Friday, 8 January 2016

Next TSE in just a few months

With the next Total Solar Eclipse just a few months away, attention has been turned to what to pack. We will be observing this eclipse on board a ship in Indonesian waters. Ship board observing is fun and is our second most favorite way to enjoy a TSE. The people on board make it special and having "eclipse virgins" around makes it fun. While our group contains several veterans (including one who will be passing the one hour mark of umbral duration) we also have a newbie. Our newest son-in-law will be seeing his first eclipse.

So in addition to packing for a long visit on board a ship with plenty of shore excursions and evening activities it is time to give serious thought to what equipment should be brought along for the eclipse observations. This will be my sixteenth TSE. For my wife, it will be her twelfth. We know what to expect and what we hope to see and photograph.

The eclipse will be about 35 degrees above the horizon during totality. That is less than half the way to the zenith. While we hope for clear sky and unobstructed views, experience has taught us a few things. The first is to be as portable, quick and easy to move, as possible. Even though you can set up hours ahead of time on shipboard, you could find your view suddenly impeded by other observers or a turn of the ship. It is critical to remain mobile.

Another big issue is the movement of the ship. There are lots of vibrations and so on as people move about and the ship floats in the open sea. Mounting a telescopic lens and camera is possible and with the right gear can be made hands free. A gimbal mount with some sort of stabilizing mechanism (gyros or weights) is not practical to bring along so the best option is to go with a basic camera on a tripod at wide field.

My plan is to use a camera in video mode for totality. Video mode is fun when it captures the silly comments and human reactions. While it will not capture details of the corona, the overall sky conditions can be recorded. Also, no manipulation of the camera is needed unless the ship repositions during totality (or just before). Having a light weight camera on a small tripod is extremely portable.

Photography of eclipses is fun but after a dozen tries at that I found binoculars to my preference. My tool of choice for this eclipse will be a pair of 15x70 binoculars. I use these for night time observing as well. While a bit heavy they do provide amazing detailed views of the corona and prominences. For totality I do not need a tripod. It is only a few minutes long (just over 2 and a half minutes for this next one).

The small tripod can go in the luggage while I carry the camera and binoculars in a backpack. Now I just have to wait until it is time to go...


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