Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Total Eclipse Camera Selection

I have been using a Sony NEX5N for the past two years and have reached the conclusion that while useful, it does not do what I want in terms of total solar eclipse photography.

Screen display: In summary, it is not useful outside during the day. An eyepiece type arrangement would be preferred. Trying to use it at night is also a problem unless the target is very bright. My initial thought was that it would flip up for sky photography and would be useful in that regard. The problem is that it does not flip up far enough and getting a good focus can be very difficult. I had to set the display on the dimmest setting too. During a total solar one does not have such luxury time. An eyepiece display is preferred, especially one that can work at a right angle from the imager plane.

ISO/ASA results: Trying to do higher ISO settings has not been successful. The resulting images are grainy. Newer technology will be nice in that regard. A friend of mine showed results of images at 12800 ISO which were quite good in terms of grain.

Resolution: My camera is a couple years old. This technology is evolving quickly. Newer camera chips have better resolution and can work with lower light conditions.

Lens set: My lenses are all Canon, even my T-adapter has a Canon type mount (as well as an old-school screw, originally I bought it to use with a Honeywell Pentax). Canon lenses using autofocus are nice for bright objects but don't work well in dim light. Manual focus is still best, especially for solar eclipses.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Pre Dawn Planet Show

During the month of October 2015 the planets Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Mercury were all visible in the pre-dawn sky.

Sunrise (and sunset) are excellent times to practice your eclipse photographic set up for wide angle sky views. The colors seen around the horizon match up with those observed during an eclipse. You can experiment with various ASA/ISO and exposure settings to see how your rig behaves. Find the exposure setting that will produce colorful results that also show the brighter planets and stars.

While not welcomed during a total solar eclipse, the clouds do add some drama to the pictures as well as some foreground to establish the setting and/or location. Trees make excellent foreground objects (when far enough away for your camera lens) and can really enhance the image with a stark contrast. Out of focus foreground objects require careful thinking as this distracts from the main image - the sky.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Green Flash

Have you ever seen a Green Flash at sunset (or sunrise)?

Here is a video compilation of various green flashes observed in Negril Jamaica. The camera used was a Sony NEX5N with a Canon 400mm lens on a tripod. We see green flashes often (the advantage of living on the western coast in the tropics) at sunset. It may even be raining overhead but clear off in the sea and we will see a green flash. But when the atmosphere is calm and mostly clear we get some great flashes.

The video has no sound and I do hope it is not too sliced up by the data compression.

September Lunar Eclipse

This past September there was a lunar eclipse visible in Jamaica and we had partly cloudy sky for the event. My wife and I moved to a new place that has not had Internet available which is why I am tardy in sharing our results. As of this week, we have access and so here is an image from the eclipse.

The image was obtained using a Sony NEX5N attached to a Canon 400mm telephoto lens. And it was cropped to just show the eclipse area.

In the above image we can see the shadow of the Earth as a curve along the right edge of the Moon. Where the lunar surface is brightest there is still some sunlight being reflected back. The orange-red portion of the Moon is illuminated by light from the Sun passing through the Earth's atmosphere.

Of particular interest is the light blue color visible near the upper right. This color shows up better in photographs than with the naked eye.

The light blue color is the result of solar light passing through ozone.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Four months till the next TSE!

In just four short months eclipse chasers will be converging on Indonesia and other places in the Pacific Ocean to view a Total Solar Eclipse. This eclipse will have a greater duration than the eclipse of 2017 across the USA but it much harder to access. Land fall is limited to a few Indonesian islands and mostly crosses the ocean. Cruise ships will be sailing into the path of totality near Indonesia and a few charter vessels will be in the open sea.

One unique opportunity for a few people is a flight out of Alaska that will intersect the eclipse path. Joe Rao of New York has been lobbying Alaskan Airlines to modify a flight departure and with the help of Glenn Schneider has been successful. Flight 870 will attempt an intercept of the shadow path and if all goes well a few lucky passengers will get a great view out the window. We wish them luck.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Total Lunar Eclipse - camera selection briefing

Small telescope (1300mm)

So you want to take a picture of the lunar eclipse? One question any expert will ask is what type of camera you have available for the event. Another is just what you want to photograph.

To produce a nice close up of the eclipsed Moon, you will want a small telescope or telephoto lens. The Moon appears to be about half a degree in size (yes, even during a so called Super Moon it appears that large). Using that information, the next step is to determine the field of view of your lens system and camera, which is a bit technical. This can be done with a formula (explained at https://www.eclipse-chasers.com/photo/Photo4.shtml) involving the size of your camera image plane (chip size) and the effective focal length. Cutting to the chase, I recommend a lens with a focal length of 200mm and more to show the Moon best.

April 2015 Lunar eclipse - EFL of 100mm
A frequently asked question is whether or not a camera phone can be used. The answer is an emphatic yes, just don't expect the greatest detail of the Moon and you will want to try several times before you get a nice image. The small lens will not capture much detail of the Moon however you can get great images of people and the eclipse. Just don't use the flash without warning others first!

When using a telescope or long telephoto lens you will need to manually set the exposure. Eclipses confuse automatic camera settings. As the eclipse darkens, longer and longer exposures will be needed to reveal details as seen in the image below. Both images of the eclipse were taken at roughly the same time, just different exposure settings. Note that the longer exposure washed out the illuminated surface while bringing out the eclipsed side where the shorter exposure shows the lit surface and a completely blacked out eclipse area.

A very nice to have is a tripod or fixed base for a longer exposure. Hand held images will show some blurring since it is nearly impossible to hold the camera perfectly still that long. Bracing yourself agains a building or wall might work if you are lucky but I strongly recommend a tripod or set it on the ground facing the right way and hope for the best.

Another trick is to use the delay feature (if available) on your camera. Point the camera at the eclipse and start the exposure. After a brief count down, the camera will take the image. The delay allows vibrations to settle and will result in sharper looking images. Using this method you can take an image that includes both yourself and the eclipse!

So the bottom line? If you want to try taking an image of the lunar eclipse, a nice big camera and lens on a tripod is best. But don't let that dissuade you from trying! I have seen plenty of great images taken with small camera phones. You just need to take a lot of images and have a lot of luck!

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Bug Fix 1988 Eclipses

There was a file mix up in the Mar and Sep 1988 eclipses. I think I have sorted it out, but if you are one of the few that saw either, please double check your log and let me know if there are any problems.

I am not sure how the old file snuck back in, but it can happen. We had to restore from back ups a few times after attacks on the server and issues with a power supply. So I am going to presume that is when it re-appeared.

Update 22-Sep-15 - found anomalies with ASE 2013 thanks to Joe Cali. Those have been corrected. Please check your log to make sure it is correct and let me know if not!

Sorry for any confusion.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Added partial eclipse 13-Sep-15 to list

If you saw the partial solar eclipse of 13 September 2015 you can add it to your log entries. I know a couple people traveled to South Africa to catch a view and had partial clouded success. The IAU WGSE (International Astronomical Union, Working Group on Solar Eclipses) had a team there and here is a summary of the observations.

This situation makes me ponder the general rule of thumb: Anywhere for a total solar eclipse, Reasonable travel for an annular, and set up near home for partials. Observers from Germany, France, and the USA went to the southern most tip of Africa to see this last partial solar eclipse (just over 40% obscuration). They could have seen more (over 70% obscuration) if they went to Antarctica.

I realize that a portion of the visit to Africa was to help educate others for upcoming annular and total solar eclipses but it still makes me wonder why one would want to travel that far for a partial eclipse. The best answer thus far is "because we can". I say congratulations to all that went and saw the eclipse!

As a side note, Xavier Jubier and Mike Kentrianakis had just completed a grueling drive from Oregon to Missouri and back checking out eclipse sites before boarding a flight to Cape Town. Now that's eclipse chasing!

Partial Eclipse Clouds
When dealing with any eclipse one wants perfect weather. Unlike a total solar eclipse, a partial eclipse can be observed if just glimpses of the Sun can be seen between clouds. It can be frustrating to photograph the eclipse under such circumstances. Just as you get the focus perfect, another cloud gets in the way. Or you just can't seem to get a perfect focus because of the atmosphere. One thing you should not do is remove the solar filter unless you know exactly what you are doing (i.e.: EXPERT level). A sudden clear hole could damage equipment and worse, blind you. It is advised to always keep the solar filter on when the camera system is pointed towards the Sun.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

TSE 2016 and the International Dateline

The Total Solar Eclipse in March 2016 crosses the International Dateline. For some, this can be a cause of confusion because the eclipse will seem to time travel.

Here is the deal, the eclipse starts on the 9th of March, in the morning, near Indonesia. The path of the eclipse then moves to the EAST and north. As the path moves along towards the East it will encounter the International Dateline. Suddenly the date changes to the 8th of March. The eclipse moved back a day! The eclipse continues through to the EAST and north ending at sunset on the 8th of March.

NUMEROUS WEB PAGES HAVE THIS ALL WRONG! I want to make sure everyone is setting up on the right day for this eclipse.

So here, in simplified cartoon format....

What day should you set up?

Okay, this is confusing!
Can you see the eclipse east of the International Dateline? If you are on an airplane or a ship, yes, it is all ocean.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Eclipse photo drones - really?

Tricky landing a drone on a ship
Just a few days ago an interesting question came up amongst eclipse enthusiasts. "Any one planning to use a drone to photograph the eclipse event?"
Leave the drones to the pros
The question about drone usage led to a variety of responses such as "Why do that?" and "I don't want drones flying over head as the eclipse takes place!".

There are plenty of good reasons not to try to fly a drone during totality:

Drones and Eclipses do not mix!
1) You will want to watch the eclipse, not the drone.
2) Might block view of others.
3) Could crash and cause major problems.
4) Drone based cameras are looking at the ground, not the eclipse.

The best use of a drone during a solar eclipse is to capture an image of the crowd before and/or after totality. During totality, keep it on the ground!

If you are a pro drone driver then you should know all the safety rules and considerations. Keep the drone away from large crowds (photograph from a distance), don't try a fly over during totality, be respectful of others, and double or triple check your equipment before use.

In preparation for the 2016 TSE, Paul D Maley and RING OF FIRE EXPEDITIONS have been preparing to try a drone launch from a ship near Guam. He has been working on this plan for over a year and has put together a solution that should work - provided the weather is cooperative. We are all looking forward to the results he gets!
During the excitement of totality the wrong button was pushed

Saturday, 5 September 2015

20cm (8") Telescope

For the past six years I have been using my trusty old Quester 3.5" telescope here in Jamaica. It is a great scope,  extremely portable, but really not well suited to prolong exposure in the tropics. The mirror surface has begun to show wear, the finder lost all silvering (thanks to an enthusiastic assistant who was trying to clean it up), and the tracking motors need cleaned. So I moved it back to the States and will be sending it off to Quester for refurb before the 2017 eclipse.

Dark sky when the lights out!
This has left me without a telescope for the interim. After extensive thought and study I have decided to import an Orion 20cm (8") f/5.9 telescope. This scope will work great for public presentations and my own enjoyment as it is portable (about 20 kg, 50#) and should fit in the back of my car.

The sky in Jamaica is very dark, even more so when a power outage is underway. And we live on the coast meaning that I have extremely dark sky to the sea. The wide field (f5.9 with 2" eyepiece) viewing should be sensational!

The scope is on the dock in Miami. Soon it will be on a ship, then in customs, and in a few weeks (before the lunar eclipse) I hope to be reporting on the views. I am looking forward to it!

Friday, 4 September 2015

Lunar Eclipse September 2015 - Perigee Super Lunar Eclipse

The Total Lunar Eclipse (TLE) that will take place on the 27th of September (2015) just so happens to occur near perigee. That doesn't sound too exciting does it? How about The next TLE is a SUPER TLE! Sensational, just like the press is likely to pick up.
Super Lunar Eclipse!

So what's up with that?

The Moon's orbit about the Earth is not a perfect circle. It is an ellipse with the Earth at one of the foci points. And this ellipse is kind of wobbling so some cool mathematics are needed to keep track of these things. Here is a great web page discussing the concepts by John Walker.

So what makes up a super moon? That is simply when the Moon is full and at the point in its orbit closest to the Earth, perigee. Super moon just sounds better.

Okay, so how close to super is this eclipse coming up? Pretty close. According to world renowned calculator Jean Meeus (of Belgium) the differences are:

Moon in perigee at 01:46 UT,
mid-totality at    02:47 UT.

Within the hour! That is pretty close. And the question has been raised, just how rare is this level of Super Lunar Eclipse (SLE)?!

Darren Beard has determined that the next TLEs coming up with perigee within 15 hours of the event are not too rare,  27 Jul 2018, 21 Jan 2019. But that is within 15 hours. What about near an hour or less like this one?

Can you really tell the difference? Not unless you regularly photograph the Moon with a lens that produces an image of the Moon that fills the frame.

So cool, it is a Super Lunar Eclipse (SLE). Now let us see what the press makes of that!

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Lunar Eclipse 2015 Photography

Hey, you want to photograph the Total Lunar Eclipse (TLE) on 27 September 2015? Why not? It is easy and the results can be really great.

Lunar Eclipse
If you have a telescope or long lens, the job is not that complicated. Here is a web site that details Lunar Eclipse photography I wrote some time ago. It is still apropos.

But what if you don't want to use a telescope or telephoto lens? At the very least you will want a tripod or some way to mount the camera steady. Lunar eclipse pictures require a longer exposure and it is too easy to shake or move while the image is being captured. So figure out a way to mount or hold the camera steady. A simple table tripod is all that is needed in most cases.

Tripod and digital camera from parking lot 110mm EFL
The exposure time will vary depending on your lens configuration but expect it to be between half a second and several seconds. You can capture stars in your image with exposures lasting several seconds. This leads to your camera, it needs to be taken out of fully automatic mode (if possible) and set to manual. Same with the focus mechanism if that is an option. Set the focus to infinity and use an initial exposure of two-seconds to see what you get. If your camera has a delay shutter mode, use it. It will steady on the mount for a few seconds and then take the image.

With a camera phone your options are more limited. Modern camera phones can do night time photography, some do it automatically, some try to turn to on the light. Don't put on the light. That is a waste and a bother to everyone else around you. The exception may be to get an image of people looking at the eclipse but even then there may be enough light around to use.
Sunrise Lunar Eclipse from beach in Jamaica

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Lunar Eclipse 27 Sept 2015

Total Lunar Eclipse
There will be a total lunar eclipse (TLE) visible in the western hemisphere in the evening of Sunday, the 27th of September. This eclipse takes place early enough for many to be able to see it and still get a good nights sleep before Monday rolls around. A lot of details about the eclipse and visibility can be found on Fred Espenak's most excellent website here: http://eclipsewise.com/lunar/LEnews/TLE2015Sep28/TLE2015Sep28.html

Lunar eclipses are not as exciting as Solar eclipses. Many call it the blood moon and other fancy names meant to make it seem amazing. Most will not notice it unless it is called out because modern people living amongst light polluted nights don't (can't) really notice much up in the sky. So if you have a telescope, set it up and invite others to take a look.

During totality the sky is much darker. The bright Moon has been dimmed so that the stars are easy to easy. Hanging out near the brown-red Moon is the planet Uranus at magnitude 6. Uranus is about five degrees (RA) east of the eclipsed Moon. While not visible to the eye it can be found using binoculars or a small telescope as a blue-green star like object. If you have an equatorial telescope mount, first point it at the Moon using a low magnification eyepiece. Then nudge the view along the RA axis to the East slowly looking for a blue-green star.

Moon and Uranus in Pisces

Finding Uranus in Pisces

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

2017 - Another road trip report soon come

Eclipse chasers are taking advantage of the open road for the upcoming Great American Eclipse. As I write this Michael Kentrianakis (recently appointed as eclipse project manager by the AAS) and Xavier Jubier (the eclipse maestro) of France are driving across the American western states checking out eclipse viewing sites and educating people along the way. A report of their journey will be appearing in a future Astronomy magazine blog or article. They are driving from Oregon to St Louis and back again. Keep an eye out for them if you are along the path!

If you see this bumper magnet, the vehicle contains eclipse chasers!
Rarely do we get the advantage to thoroughly explore such an immense territory before an eclipse. But because this eclipse traverses the continental USA (from Oregon to South Carolina) there are an abundance of possibilities. And to make things even better, there is a lot of weather data available from airports and towns in and near the path. For those of us that really enjoy studying the climate and options for observation, this eclipse has been the best thus far.

IS there a best place to be? Yes, where ever you can see the eclipse in totality!

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: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/planning-workshop-for-2017-solar-eclipse-082620155/

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.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Eclipse 2017 - Two years to wait!

Oh Wow!
Two years from today the Sun will go out in the continental USA. 
1806 - Tecumseh and the Eclipse

Not quite all of Sun will go out. Actually, just about a hundred mile sliver of the continent will see totality. The sliver is from Oregon all the way to South Carolina! Some major cities are in the path, or at least close to it, if not a quick drive then maybe a day, some a bit longer... but you get the point!

Don't worry, we've known about this upcoming event for a long time. And in case you are concerned about this prophesy, don't be, the Sun will "turn back on" in just about two minutes (over 2 and half minutes near maximum). Also, keep in mind that the totality is visible along a very narrow swath inside the lower 48 of the USA. The rest of the continental states will see a partial eclipse.

This weekend, the AAS is holding a workshop to help educators and eclipse enthusiasts prepare. Details can be found at http://aas.org/education/outreach/eclipse-2017

You need to see this event. If you live in the USA and have never seen a total solar eclipse, this will be the one for you to see.

  • August - Summer vacation, nice weather.
  • Oregon to South Carolina - narrow path crosses entire continent.
  • Easy transportation - got a car? Got a friend who has a car?
  • Weather - typically nice weather expected, unless there is a storm.

Web sites: The following web sites are very useful in terms of planning, information, and details related to the eclipse of August 2017.

Some fun USA solar eclipse facts:

Cool article about the "Great American Eclipse" coming in 2017!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Pre-Eclipse 2017 Road Trip: Summary thought

After exploring the options in eastern Wyoming, Nebraska, and Missouri I would vote western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming as offering the best opportunities to see the eclipse. This is based on mobility and weather patterns observed.
North Platte towards Wyoming
I-80 North Platte to Lincoln

When accommodations are factored into the equation, North Platte and Grand Island Nebraska offer the best options. Grand Island is on the central part of the path so travel may not be needed if there the night before the eclipse. North Platte is on the southern edge of the totality path and will appeal to some for that very reason. Travel from North Platte deeper into the central path will require an early start as these routes are expected to be congested.

For those of us from Ohio, Missouri is appealing for several reasons. Travel time is reduced to one full day before the eclipse by car. The interstate highway system provides several routes to get out from any weather on eclipse day even though they are expected to be congested. The weather patterns in Missouri were identical to Ohio so those already familiar with those conditions will be comfortable. There many places to stay along the eclipse path with Columbia MO offering a position just off the central line of the path.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Eclipse 2017: Take the kids out of school?

Another frequently asked question relates to taking the kids out of school to watch the solar eclipse. For me it was never a question. I had experience as an amateur astronomer kid wanting to see an eclipse but being denied. It did not sit well. So yes, take them out of school for the eclipse!

While some schools may try to make the most of the experience, most will err on the side of caution and not allow the students to see the eclipse.

This is not a teaching decision, it is a management one. How do you manage a large crowd of kids intent on looking at the Sun? Is there a chance some may have eye damage by doing things wrong? Is there any way to make sure everyone is safe and enjoys the experience? These are not easy questions to answer. Thus the logical decision is to keep the kids inside.

The one solution that works is for parents to get involved in the eclipse with the kids. Build a box to project the image through a hole, build a solar filter (only use proper materials), or look for images of the eclipse in the shadows (projected through small holes - trees and bushes work well).

Different age levels will experience the eclipse event differently. Very young children may be impressed at the moment, but it will not stick with them except as a vague memory. New experiences are common for young minds, the special nature of a total solar eclipse does not matter as much. Once in elementary school it is possible to make the event more memorable by building a viewing device and the travel education. Travel is one of the greatest tools in education, if you can, use it. Kids in high school and college will appreciate the unique nature of the event more but may not seem all that impressed at the time. Later in life they will remember them fondly. And once again, the travel is important for their education.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Pre-Eclipse 2017 Road Trip: Camera options

Another question I get a lot when talking about eclipses relates to cameras. Recording the eclipse event as a TV special is not an easy thing. So much is going on at once. You will be more or less forced into picking a few aspects of the eclipse to record. Those TV specials involve several  professional photographers with very different rigs.

When the eclipse is within driving distance it is easy to pack too much stuff. So much that you end up missing the best part of the eclipse - watching. Any experienced eclipse photographer will tell you to expect problems. More equipment just exasperates the situation.

So what is the best solution for the novice? DON'T PHOTOGRAPH! Just watch and enjoy the eclipse. Leave the photography to the professionals. After the eclipse many images will be posted online and available to trade or purchase. Those geeky photography buffs concentrating on getting a great corona image will be happy to trade for an image of them at their equipment.

And if you insist on photographing the event, what is best? Video wide field showing people, the sky, and most important, recording all the sounds. Most of the noise will be from the people immediately near the camera as they gasp, excitingly point out details, applaud, and more.