angle view with a hand held camera and the results were quite interesting.

2012 Total Solar Eclipse at sea, wide angle lens
Thus I have decided that for the next eclipse I want to use a wide angle and capture the atmosphere of the eclipse. And to do that I thought video would be best. Previous eclipses have been captured using the GoPro camera and these videos show the fantastic changes that take place all around you during totality. And by shooting wide angle, the movement of the ship is not longer an issue. Sure, you will see the background and eclipsed Sun moving, but just a little. The key is to catch people in the foreground as well as the sounds they make during the eclipse.

With luck a video can be made that captures the atmosphere of the eclipse. We'll see!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

What is the best way to watch a total solar eclipse?

What is the BEST WAY to watch a total solar eclipse?

The best way to watch an eclipse is under clear sky. Beyond that I find that being in a seated position is not a bad idea either. This prevents one from blocking the view of others (I am 6'8" and am keenly aware of these sorts of things) and from tripping over a tripod (nerd fight).

So this leads one to question what exactly is the best chair for watching an eclipse. Well, again the answer is not all that straight forward since it depends on how high up the eclipsed Sun is during totality and whether or not you have equipment such as a camera to operate.

Deck chairs work great
Denise recommends deck chairs for the comfort and angle of view. They are designed for Sun worshipers and require being on board a cruise ship.

Just watch
When just watching the eclipse, almost any chair will do fine. Just make certain you have a view of the Sun and nothing blocking it (except for the Moon of course). Using a small telescope or binoculars is highly recommended to enhance the view. The easiest way to use any mounted optic is to be seated in a "normal chair".

Don't block the view!
If you are seated in a chair make sure those in front of you agree to remain seated too. Or just take advantage of that situation and get a sky plus shadows shot. The eclipse atmosphere is fun to capture.

Just watch with automated cameras
Modern astronomers prefer to use automated camera systems. They like the idea of sitting and watching while the cameras do their thing unattended. This requires a lot of trust in your equipment (remember, things WILL go wrong) and careful planning. When done well, the rewards can be amazing.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

2017 Eclipse planning meeting

This past weekend a meeting took place of eclipse enthusiasts and experts in Portland, Oregon. Hosted by the AAS (American Astronomical Society) the meeting featured many of the leading experts in eclipse prediction, mapping, education, and science.

I wish I could have gone but the timing did not work out well. All in all, the sessions were reported as productive with many ideas being put forth and actual plans emerging. Look for details in the next year as all the eclipse chasers get in gear!

Here is an article written by Richard Fienberg (AAS) for Sky & Telescope about the event:

Monday, 24 August 2015

Is this your first solar eclipse?

Is this your first total solar eclipse? If so, don't over do it! Plan to be someplace to watch it and have a back up plan of another location if the weather is not conducive to viewing. You really want a totally clear day with no clouds, will settle for a mostly clear sky with a few clouds, and will be a nervous wreck otherwise.

Do Not Miss the Eclipse!
The weather on eclipse day is the single most important element you need to be concerned about. And the only thing you can do is try to locate a place with the best chances for clear sky.

What you do not want to do is overwhelm yourself with too much equipment. Having too much equipment means you will need extra time to set up (and tear down if moving to a different location at the last minute). Anything more than a camera or a telescope or a set of binoculars is too much. I speak from experience. It was not until my fifth total solar eclipse that I was able to operate multiple pieces of equipment without my hands shaking.

Relaxing before eclipse starts

Eclipse 1991, Baja Mexico, Questar prime focus

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Eclipse 2017 - Past Weather analysis

Studying the past weather can give us clues as to places where our chances of a clear sky are best. It also humbles us to the possibility of not seeing the eclipse due to weather related problems (clouds).

Without question, the authority on eclipse weather is Jay Anderson. Read his expert analysis here.

Web sites with up to date weather data.

Don't just focus on the specific day of the eclipse in years past, look at the week surrounding.

Time specific data is best. Generalizations of the day can be misleading. Most of the central part of the USA will experience totality around local noon when the Sun is highest in the sky. This is often a time when weather data is recorded. It helps if you can figure out when the data was recorded to know just how close to eclipse time it might actually be.

When studying weather maps the key is to remember that you want to forecast where the clouds are going to avoid them. The further out into the future you forecast, the less accurate you are going to be in this task. Computer models that look at such things have been developed and one of the best for astronomers is a tool known as the Clear Sky Clock. This is a cool tech tool and may require a bit of time to figure out how to use it best. Our local astronomical society uses the Clear Sky Clock and it has been fairly reliable at predicting clear holes for observing sessions. The idea would be to find observatories and astronomy clubs along the line of totality who have Clear Sky Clock links. From them you could learn about possible observing sites.

Or you can go with plan B...

Plan B: Consult a fortune teller

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Eclipse Weather - the days before

Climate analysis ends as the eclipse date gets closer and you are in the best position possible. Now it becomes important to study the weather reports. And dream about clear weather, no matter what it takes!

When Eclipse Chasers Daydream
Positioning oneself on the central path the day (or two) before brings about peaceful sleep when the weather is favorable. You know that the next morning will be sunny and clear, and that the eclipse will be seen. On the other hand, unless you have a back up plan and are ready to implement it, bad weather can cause restless sleep - or no sleep at all as you reposition.

No one can tell you with absolute certainty what the weather will be until just hours before the eclipse. Even then, the cooling effect of the lunar shadow on the Earth's atmosphere may make things behave in a different way.

Do you have one that can forecast weather?
Here's a tip for dealing with the cooling effect. Pay attention to how the weather changes in the region of interest at sunrise and sunset. Sunset kind of mimics the shadow cooling effect. If clouds typically form around this time, then the location in question may not be the best as the eclipse comes on.

You can practice your weather predicting, especially now that the eclipse is just under two years away. Look at the weather maps and satellite views today. Try to predict where it will be clear along the eclipse tomorrow or in two days. Then check to see if you are right. A little practice goes a long way.

************************ If the eclipse had occurred yesterday ********************
We had clear sky along the majority of the eclipse track for August 21, 2015. If the eclipse took place then a lot of us would have rejoiced in the weather! Of course, past performance does not indicate future performance. We have two years to wait.