Friday, 23 September 2016

Less than 11 months until the next TSE

Years ago it seemed like a far off thought. To see a total solar eclipse in the USA! Wow!

I have been to Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceana, on cruise ships, at road side rests, camp sites, hotel parking lots, and yes - even in a jet aircraft - and yet, the only USA solar eclipse I've ever seen that was almost total was in 1984. It was just about total, meaning that it was an annular from where I saw it. A very short annular as I remember it.

The 1970 eclipse fell on the same weekend as a rather large swimming competition and it was missed. I did see the partial phases, standing outside in the Ohio March weather in a Speedo, and got in trouble for my efforts. My first total solar eclipse was in 1972, so it was not too devastating at the time - just in retrospect. And at the next astronomy club meeting I heard the details from others who had driven to the eastern USA to see the total eclipse. They were excited. They were planning how to see the next one in 1972. I talked my father into joining. It wasn't hard, he was enthralled as well.

So here we are. Just 11 more months to wait until the total solar eclipse of August 2017! I am really excited about it. And I am not the only one. There are plenty of people planning to see it. So many that hotels and campsites are becoming harder to get. Costs are going up up up on some of the remaining stock. So should you panic and buy in?

Here's the situation. Many of the hotels have commitments from travel groups who have requested a lot of rooms. They want to sell you the rooms at a higher price and make money as the proverbial middle man. If you are just starting to search out a place to stay now, you are in for a ride in some places. The best thing to do now is wait until about a month or two before the event and then call every hotel looking for recently released group space at normal (maybe) pricing.

Some are looking outside the path with plans to drive in that day. While that may work very well, it is a bit of a gamble in my mind. Roads could get closed or blocked by traffic. Like minded people might fill it up like rush hour into a big city. Plan lots of time for the commute.

Just 11 more months. The anticipation is building up faster than any other solar eclipse I have done. Maybe it is the prospect of so many old and new friends finally seeing what I have been chasing for decades. We can just hope beyond hopes that the sky is clear all day across the USA that day!

Thursday, 22 September 2016

The Best Camera for Solar Eclipse Imaging is...

It is hard to count the number of times I have been asked the question, "which camera is best for photographing the eclipse?".  The simple answer is almost too simple for most to accept - the best camera is the one you know how to use best. Everyone expects an endorsement of a particular brand or type of camera system. Here is the thing, you can get a great picture with any camera. You just need to realize what it can do and how to do it.

The best thing is to start now! Months before the total solar eclipse you need to begin mastering your camera and lens setup. Practice! The practice subject is the Moon. Take a variety of exposures to see different details but more important to the solar eclipse imaging - to learn how to adjust the camera in the dark. During totality it will be kind of dark and you might have trouble reading the camera settings. You want to train yourself to where you can almost run the system with your eyes closed.

During the eclipse is not the time to learn how your camera works. You should be an expert at your own camera. Trying to jam in a bunch of tips and tricks from the experts at the last minute will result in frustration most of the time. If you just bought the camera and have not used it much, don't try to use it during totality.

The August 2017 TSE will last under three minutes at the longest points of duration. It will be more like two minutes for most observers. And it will seem like 15 seconds. Spending that precious time playing with a camera is not worth it. The experience alone is worth it.

Tip: Take pictures of the cool telescopes and long lenses with their owner/operators. Then trade email addresses to send them a copy in trade for one of their eclipse shots. This way you can get a great variety to show off to those that chose not to go to the eclipse.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Removing Filters for Second Contact Diamond Ring

This past week I have been asked by several people about when to remove the solar filter prior to second contact (C2). The desire is to catch an image of the diamond ring. That means you are removing the solar filter BEFORE the brightest part of the Sun has gone behind the Moon. This sounds dangerous and goes against all advice, so just how does one go about it.

First off: If this is your first total solar eclipse, don't bother with photographing C2. WATCH IT! You don't want to be boring behind the camera when the magic happens. You need to see it with your own eyes. Then use binoculars to take a look at the corona. You will regret not looking directly if you spend the entire eclipse watching through a view finder or video feed.

So let's say the remainder of this entry is for veterans. You know what C2 looks like and you'd like to get an image. Just when it is "safe" to remove the filter. Under a clear sky (no clouds in the way) I would say no more than 15 seconds before C2. And yet here is the rub - some predictions of eclipse timings can be off by that amount!

Why the error? A number of factors with most being your own. Starting with an accurate timer - got one? Using a short wave radio to get the time synch signals works best. It will be off slightly depending on propagation delay times. Internet time could be off slightly, same with the time on your cell phone. We are talking about getting the time to within 5 or fewer seconds for this to work best. About the best timing that is easy to get is from a GPS. But even then, make sure it is really accurate. A cheap GPS will not do the trick. A good GPS also helps in getting your location locked down.

So given a good location and good time, you can plan to remove the filter about 15-30 seconds before C2 is scheduled to appear.

Note that you may need to focus slightly. Some solar filters refract more than others. For this reason it may be advised to use a higher focal ratio as the depth of focus is greater. Note this is DEPTH of FOCUS, a technical term for astrophotographers. Click here for a great write up can be found about Depth of Focus and other related topics.

The hardest part is making sure the image is in the field. Using a DSLR with a video view finder (NOT a direct optical path), you can accomplish this quickly. If using a direct optical path you might be able to see the image projected onto the glass from the side. DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY!

Automation is best, when it works right. I have tried a number of methods with varying success and will explore that in a later blog or two. Getting the automation to start at the right time is best solved manually. So if you have an exposure sequence programmed, you can start it up about 5-10 seconds before C2 and get great results. Fast exposures are needed at C2 just like C3. Click here for an eclipse photography exposure calculator.

I've had some success with C2 images but find that watching it is still the real fun.
2008 TSE C2 from jet - double image caused by window of aircraft