Friday, 28 December 2012

Updates to the pages

You may not notice the changes. I will just say they were plentiful. Google maps API was updated some time ago and the version originally used at was based on an older version. Google informed all webmaster that the older version will soon be unavailable thus the coding the adventure began.

The original coding was a hack of the examples provided for google maps. As new tricks were learned they were applied and the result can be best described as a hack job. This coding run allowed me to look at all that code again and make some adjustments.

At the user interface level there are few changes you will notice - however; if you spot an error or problem in the code - please let me know so I can correct it!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The South Pacific Part 1

We are back from the South Pacific. Anyone reading the sequence of blog entries here should be keenly aware that no new additions were made during our journey. Turned out that the iPad was not a good choice to bring along for doing these things. I should have packed a laptop. Even so, when would I have gotten a chance to report any more details here?

Our journey began easy enough. After preparing in Ohio we flew to Los Angeles and were joined by our daughter and son-in-law (Alexandria and Matt). We then flew overnight to Fiji loosing a day as the plane flew over the International Dateline.

Landing just before dawn in Fiji we quickly cleared customs and proceeded to the First Landings resort. The resort was a quick drive from the airport and is located where the first Fijians are reputed to have landed on the island. Situated near the ports and a beautiful marina the resort has a fine swimming pool plus lush gardens. The villas are exceptionally nice with private pools and yards. It was a great place to revitalize after a long flight from the USA.

Our next stop was the luxury cruise ship Paul Gauguin. With a passenger capacity of 330 or so and a crew numbering almost the same the ship set sail to the west and south towards New Caledonia. On board lectures (even one by me) were well attended with about half the passengers claiming to have never seen a total solar eclipse before. Other passengers reported seeing several in the past. It was the normal for an eclipse cruise - an eclectic collection of people all interested in one thing, seeing an eclipse of the Sun.

Luxury cruising is always fun for those that can do it. It is important to realize that the vessel is moving almost every night (and some days) making those prone to motion illness vulnerable. The Paul Gauguin is one of the nicest ships we have ever had the privilege to be on. The service is above the board, top level, and sincerely friendly. The crew quickly learns your name and forever have a friendly greeting. And the food is excellent. On board we were joined by other daughter Melissa and our long time friend Nancy. Everyone was excited for this once in a lifetime journey until the ship started to move.

Motion sickness coupled with long distance travel is not pleasant. Modern medicine has several solutions and it was not long before everyone was enjoying the beauty of the sea and luxury cruise travel.

On our way to the eclipse site we stopped at an island off the coast of New Caledonia that is known as the Isle de Pines. A rocky coast line with tall pine trees shooting up next to coconut trees. More on that later as I get some pictures ready to share.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Eclipse Cartoons

(c)2012 Bill Kramer
I have been having a lot of fun drawing eclipse cartoons and instead of posting them one at a time here, I have created a library on to host them. Click here to see the entire library of eclipse related cartoons.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Charge your Battery (Eclipse cartoon)

(c)2012 Bill Kramer
Minutes before totality is NOT the time to learn that your battery is almost dead. It pays to have a spare, fully charged battery ready to go at those times.

Before totality, prolonged exposure to the heat of the Sun and use of the camera may chew up a lot of the power quickly. Be prepared, have an extra battery or refrain from using the camera too much. Keep an eye on that power meter!

Friday, 12 October 2012

Solar Eclipse reveals those who sleep in (Eclipse cartoon)(c)

(c)2012 Bill Kramer
Sleeping in and missing the morning sun god prayers has consequences this day as an eclipse falls across some ancient civilization (see the pyramids). Yes, the guys look kind of Roman and kind of Mexican... it is a universal thing.

Packing for the Eclipse (Eclipse Cartoon)

(c)2012 Bill Kramer
Packing for an eclipse trip is a balancing act. You need to take along extra clothing and the airlines impose weight and bag count limits. I recommend carrying on all the optical equipment and cameras. The tripods and mounts can be packed. Just keep in mind that you will want a change of clothes. This is especially true when going to an eclipse by cruise ship where dining is semi formal.

Tip: Use clothes to wrap the equipment in the suitcase instead of bubble wrap or foam. Cases are not needed when the contents are wrapped carefully and placed well in the luggage.

Tip: If you have really advanced equipment, leave the inspector a clear diagram and note informing them what everything is. You might also include your cell phone number should they have any questions. The note can be placed in the luggage near the top.

Tip: Your expensive optics and cameras are NOT safe going through checked luggage. Think of them as jewelry and carry them on.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Do Not Forget to Look (Eclipse cartoon)

(c)2012 Bill Kramer
A total solar eclipse is an awesome event. For the astronomy buff, the desire to try capturing an image or video is immense. And if the event is taking place near by you can bring a lot of equipment along. And of course, the more imaging equipment you intend to use, the less time you have to just observe. The important thing to remember is that you really want to SEE the eclipse. Spending the entire time imaging it is not the same as actually experiencing it with your own eyes. When setting up an eclipse run, plan some time to just look and don't miss the "wow!" moments.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Do Not Overheat (Eclipse cartoon)

(c)2012 Bill Kramer
There is just over an hour between first and second contact. Even though there is an eclipse going on, you and your equipment are taking in a lot of sunshine. To protect yourself, use sunscreen and drink plenty of liquids. Your equipment should be shaded when not in use.

Modern electronics are able to endure a wide range of temperatures but they are still subject to over heating when left in the direct sunlight. Experiments with a modern camera/video recorder had repeated problems when recording sunsets after as little as half an hour of pre-sunset direct exposure. Simply keeping the camera out of the direct sunlight during the same intervals prevented those problems.

When moving optics from an air conditioned environment to the outside one must also be aware of humidity changes as well as the temperature. Cameras and telescopes need to adapt to the surrounding temperature to perform at optimum capacity.

Thus it is highly recommended to set up your equipment before first contact (or shortly after) and cover it with an umbrella or a light colored towel to keep it in the shade.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

No Flash Photography! (Eclipse cartoon)

(c)2012 Bill Kramer
Taking a picture of everyone using a flash camera is simply not a good idea. The flash blinds people for a few seconds and that is very bad during a total solar eclipse. Anyone who was wearing an eyepatch will instantly loose the dark adaptation they spent all that time to achieve. The photograph will not look all the interesting either - that is, if your camera survives the after photograph attack.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Remove your filter (cartoon)

(c)2012 Bill Kramer
Remember! Before totality remove your solar filter. When using an automatic camera set up it is easy to forget. And when forgotten, is very frustrating, and you will become an anti-celebratant in the post eclipse party. So don't forget to remove your solar filter just before totality.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Eclipse Maps 2012

Strongly recommended: Total Solar Eclipse of November 14, 2012 by Michael Zeiler

Enhanced Maps and Observer Information

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

A lot of eyeballs

100,000 visitors have been to since Feb of 2012. Thanks!

During this time period there was an annular solar eclipse visible in the USA and that accounts for about a quarter of the visitors. The majority of visitors are from the USA with Australia running in second. And that makes sense because the next total solar eclipse visible will be next month, in North East Australia.

Visitors from through out the USA

How did I track the visitors? Ever notice that globe in the lower right corner? Click on it to go to the Revolver Maps website. For the use of a cool globe with dots they also provide basic demographic information about the web site. Don't worry, they don't grab email addresses or do anything evil (that I can detect). Of course, if they do, just let know and that funky globe goes away.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Eclipse Photography

One of the most frequently referenced sections in is the Photography section. Some time ago a request was made to convert that information into a portable document and this past month I've been learning about ePub documents while working with the web site contents. The result is a new book you can download to your tablet computer (such as an iPad). If you get a chance to download and read it, please let me know if you find anything missing or incorrect. One advantage of creating this as an ePub is that I can continuously update it as new information is learned.

eBook for tablet computers
Here is a direct link to the ePub document.

You can visit my newest web page ( for hosting this (and other) documents where you will find PDF as well as ePub files. PDF is not as fancy looking but it contains the same information.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Alan Fiala - Eclipse Chaser

I had the pleasure to meet Dr. Alan Fiala in the Soviet Union in 1981. He had joined our eclipse chasing group going to Bratsk, in Siberia. This was an unusual time for an American to be in the USSR and even stranger was this humped scientist from the US Naval Observatory. The customs and immigration people were not amused by his video equipment labeled property of the US Navy. His carefully prepared maps showing his desired set up locations were viewed with suspicion.

Setting up the video recording camera in 1981 in Tasmania for the Annular Solar Eclipse

Dr Alan Fiala attempted to verify the size of the Sun using Solar Eclipses. He was attempting to detect small changes in the solar diameter by timing eclipses and 'beads' from the North or South edge of the eclipse path.

During the eclipse in the USSR he attempted to deviate from the plans of our Soviet hosts. While he was not with our group where we set up, he did not make it to the edge of the path that time.

Alan Fiala's Eclipse Log
Obituary NASA ADS

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Explaining Eclipse Circumstances to the General Public

A recent question came up on the Solar Eclipse Mailing List, an email forum for eclipse enthusiasts. It has to do with relating the circumstances of a partial eclipse to the general public using the fewest terms possible. This is often required for press releases.

Solar Eclipse calculations produce a value called the eclipse magnitude. This is NOT the brightness of the eclipse. The eclipse magnitude is simply a fraction of how much of the Sun's diameter will be covered by the Moon. A magnitude of 0.5 means that the edge of the Moon is at the center of the Sun. The thing is, while magnitude is a simple concept, it requires explanation. As a result a more common term used is obscuration which refers to the area of the solar disk that is covered or obscured by the lunar disk.  If 50% of the solar disk is covered, the actual lunar edge is past the center of the Sun.

Eclipse Magnitude
As can be seen in the figure above, the edge of the Moon is half way across the Sun. Yet more than half of the solar disk is still visible. Thus the Sun is less than half obscured.

The obscuration is how much of the solar surface area is covered. It can be calculated directly from the Magnitude using trigonometry. An explanation for the calculation of obscuration given the magnitude is provided at

It is important to remember that the angular size of the lunar and solar disks are slightly different. During an annular eclipse, the angular size of the Sun is larger. During a total solar eclipse the angular size of the Sun is smaller than that of the Moon.

As a general rule of thumb, when the eclipse magnitude is 0.6 (60% of the solar diameter covered) then just about half of the solar disk has been covered.

So which term makes more sense to use when describing eclipse circumstances to the general public?

Some prefer to tell how much area has been covered (obscuration) while others prefer the amount of the solar diameter covered (magnitude).

My personal favorite is to explain both if given the time. Yet the question is how to describe the eclipse circumstances for someplace using the fewest terms that will make sense to the reader. "XX% of the solar diameter is covered" uses few words than "XX% of the solar surface area is covered" but requires an understanding of the term diameter. I'd like to think that most readers of such a press release would know what the term diameter means.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

40 years ago

It was 40 years ago yesterday that I saw my first total solar eclipse. Yet it does not seem to be that long ago. I can clearly remember and visualize the corona and diamond ring as seen from the decks of the Olympia in the North Atlantic. For that eclipse I had brought along a small telescope (f/10 4.25 Edmund reflector) and a camera with a zoom lens. Even though totality was just a few minutes I managed to finish a roll of film during mid-totality. That allowed me to spend the rest of the time just watching and well, it was quite a view. This is why I strongly recommend not getting lost in the camera equipment for a first eclipse experience. Simply enjoy it!

Here is a report about the cruise from the folks that organized it. Additional links at the bottom of the page tell the saga of how it all came together. As a passenger on that voyage to darkness I can honestly say that they did it right!

Pictures and a brief write up of the Eclipse 72

The above picture is me in 1972 on board the ship. Bringing a small telescope of this size is not recommended on a ship unless it has a very wide field of view. To view the eclipse required constant manual correction. However, I can tell you that the view was totally excellent!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Eclipse Chasers - Total Addiction

A new book about Eclipses - well, really about Eclipse Chasers - is about to be released at Amazon. You can pre-order the book now. I've not seen it so I really can't comment on it - yet. Take a look at the listing here. While I am not sure I agree with the title, it is catchy and I suppose that is what publishers like in these sorts of things.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Video of the Transit

A video created by the cruise director (Michael Shapiro) of the Paul Gauguin about our experiences on the pier in Bora Bora.

It was quite a Transit Party!

Friday, 15 June 2012

Bora Bora Transit Day

Looking through the Hydrogen Alpha - Paul Gauguin cruise ship in background

Yes you can see a little dot on the Sun

After being educated by Virginia (ship's translator) some local kids look at Venus cross the Sun

Solar Viewers are great fun when something is going on with the Sun

Local craft vendor takes a peek

Our observing station on the tender pier in Bora Bora
Photographs sent in by Roger Langton, a passenger on the Paul Gauguin Transit of Venus cruise. While our observation platform may look isolated, it isn't and we had a constant stream of locals stopping by for a look at the Sun and the Transit of Venus.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Reports and Pictures

I've started a report and pictures page for the Transit of Venus 2012. So far I've received images from the Caribbean, Polynesia, USA, Europe, and Australia. This transit was widely observed from all corners of the Earth.

From our own vantage in Polynesia, it was interesting to also observe the reaction of various people. The kids that stopped by our observing site out of simple curiosity seemed to know very little about what was happening. They kept asking if an eclipse was taking place. I am not certain of this, but I believe that the term "transit" as applied in astronomy is not a direct translation to French. Perhaps the term eclipse is used instead making the questions they asked more reasonable. When the name Captain Cook was mentioned by the translator everyone understood what was going on and they went to get more friends to look through the scopes. Whether the connection was clearly made or not, I will never know.
Stage on the Paul Gauguin, a very nice presentation platform

Our fellow cruise passengers were a varied lot. I did a pre Transit of Venus presentation on board sharing information about the when, where, and how of the event. Some knew nothing about the upcoming event and were pleased to learn more. Some knew about it in detail and were on the cruise for the purpose of seeing the transit from French Polynesia.

What I found interesting as an eclipse chaser who has been on numerous cruises for eclipses was the lack of equipment brought along to photograph or observe the Transit of Venus. Other than Denise and myself (we brought a long focal length camera, hydrogen alpha telescope, and solar filters) no other cruise passengers were equipped. Fortunately, the telescopes on board the Paul Gauguin cruise ship were up to the task. The 10" had a full aperture solar filter producing very pleasing views of the solar disk replete with sunspots and the circular disk of Venus.

Captain Zupan inspects the telescopes during the transit

The 12" was put to task by projecting views of the transit. This turned out to be the most popular method by which most saw the event take place. We were able to watch ingress as a group and that was fun when it started exactly as predicted.

Josh Smith (Safety Officer) holds up the screen as the transit begins

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Southern Sky

While in French Polynesia we were treated to some awesome sky viewing in relatively light free sky. The only negative was the near full moon (there was a lunar eclipse early in the week) that rose up in the evening and took out the dimmer stars.

The Paul Gauguin cruise ship is equipped with two large reflecting telescopes (Orion 10 and 12). Add to that a knowledgable crew (with iPod apps if needed) with lots of experience and we have the makings of a great star party.

Here are some pictures of the night sky as we saw it. About an hour or two or three after sunset... click on the images for a better view. The most frequent item sought in the southern sky was the Southern Cross or Crux. It is easy to find as seen in the following images.

Southern Sky as seen in Tahiti (30 second exposure Sony NEX 5N)

Finding the Southern Cross

Constellations visible
I want to personally thank Megan, Lars, and Josh of the Paul Gauguin who organized and ran several star parties during our recent voyage. You guys are amazing and are doing a fantastic job. I've been involved in thousands of star gazing sessions and while a bit more advanced than your average cruiser, I was impressed with the smooth presentation and confidence in the subject demonstrated. Excellent job!

Pictures of a Transit

The Transit of Venus. Some images from Denise as I was too busy answering questions and repositioning telescopes. Denise spent a lot of time repositioning the hydrogen alpha telescope and was very busy the entire time as well. We saw most of the transit clearly until a bank of clouds (with rain) came in. Due to the haze in the air (being on an island in the South Pacific) we saw the tear drop effect quite clearly as seen in the following images.

More images can be found at

Monday, 4 June 2012

Partial Lunar Eclipse Photos

Denise was able to take some pictures of the partial lunar eclipse last night using our Canon 400mm telephoto lens (hand held) while I was leading a star gazing group on board the Paul Gauguin in French Polynesia. We had good views through thin clouds although the images do not show it.

Near mid eclipse - Denise Kramer 400mm (cropped)

The start of the eclipse - Denise Kramer (400mm cropped)
Now we are looking forward to seeing the Transit of Venus tomorrow morning. Weather is looking questionable however I am confident we will see it through holes in the clouds.

Friday, 1 June 2012


We have arrived in Tahiti to observe the partial lunar eclipse and the Transit of Venus. The weather is amazing with clouds hanging over the center of the islands but clear around the edges. Pictures will be coming soon.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

A different look

From the Moon. The Lunar Reconnoissance Orbiter camera recorded the following image of the Earth with the shadow of the Annular Solar Eclipse in May 2012.

Even though the Sun was shining around the Moon, there is a distinct shadow seen in the cloud tops as the shadow moves across the Northern Pacific Ocean.

Coronado Telescope Photography

Taking pictures of solar eclipses and transits is a challenge. And it becomes even more challenging when using a hydrogen alpha telescope such as the Coronado PST (40mm). The problem is that you cannot simply attach the camera body to the telescope. The focal plane is below the image plane.

To fix that situation I use negative projection. A Barlow lens is used between the camera body and the telescope. The Barlow lens extends the focal plane out further (increasing the resultant magnification by making the focal length longer).

Here is what the Transit of Venus looked like in 2004 through the camera. I had only a 2x Barlow lens and the camera body attached.

Full frame view with Coronado 40mm telescope and 2x Barlow lens negative projection.

Transit of Venus 2004 in Hydrogen Alpha (Coronado 40mm)

An excellent description of negative projection is provided here.

What is needed is a DSLR camera body, a Barlow lens, a T-adapter, a good mount to hold it all steady, and a cable release.

Anyone attempting to use this type of set up is strongly recommended to practice as much as possible. Focus is difficult, the amount of light you see through the DSLR viewer is reduced, and the weight of the camera attached to the rear makes balancing a challenge.

So here are a couple of tips.
1) Use a dark color blanket or towel to cover your head and the view through the camera. The darker the better as it will greatly aid in focusing and centering the image.
2) Use a strong mount - as strong as you can carry to the site. And plan to add counterweights as needed.
3) Fine adjustments to focus will be needed through out the event. Check and re-check the focus.
4) Remember to adjust the etalon to see different views of the prominences and filaments that may not be clearly visible through the camera.
5) Vary your exposures and combine the images later with a computer.
6) Have fun and don't forget to enjoy the views.

A solid mount is essential when photographing. The Orion German EQ used here pushed the luggage limits.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Preparing for Travel (again)

Here we go again. Off to another location to view an astronomical event. This time, the Transit of Venus.

The Transit of Venus is a "Not To Be Missed" event that is not very spectacular, just rare. There will not be another Transit of Venus until the year 2117. That's over 100 years from now in case you missed seeing that extra one in the year date.

We are going to Polynesia. The Paul Gauguin cruise ship leaves Saturday from the island of Tahiti. On Tuesday, when the Transit of Venus is visible, we will be on the island of Bora Bora with a small suite of telescopes. I will be the on board astronomy expert.

So now we are packing in preparation to leave soon. Or more correctly, Denise is packing. I've already packed the telescope and camera gear. Since returning from California there has not been a clear sky and the equipment never got completely unpacked.

Our telescope collection will include my 40mm Coronado solar telescope and a pair of Orion Dobsonian mount reflectors equipped with solar filters. I will be running the telescope show and assisted by Denise and several crew members of the ship.

The proposed set up location is at the tendering dock where cruise ship passengers embark and disembark. While waiting for the tenders they can take a look through the telescopes and see this very rare event take place.

The location will allow us to see the ingress shortly after noon. Egress will not be visible as the Sun will have set beforehand. Hopefully we can get some good timings of the ingress event to share with others at and

Clear sky!

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Next - Transit of Venus

The next shadow to cross the Sun will be that of the planet Venus. This event is similar to a solar eclipse however the shadow is a mere dot. At closest approach Venus is a mere 1/32 the size of the Sun when viewed from the surface of Earth.

The image below shows Venus crossing the Sun in 2004. A nice round dot against the solar surface. A Coronado hydrogen alpha telescope (40mm) was used with a digital camera (Canon) and Barlow lens to capture the image.

The last transit of Venus visible from Earth was in 2004. Prior to that, the last transit was in 1883. There were NO transits of Venus during the 20th century. That means no astronomer alive today had seen one prior to 2004.

Here we are, eight years later and another one is about to occur. That doesn't make them seem rare until you think about the fact that the next one will not be visible until the year 2117. That is over 100 years from now!

So if you are able to see it, do so. It is a once in a lifetime event (twice if you saw the 2004 transit). To find out what time it will be visible, visit the following web calculator site for the When given a location.

More information about the Transit of Venus can be found at: and

More Pictures from Mt Shasta Lake dam

Bill Kramer sharing the view through the 40mm Coronado Hydrogen Alpha Solar Telescope

Bill Kramer, Clint Werner, and Donald Abrams enjoy the eclipse view

My eclipse "chase" started with a contact from Clint and Donald about possibly coming to California to join them for the May 20th Annular Solar Eclipse. After talking it over with my wife, Denise, we decided to go for it. It was to be a week and a half before we leave for Polynesia to see the Transit of Venus (from the island of Bora Bora, not Tahiti like Captain Cook) and the air travel didn't suit my tastes, but hey, for an eclipse? Why not?!

Off we went to California. Clint and Donald had arranged a room for us in Anderson California and we were to decide on a viewing location the night before the eclipse based on weather reports. The entire area was showing clear sky potentials so we opted for an easy place to achieve - Mt. Shasta Lake Dam. A park area is well groomed near the dam and it was a perfect location for observing the eclipse. (see previous blog entries with pictures)

Clint and Donald's friends and business associates were also invited which turned out to be a very eclectic group. We had an impromptu picnic in the park with fresh food from a variety of sources and enjoyed our new group of friends.

An annular eclipse is normally not worth flying to see. That has been my rule of thumb in the past. I'd like to modify that with a corollary: except to join a group of eclipse chaser friends with many eclipse novices. It was worth a couple hours in an airplane for that. We enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Lots of good results

Seems that a good number of people were able to watch the eclipse on May 20th in the States. Pictures are appearing at a number of web sites and at we are seeing an increase in the number of new eclipse chasers being added to the log.

While an annular eclipse is not nearly as fascinating as a total solar eclipse, it is still a lot of fun to observe. Many of the people with us for the eclipse had never seen a solar eclipse, of any kind, that they could remember. For them, the annular was almost magical.

Now we are looking forward to the Transit of Venus. I will have some more notes about that appearing soon. Clear sky!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Great eclipse at Shasta Lake

We set up our gear with some friends at Shasta Lake near the dam that creates the lake. A beautiful setting with a nicely cut lawn, near by restrooms, and an amazing view.
Numerous friends from California joined us and we had a lovely day in the park, enjoyed a great picnic, and saw the entire eclipse.
A narrow walkway was where we set up the telescope and camera. The wall along the walkway was the perfect ledge to lean against and watch the show.

Denise took these images through the camera and 400mm lens with solar filter.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Blue Sky

There is nothing quite like the good feeling an eclipse chaser has when waking up to a blue sky near the eclipse viewing location. We are in northern California and it looks like we will have a good view of the eclipse so long as we stay near Redding. Further north looks dicey at this point in time when using the satellite to see where the clouds are moving.

Nearest clear sky clock I could find for our location is Cottonwood. It is showing a favorable model, but the time for models is done - now is the time to be checking the sky and using satellite views to look over the horizon.

Our plans are to be at the Lake Shasta Dam however; we've heard that might be a very popular destination. We have had at least one person in the group voice the opinion that staying on the hotel grounds will be fine. The last annular eclipse I saw, we did just that - in 1994 in Toledo Ohio. Of course, Toledo Ohio doesn't offer the potential views of mountains over a lake. Location to be determined soon.

As a note to anyone looking to buy solar filters today - forget it. Unless you know someone with extras, just plan on borrowing a filter for a quick view or watch the shadows under the trees.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Weather Prospects

As we get even closer to eclipse day, weather watching becomes important. A web site devoted to weather models and information for the eclipse was put together by expert eclipse chaser Jay Anderson. You can find links to various tools and images from satellites showing cloud fronts at that site.

Watching local weather reports the day before the eclipse can sometimes be helpful. Most weather reporters are simply reading the script provided by some of the weather models and data centers in Jay's list. In all my eclipse chasing experiences only one weather reporter hit the nail on the head. That was back in 1999, in Germany, where the local weather report was horrible. There were a few patches of blue sky - but they were very few. Most of the sky was cloud. The cheerful weather reporter from Munich stated that the holes in the clouds could allow those that are lucky to see the eclipse - and we were indeed quite lucky!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Out of solar filters?

If you waited until the last minute to try and find some solar filters for the annular solar eclipse or transit of Venus, you may have waited too long. As a favor to someone overseas who I will join for the transit, I was trying to find some material to construct simple solar filters for 10" and 12" telescopes, but could not locate any with ease.

After much asking around, I contacted High Point Scientific and they reported a few sheets left. With luck, they will arrive before we depart for the transit.

Joe Cali has written an excellent tutorial of how to construct a solar filter mount using thin solar filter film. Using foam board for large telescopes may be a bit excessive - I suspect we will use cardboard or what ever we can find on board the ship - and duct (gaffer) tape - the astronomer's best friend when it comes to securing filters to the tube.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Airline limits

One of the biggest hassles of travel to solar eclipses is the limitations put on luggage by the airlines. It was not that long ago one could carry 70 pounds (almost 32 kilos) per bag of any size. That made moving tripods and counter weights easy. Now - 50 pounds (25 and a half kilos) is the limit. And to make matters worse, you are charged for extra bags on most airlines --- and you cannot carry on much. Now I hear that some airlines are going to start charging for carry on bags. This presents new challenges to eclipse chasers who want to capture images.

Maybe I should just bring binoculars and solar filters.

Packing up

Getting ready to head out to the annular eclipse. Denise and I are going to California to view it with some fellow eclipse chasers. This breaks my normal rule of thumb that an annular solar eclipse is worth driving to see, but no more. We are flying to California - then driving.

Over the past few weeks I've received a number of messages from people located in southern California who wonder if it is worth the drive up to the northern part of the state to view the annular solar eclipse. If this was a total solar eclipse, the answer would be a resounding YES. But this is an annular solar eclipse. While the light of the Sun will diminish, it is nothing like a total solar eclipse - not even close. It is more of a teaser for those of us that have seen total solar eclipses.

So why drive up to see it? The only reason to consider such is if you are an amateur astronomer or a photographer who would like to see the "ring of fire" as some have called it. It is not something you can look at without eye protection, you will need the same solar filter that can be used to view a partial solar eclipse. That means that most people in the southern CA region should elect to simply enjoy a deep partial solar eclipse. If you have a solar filter, share it with others as you watch the Moon almost completely cover the Sun with a dramatic crescent shape as in the following image.

What will one see in northern California? Something more like the following image.

To make these images, in 1994, I had driven to Toledo Ohio and set up a small telescope (Questar) with a full aperture glass solar filter. The filter I used creates a pleasing orange/yellow image of the solar photosphere showing sunspots in fair to good detail when they are visible.

Monday, 14 May 2012


Picking a location for viewing a solar eclipse is not always easy. There are several things to consider. First and foremost is a clear sky. Viewing a solar eclipse under clouds is not desired. So when selecting a location, include a back up location or two in case the weather is not cooperating. Of course, that information may not be easy to get until the day of the eclipse and then it can be too late to re-locate. So let's concentrate on the surrounding environment (working under the assumption of a clear sky).

1) Comfort - the entire solar eclipse event lasts several hours. Being outside for the entire duration requires break areas such as restrooms, shade, and maybe even refreshments. For this reason my preference is a lawn in a public park with a nice vista view in the direction of the eclipse.

2) Access - most people will not want to climb a mountain or "go bush" style for an eclipse. That said, I do know several people that enjoy that sort of eclipse chase. So this is for the majority that want to park someplace, enjoy the eclipse, and have easy access to their vehicles. Locate the viewing area with easy access to parking.

3) Shadows - the most interesting shadows occur during the partial phases. Having trees nearby that allow pinholes of light to strike the ground make for great shadows. If the shadows hit a lightly colored surface then that is all you need. Otherwise, a blanket or towel spread out under the shadow works great. Depending on the climate, having a shady spot to check out every so often is a good thing.

4) Audience - setting up a telescope in public is always interesting. Sometimes you will attract others who want to see what is up. If that is not desired, then find a place that is somewhat shielded from others passing by. Otherwise plan a queuing system if you think you will have more than one or two onlookers show up. As the eclipse reaches climax you will want to take over the optics - be sure your audience knows that in advance. There is nothing more frustrating than having someone nudge you aside for a look through the telescope at the wrong time.

5) Power - do you need electricity for your rig? If so, then selecting a location with power is paramount unless you plan to transport batteries.

6) Web access - do you need web access for your phone or PC? Finding an outside location that is not a parking lot (hot pavement) with web access could be challenging. Or plan on using a phone based service.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Large Sunspot Today

There is a large sunspot visible today. It is about the same size that Venus will appear during the transit. It is an excellent chance to practice your photographic set up in preparation for the transit of Venus this June.

Sunspots are darker areas visible against the solar disk. The darker areas are still quite bright, just not nearly as bright as the photosphere - the part of the Sun you normally 'see'. Hence they appear dark.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Full Moon Perigee

This evening the Moon is full and at perigee. That means it is at the closest point in its orbit (the orbit of the moon is not a perfect circle) about the Earth. So if the Moon looks a bit bigger tonight, that is because it is bigger - about 14% bigger.

During the next new moon phase there will be a solar eclipse. It will be an annular eclipse where the Moon's disk will not completely cover the Sun's disk. The reason? The moon will be at its further point in its orbit about the Earth (the other side).

Don't do it yourself (2)

Some more solar filter myths that need busted!

1) Mylar blankets - some solar filters are made from Mylar materials. Mylar is a trademark of DuPont (more information) and not all things called Mylar are exactly alike. Mylar solar filters contain additional protection. This means you should not use Mylar unless it is designated as a solar filter!

2) Blank CDR - while mostly opaque these devices are not suitable solar filters. They allow radiation through that can damage your eyes. Don't use them, get some solar filter glasses instead.

3) Stacked sunglasses - are not a suitable solar filter. Not only is the view distorted, there is a chance of eye damage. Use solar filter glasses instead.

4) Welder's glasses - shield a lot of the visible light but not the radiation in the ultraviolet or infrared. These glasses are okay for a short glimpse of the eclipsed Sun but not for prolonged viewing. And they should never be used with optics such as a telescope, binoculars, or zoom lens.

You only get one pair of eyes. Keep them safe, use the proper viewing methods.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Eclipse Chasing

In doing some research into early eclipse observations from aircraft with Bob Morris I uncovered an article from 1914 in the NY Times. At the time there was an eclipse chaser named David Todd who was an astronomer at Amherst College. It seems he either had a fan at the Times or maintained regular correspondence with them regarding astronomical items of interest and his eclipse pursuits.

In 1914 David Todd proposed to follow the eclipse in Russia using an airplane capable of 120 miles per hour. He hoped to induce more speed from the plane by descending rapidly. His goal was to increase his observation time by several minutes. Towards this end he arranged for the equipment and started his journey.

The article caught my eye because it says his proposal was akin to "chasing the sun" - the earliest use of the word chasing with relation to solar eclipses that I've found in published media.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Don't Do It Yourself

A recent discussion on the Solar Eclipse Mailing List caught my eye as something that should be shared with everyone. It is about one of those things that I thought had been put to rest a long time ago. The simple fact is: you cannot build your own SAFE solar filter by stacking sunglasses or neutral density (ND) filters.

The reason is these filters (sunglasses are in filters) are for visual light only and do little or nothing for radiation outside the visible spectrum. Ultraviolet and infrared radiation can damage your eyes.

For photographers, stacking filters presents a different problem - flares. Reflections between the filters will be picked up by the camera and look like flares in the images.

It is important to use the right tool for the job. For cameras, purchase a dedicated solar filter. This is even more important for telescope owners. And make sure the filter goes on the front of the optics - you don't want a filter over heating and ruining your vision! Click here for more information about filters and photographing the Sun.

A further consideration is that commercial ND filters are absorptive and can get warm when exposed to the Sun for a prolonged period of time. Gelatin filters may melt or deform under the heat.

Check out the Solar Filters for sale at Amazon.Com

Friday, 27 April 2012

Eclipse Photography Thoughts 2

For the Annular Solar Eclipse on the 20th of May (USA) we are considering a location in a public park with other eclipse chasers who live in the area. While I'd enjoy taking a series of images through the Coronado telescope of the entire event (1st through 4th contact) it seems wrong to not allow others a peek through the telescope. And being in a public park could present difficulties as we are most likely to draw curious onlookers.
I will be the guy in the silly safari hat.

My plan is to use the telescope as a public education tool and share the view. If there is an opportunity I will take some images but I think I will get far more fun and interesting images with a regular camera. One of the best features of an annular solar eclipse are the shadows and pinhole images of a round light source (the Sun) appearing everywhere. It is an "Alice in Wonderland" sort of view when the right objects are casting shadows. My favorite is look on sidewalks where tree shadows fall. Sometimes it looks like a pile of translucent crescents or rings piled atop each other.

Image by Andy Hinds during the 2005 Annular Solar Eclipse

The key to finding good shadow projections is a porous shadow against a light background as seen in the image above by fellow eclipse chaser Andy Hinds.

Since we will be somewhere in northern California (weather will dictate where we set up) the annular phase of the eclipse (between 2nd and 3rd contacts) will last well over four minutes. This will hopefully provide plenty of time to find some interesting views to share.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Transit of Venus Cartoons

A couple of cartoons about the Transit of Venus and solar observing are presented below. These were drawn for fun and are not artistic in any way.

Babylonian Astronomer busy writing up the evening's observation report misses the transit of Venus across the disk of the Sun on a hazy morning. 

Mayan astronomers are summoned to explain a big round dot on the solar disk. It was not an eclipse of the Sun nor was it a cloud - best guess was a big round bird.

Sailors in some bronze age ship notice a dot against the Sun as it sets over the water. This leads to a philosophical debate about the nature of the solar system and because the captain is a 'geocentrist' they decide not to report the observation.

In 1761 there was a world war going on. Astronomers had a problem getting around the national interests and often found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

DO NOT STAND or put anything near the eyepiece when no filter is in place.

A French astronomer in Siberia. They thought his equipment was causing the unseasonable rains and subsequent flooding. Of course, he wanted clear sky for his observations. This is based on a true story where soldiers had to be called in to quiet a potential riot.

Fr Hell of Austria went to Norway to watch the transit of Venus in 1769. He spent about a year there getting his equipment ready. You know it is cold there.

Ancient archers take credit for putting a hole in the Sun.

All cartoons by Bill Kramer. All rights reserved.