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.

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

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.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Pre-Eclipse 2017 Road Trip - Where is a Buckeye to go?

One of the most frequent questions I get as an experienced eclipse chaser is "Where is the best place to watch the eclipse?". The simple answer is "Anywhere that you have a view of totality".

The goal is to get to see the eclipse and even if the location is not ideal, seeing the eclipse overrides all other considerations. Eclipse chasers are obsessed with this concept.

So why not wait until a day or two before the eclipse and move to a place where it will be clear? This isn't always possible. Plus travel can be problematic. Travel issues could be a delayed flight, missed connection, road delays, and a myriad of other things.

Eclipse photographers have additional concerns when it comes to location. First and foremost the goal is to see and photograph the eclipse. Equipment set up time, photograph setting, and many other factors important to photographers could make mobility difficult. While experienced eclipse photographers will recommend minimal and quick setup options, the eclipse of 2017 will tempt many American eclipse chasers to bring out all the gear. This is a rare opportunity so why not give it a whirl.

And thus the question of "where" with the quick answer "anywhere" just doesn't cut it for many. They want options, they want a guarantee, they want to be assured, and above all they want to see the eclipse.

So this is where climate analysis comes into play. Studying the climates can give us a rough probability of success in terms of weather. Now it is very important to remember that climate analysis is just statistics based on past observations. It is really not a good way to predict weather for any given day. Eclipse chasing weather guru Jay Anderson has a great way of saying this "Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get". Jay has done extensive analysis of the climate along the eclipse. His write up can be read by clicking here.

Pulling over to the side of the road and asking a farmer about the weather a year or two in advance didn't reveal any great insights. They are better at telling you about the weather coming in the next few hours. When asked more general questions like "Is it normally sunny all day in late August?" the answer was often obtuse. They might say: "Yup, it is hot" or "Yup, till it rains" or "Dunno, I wear a big hat".
Midwestern responses to weather question
We drove around eastern Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, and points in between. We found typical midwestern weather, the same we are used to in Ohio. Mornings can be foggy if the humidity is high and that can develop into clouds and rain OR it can be the start of a sunny but cool day. If the sky is clear and the Sun hot, then clouds may pop up and rain in the afternoon. We felt pretty good about this observation. It means the chance of seeing the eclipse in the midwestern USA is pretty good. Any major storms should be well known the day in advance and allow for some mobility along the interstate highways if needed.

...More random thoughts about TSE2017 to follow...

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Pre-Eclipse 2017 Road Trip: Landscape Photography

During totality, around noon in Nebraska, the Sun will be 65 degrees above the horizon. That is two-thirds of the way to overhead. To capture any sort of ground with the eclipse will require a large FOV (field of view). The iPhone, used to capture most of the images in this blog, has a FOV of about 55 degrees. This shows plenty of landscape but would not include the eclipse unless multiple exposures are combined.

iPhone image out front window.
The field of view of a wide angle camera such as a GoPro (about 120 degrees) will capture the country side and the eclipse if angled correctly. Of course, the corona and eclipse are reduced to a small image size, but the atmosphere could be quite interesting.

We mused about the notion of placing a wide angle camera atop one of the wind mills to capture the racing shadow across the acres and acres of corn.

Modern windmills are very tall
To catch the shadow approaching on video one wants to be high up. And if the terrain is rolling, then up on a hill. Church steeples, hilltops, very tall buildings, and even silos can make for dramatic mounts. Now, getting a camera up there is another issue.

...More random thoughts about TSE2017 to follow...

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Pre-Eclipse 2017 Road Trip: Nebraska Clouds and Contrails

On eclipse day we don't want to see any clouds in the way of the Sun and Moon. To make things really good, we don't want to see any clouds at all.
Long train on left, Blue Sky overhead, hazy horizon - Western Nebraska
Change in sky condition as we proceed East on I-80
But perfectly clear sky is rarely the case in the middle of the day in the middle of America late in the summer. A typical late August day in the Midwest is mostly clear in the morning with increasing clouds through out the day. With the eclipse occurring at noon, the full heating effect of the Sun will be diminished and clear sky should hold if the day starts that way.

The clouds are formed as the humidity and temperature rise. With the Sun in eclipse starting just before 11am the full heat of the midday Sun will not be felt. The net effect will be a slowing of evaporation and net temperature increases.

New Contrail being formed

Another type of cloud often observed in the American Midwest is the contrail. Left behind by jets crossing the country at high altitudes these contrails can sometimes be a real bother in an otherwise clear sky.
Persistent Contrails coming out of Lincoln Nebraska

Despite rumors to the contrary, contrails largely consist of water with trace amounts of exhaust from the jet engines. The formation of contrails depends on the relative humidity. The higher the humidity, the better chance of seeing contrails.

For this reason, the western part of Nebraska and eastern Wyoming have better conditions. The lower humidity means that jets do not leave behind contrails.

For more about contrail formation see:

...More random thoughts about TSE2017 to follow...

Friday, 14 August 2015

Pre-Eclipse 2017 Road Trip: Kramer, Nebraska

While studying maps for our road trip I stumbled upon the town Kramer, Nebraska. Located near the town of Crete, Nebraska (to the southwest of Lincoln) one finds the little town of Kramer (population 39). Kramer falls inside the path of totality with a duration of 2m27s with mid eclipse at 12:02 local time. At just after noon the Sun will go out!
Kramer Nebraska
Taking the SR103 exit we headed towards Crete. The road was paved and mostly empty. A few trucks  of various sizes cruised the road but for the most part we had the road to ourselves. There were farm houses back from the road dotting the country side, but most of the land was full of corn.

SR103 going South
Following our GPS we drove right to Kramer, Nebraska. A quiet, treed area where the paved road ended and the gravel/dirt road started.

Road past Kramer is gravel/dirt
But I must be honest, it was not just the name Kramer that attracted us to this location. When we zoomed in on the map, Google revealed there was a business there named "Kramer Bar and Grill". Now this was too much to pass up.

Turns out it was a real place and it was even open when we arrived mid afternoon. Unfortunately we had missed the grill time (11am to 1pm) so we could not sample the cuisine but we did get a chance to talk with one of the owners.

The town of Kramer has a population of only 39. There are no Kramers left and I was asked what I knew about my name's history. I replied that it is a common German name since it means the owner or operator of a corner store. Like many common names, it is derived from the trade of an ancestor when they arrived in the USA or was selected because it was a common name.

Wearing my Great American Eclipse t-shirt "Where will you be..." I asked if they knew about the upcoming total solar eclipse. They knew it was coming in a couple years but that was it. So I left them with some materials and told them this location was one of several we will give serious consideration on eclipse day. That will be dependent on weather of course.

Turning to exit I was surprised to see a Corona St sign on top of the door. While this sign is a promotion for the beer, it also happens to be a really great reason to step outside this door a little before noon on the 21st of August 2017. At that time, on that date, at that location, barring clouds, one can see the corona for real!

Corona through this door!
...More random thoughts about TSE2017 to follow...

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Pre-Eclipse 2017 Road Trip: I-80+ Nebraska

While I-80 offers a run through the umbral path it does always not track on the central line where one can experience maximum duration. That means you need to leave the main highway.

I-80 through Nebraska with eclipse path
Fortunately there are several very good options. Between Grand Island and Lincoln you can go south on several routes to get to the central path. And between Grand Island and North Platte you will find the same. Here is the map link where you can zoom in and out to find routes.

Looking at Overpass options
We checked a couple of the side routes. Most are paved roads with no services. You could drive out one of these and hope to find a friendly land owner who will let you use their place for the eclipse.
There is room for maybe four cars.

Do not count on just pulling aside at the exits. Most have No Parking signs on the ramps and it will not require too many cars before things are quite crowded on the small side roads. Local authorities may not be amused. So don't count on that as an eclipse viewing location.

Parking along the exit ramps is not permissible.
The long quiet roads of Nebraska are beckoning. While exploring the area we loved the extensive corn fields and rolling land. The people are friendly and if asked in advance, are happy to host eclipse chasers. What they may not tolerate well are people just showing up on eclipse day.

Please be polite and use only those areas designated for eclipse chasers (there may be a small fee). Racing around trying to avoid clouds is not recommended. Check the weather reports the day before and make arrangements to move if needed. If you are just showing up, look for other eclipse chasers already set up and ask if you can join them. You might be lucky and find an international group or a group of local enthusiasts.

South on SR103 towards Crete Nebraska
"Free balling" it through the country side on eclipse morning is not a recommended activity. There will be busses of tourists, caravans of cars, and who knows what else. Our experiences driving through the country are expected to be quite different on eclipse day.

...More random thoughts about TSE2017 to follow...