Thursday, 17 August 2017

Eclipse Road Trip!

Wow, I have dreamed of this for decades! A road-trip to an eclipse.

I am actually writing this entry before we begin because today I expect to be driving all day in Ohio visit the Amish farms and gathering up some road trip munchies. My birthplace was Youngstown Ohio, an industrial town. Growing up near the steel mills was a challenge as an amateur astronomer and after getting a driver's license my radius of observing sites greatly expanded. Through the local astronomy club I met others of the same ilk and we even had a somewhat remote observatory setup. We talked about eclipses (some of them had gone to the 1970 eclipse) and the next ones coming up every so often. 1979 was a target, but the roads would be a mess that time of year (February). We joked about chasing the 2017 eclipse in our flying cars.

Well, here it is, 2017. AND I DON'T HAVE A FLYING CAR!

Enough of that whining, it is 2017, and now a road trip eclipse is a reality. Starting at Cleveland airport we are going through Columbus Ohio and then on down to Kentucky, near the Tennessee border, to view the eclipse on Monday. Along with us will be some good friends of ours, one from Germany and another from Jamaica. Neither has ever been to America and their reactions to what they see will be interesting. I will write that up later.

For now, we are cruising, off line, out in the Amish country side, taking in the view. Probably at a slow pace...

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Music for Eclipse Chasing

Another question that comes up every so often is about what music is considered the best for eclipse chasing.

This is a matter of personal taste in my mind. I may like some type of music and not another that you like and you may not like my favorites. So it seems important to put some context to this question and see if any answers may come up.

While driving to the eclipse.

Obviously this music is your own to hear, and those in the vehicle with you. So crank it up and have a good drive! Pick those songs you love to hear when driving. Just be careful, there are other eclipse chasers on the road with their music on too.

You probably know what music you'd like for this part. Or it may even be a recorded book reading. So I see no reason to comment further.

Before the eclipse.

Wear headphones. Your music may not appeal to all around you. This is just a courtesy thing. Again, pick the music you love, that gets you up, that gives you a smile. Just don't sing out loud and dance too much.

During totality.

I cannot recommend any music for totality. It has music of its own. The crowd cheers as the diamond ring starts totality, then subsides, the camera click away, comments about this and that are made, then the crowd noise increases as third contact approaches climaxing in another glorious diamond ring. You don't need additional music in the background, just take it in with all your senses.

After totality.

If others near you enjoy your type of music, turn it up (otherwise be polite). It is party time to celebrate seeing the eclipse. You are now an eclipse chaser. Your musical tastes may not change but your appreciation of the universe will.

So what music do I like? I like something calming before the eclipse. Mozart, Holst, Cronixx, Marley, Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, and so forth. After the eclipse, almost anything goes!

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

When did you hear about the American Eclipse of 2017?

An interesting question to ask others who may not be as tuned into eclipses or astronomy is when did they learn about the eclipse taking place across America.

Many will say they only learned about it in the last year. And this is largely due to efforts by the eclipse chaser community per se, the astronomical community, and scientific organizations. There are many people that have been involved and we've been organizing information for years.

In the past few years entire conferences have been devoted to planning for the eclipse of 2017 across America. We knew then that traffic may be a problem, that weather resources would be needed, and that people would be anxious for detailed information.

Cities, state, and local governments were contacted to let them know it was coming. Most acted as though it was too far into the future to be concerned about however in the last year that has changed and those of us involved were happy to provide as much detailed information as possible.

So how about myself? When did I first learn about the eclipse across America? I found out about it back in the 1970s when a couple of eclipses did touch America, 1970 and 1979. While I was unable to see these totals I did have a serious interest in astronomy. A presentation of eclipse results in 1970 led me to going to my first total solar eclipse in 1972 and it was there that I learned about various future eclipses coming in the next few decades from some astronomers - and the specifics of the 2017 eclipse. A couple of the astronomers I met at the time had charts showing future eclipse paths and I was intrigued with how they calculated it all. This led to more of an interest in the math, I was only 13 at the time and found it fascinating.

My first good reference came in 1987 from NASA. Publication 1178 was a fifty year canon of solar eclipses from 1986 through 2035. It had maps and I marked all the pages of the eclipses I hoped to see, including the 2017 eclipse. On the front page of the book I put a plain sticker and wrote on it, "Bill's Travel Planner".

So how long ago did you know about the eclipse across America?

Sunday, 13 August 2017

One more week until the eclipse

We are into the last week until the eclipse of 21 August. The "Big Eclipse" as some call it. Or the "Great American Eclipse". This is when an eclipse chaser's patience is really put to the test. You can only go over your equipment list so many times. You can only pack and repack and pack again so many times. It is difficult to wait to actually get on the road.

By now most have figured out what to bring to the eclipse. The check list is pretty basic. Camera, Binoculars, sunglasses, and sunscreen are essential items. Some shade is nice, especially for the camera when not in use. More advanced observers are planning for telescopes, computers, and maybe multiple camera batteries running automatically. It can get sophisticated if you let it.

The most important thing to bring to an eclipse is yourself. Enjoy the eclipse!

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Eclipse Map Accuracy

Solar eclipse predictions are pretty accurate. They can get within a second or two of the time when the sky goes dark and the corona shines out. They can predict the location of the first spots of sunlight peeking through valleys along the lunar profile with reasonable accuracy. And these predictions can be made for many years in advance with good certainty.

So why do the headlines of some news items say they are wrong?

Those maps of eclipse’s path? ‘Wrong,’ experts say. And it’s the sun’s fault

Those maps of eclipse’s path? ‘Wrong,’ experts say — off by up to a half-mile at edge

Read more here:

What is going on here? With accurate predictions decades in advance how could the calculators be wrong just a week before the eclipse? The problem is not in the math and not in the calculators per se. The problem is in figuring out just how big the Sun will appear in the sky.

You would think that astronomers would have a pretty handle on this size. They do. Within reasonable limits. You see it is not their fault, it is the Sun itself. The Sun is a ball of gas and getting a good measurement is not all that easy. It is a moving target in a way. Just where is the edge? What do we define as the edge? Is it uniform in size all the time? These questions make the job a tough one.

So would you like to help figure this puzzle out? Some of the scientists at the International Occultation Timing Association (they time things getting in the way such as when the Moon passes in front of a star) have an experiment they'd like you to do, with your cell phone, to help measure the size of the shadow and thus the solar disk.

Of course, following this information set my imagination running and here are some new cartoons on the subject.
Cave Painter
Solar System Conversation

Bottom line: The northern and southern "GRAZING" zones are not a sharp edge. To see the total solar eclipse, be at least a kilometer inside this lines!

Read more here:

Friday, 11 August 2017

Why the eclipse path goes west to east

This question has been coming up frequently. Why does the eclipse path travel from west to east instead of east to west?

The simple answer is that the Moon is moving faster in space than the spinning Earth.

You say: What? The Moon takes a month to complete one revolution around the Earth and the spins around once each day. How could the Moon possibly be moving faster?

Imagine two racers. Each will be given a track to race on that is circular and goes around the same center point. (Makes it easy for us to watch them both.) So one racer gets the inside track and the other gets the outside track. And lets say the inner track is four times shorter than the outer track. If both racers run at the same speed it makes sense that the inside track racer can get around the track four times while the racer on the outside finishes just one lap.

The two racers can be thought of as the Moon going around the Earth and us sitting on the surface of the Earth spinning about the center once a day. So how big are the two tracks and how fast are we moving?

Earth track: Earth radius is 3959 miles (average). The length of the "Earth track" is the circumference which would be 24,875 miles. That is a long track and we "run it" once each day. So let's divide that number by 24 hours to learn the speed in Miles Per Hour. The answer is 1036 MPH. This is the speed of the Earth's rotation at the equator. You don't feel it, Earth is a lot bigger than us. Kind of like sitting inside a moving car, you don't feel the movement unless the road is bumpy, you change the speed, or you open the window.

Moon track: The Moon is 238,402 miles away (average). That makes the length of the "Moon track" 1,781,704 miles. And the Moon makes it around that track once every 29.53 days for an average speed of 2514 MPH.

The Moon is moving two and a half times faster than the Earth is spinning! As a result, the Moon's shadow crosses from the West to East, the same direction the Moon is moving relative to the background stars.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

The Most Press Ever?

Of all the eclipses I have gone to, this one is getting the most press. Every news paper along the path, every radio station, every TV station, is seeking out eclipse experts to tell them how cool the eclipse is going to be.

No matter how times you try to describe the experience, it seems to come out either sounding like a religious zealot or very lame. There doesn't seem to be a comfortable in between that I have found.

Maybe that is symptomatic of the eclipse itself. It is intense, it is amazing, it is all those things you have heard plus a lot more. How does one expand on the most powerful words they can come up with except with metaphors and analogies - and even those seem kind of lame.

The following I heard recently and kind of like is that seeing a partial eclipse is like walking past a concert hall where your favorite artist is playing while a total is like having VIP tickets in the front row giving the artist a high-five.

In the next week and a half you will be seeing a lot of eclipse experts on line, on the radio, on TV, and in print. Magazines of all types are writing up material, some have special issues about to come out, and there will be live coast to coast coverage of the eclipse by NASA and others. This is by far the biggest media eclipse I can ever remember, and I am deeply honored to be part of it.

Now, let's have some clear sky coast to coast!

Monday, 7 August 2017

Two weeks to go!

Now the fun part starts. The actual travel. Some of my friends and fellow eclipse chasers are already underway to the central path. Some of us are getting our suitcases ready. We have only two weeks remaining until the solar eclipse of August 21st.

Tonight the full moon rose in a hazy damp sky. It had been raining for half the day (typical August day here, sunny morning, rainy afternoon). Earlier there had been a partial lunar eclipse. This is typical of "eclipse season". That time when the Moon's inclined orbit intersects with the ecliptic, where the Sun travels in the sky. We call those the nodes. During the times when the nodes (there are two of them) are lined up with the full and new moon, eclipses take place. So it is officially eclipse season.

And in two weeks the best show of eclipse season takes place. A total solar eclipse. There has been some press attention to the matter and soon a full on blitz is going to unleash. News papers, online, TV, social media - it is starting to catch the fever and it will get more and more intense as the time draws closer. Some will be showing the eclipse live from coast to coast on TV and streaming TV. There are to be live eclipse ads and who knows what else. This eclipse may go down as one of the most commercial eclipses ever, more on that later.

93% full - Saturday practice - 1360mm

For now, eclipse chasers can catch a last breath. Double check your equipment, practice, the full moon is perfect for that. It is too early to call the weather of eclipse day, although some do. We need to wait until the day or two before the eclipse to have a better chance of getting any sort of weather prediction right.

The moon is now moving towards the new moon phase.

The total solar eclipse is just two weeks away!

The excitement is already building.

See you under the shadow!

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

August 2017 is here!

This has been a LONG anticipated month. I am an eclipse chaser and an American. After way too long an eclipse is coming near! The last time one hit America was 1991 in Hawaii. I went to Baja Mexico instead. It was more affordable and the weather prospects better. Prior to that was 1979 and I skipped that one due to expense and terrible timing with school. This is the first one since I started eclipse chasing in 1972. And it is coming to the Midwest.

Are you ready for the Eclipse August 21st.

Now is the time to start paying attention to the long term weather. Are there major storms coming across the Atlantic that could develop into tropical hurricanes and disrupt the weather in the Midwest? What about the Pacific Ocean, anything odd there that may push rainy weather south from the Rockies across the plains? The good news is there isn't anything showing up so far. Let us hope and pray that the weather is good on eclipse day for the entire nation!

Monday, 31 July 2017

More about Eclipse Chasing

Here are some more of the questions I have been asked recently. The majority of reporters have reached out to me due to the Eclipse-Chasers.Com web site where there is a log of eclipse chasers. For privacy purposes I do not store the email or contact information for any of the chasers in the log list. Of course, one of the primary things these reporters want is contact with others which can be problematic. For example, a common question is "who is a chaser in the XXX region?" for some local coverage. I have to answer that I honestly don't know.

Where will you be for the eclipse this summer?

On the border of Tennessee and Kentucky near the area of greatest duration. While it is a bit of a gamble on the weather, it is a great location for friends and family from that part of the USA. And for those of my friends joining us from over seas, we are observing the eclipse from a drive in theater. Should be a lot of fun.

So you pick locations based on duration?

Not always, the weather is normally the key factor. This summer is unique. We could end up driving to clearer weather if the need is obvious. The thing is, this is the USA midwest in August. One cannot always predict the weather from one day to the next. It can start out clear and sunny and turn rainy or go the other way. If a storm front is in the area we may have to move to a better location, that is not desirable though. The location we selected has about a 50-50 chance of clear sky for the eclipse. We are taking a chance here.

What equipment do you recommend?

Solar glasses are nice to have, just make sure they are the safe type and not some cheap knock off. Barring those, for totality, you might want some binoculars. They really enhance the view. A camera can be fun, if you are a camera fan. And for those of use who number in the Astronomer category (professional or amateur), a small field telescope is recommended. Just be sure to establish viewing rules ahead of time! 2 minutes is not a lot of eyepiece time.

What equipment are you bringing?

Binoculars, a camera, a small field telescope, and assorted viewers. We are bringing certified glasses for everyone in our group.

What else is recommended for novice eclipse chasers?

Sunscreen and maybe even an umbrella to provide some shade. It can get hot sitting out there from first contact to totality. Younger eclipse chasers might need something to play with or to keep them entertained. A coloring book worked well for us in the past, also setting not too far from a swim pool.

A recommendation is to find a lounger chair if one is available. Think sun bathing but without the tanning. It is very comfortable to watch an eclipse laying back in a deck chair or lounger. If that is not available, a large towel or blanket to set on the ground works good too.

This August I will be observing the eclipse where the Sun is reasonably high up in the sky, over 60 degree above the horizon. Being seated on the ground or a chair is essential.

What is the most extreme equipment people bring?

Depends on where the eclipse is going to take place. This summer American eclipse chasers can bring a car or truck load of equipment. Most of what I've seen are really good mounts and long focal length refractors. Unless one is planning to climb a mountain in the path, the "extreme" stuff people plan to bring is more like a well organized star party.

In previous centuries eclipse chasing involved a lot more scientific equipment and cameras were a hassle. Plates and chemicals required special handling thus you might have seen old time pictures of large eclipse tent camps with temporary observatory structures. Eclipse expeditions would arrive months in advance to prepare. These days people set up the day of the eclipse and can normally carry all the equipment they plan to use.

What is traffic expected to be like during the eclipse?

Hopefully it will not be an issue. It is not a good idea to be driving to a new location during the eclipse itself. Too easy to get distracted. And don't panic over every little cloud. I've seen several eclipses where small clouds got in the way for a few seconds. Gives you time to look around at the horizon and sky. But as to traffic predictions and so on, I tend to think of the eclipse being kind of like a big sporting event. People will arrive over a larger space of time than they will depart. Any traffic jams will most likely be after the eclipse as everyone tries to head home at once.

Friday, 28 July 2017

What is Eclipse Chasing?

These past few months a lot of us have been asked about eclipse chasing, who we are, what we do, and that sort of thing. It has caused me to reflect more on the subject than ever before. And it is difficult to convey the passion without sounding like a lunatic or someone who needs a prescription for some chill pills.

So I will start with a couple of simple to understand descriptions of what solar eclipse chasing is all about.

Total Solar Eclipses are amazing to behold. 

And I choose these words carefully. It is amazing. You see stuff you can only see during a total solar eclipse. Stuff like the corona, chromosphere, prominences, and a well, it is a strange thing to see. Very cool actually. And you don't just "see" a total solar eclipse, you behold it. It becomes part of your essence. A surreal spot in time where you found yourself immersed in the shadow of the Moon. You become part of the solar system, you feel it moving, and when the diamond ring appears at third contact, you really do feel enlightened.

Eclipse Chasing is travel with a specific purpose, sometimes to exotic locations. 

Once again I have chosen the words carefully. The travel is specific, we want to a total solar eclipse. The travel will take us through a specific area at a specific time. And we have a clear purpose, to see the total solar eclipse. Some may think that the purpose can get a bit extreme such as chartering back up aircraft for rapid relocation or for getting above the clouds. Adding the sometimes to exotic locations to the description is where many find us interesting. Who else do they know that goes camping in the jungle? Who else do they know that goes to the polar regions? Who else might they know that takes cruises into the deep blue ocean to remote or rarely visited islands?

You wanna ask me what?

Examples of questions asked by the reporters.

Are there a lot of solar eclipse chasers?

There isn't any way to really answer that question. That answer varies depending on the eclipse circumstances, where you can see it, how many people live near it and so forth. When looking at very remote locations like the polar regions maybe a hundred or so people can get to the eclipse path. Perhaps that number is more like several hundred using aircraft and ships. If the eclipse is out in the deep blue sea, far from the normal cruise ship routes, a few hundred or thousand might see it from chartered vessels. And when the eclipse passes over very populated area like the USA or China or Europe, the number is more in the hundreds of thousands if not millions.

What profession do solar eclipse chasers have?

Everything. The common myth is that all solar eclipse chasers are older white guys and while there are a few of those (after all, they have lived long enough to see more than a dozen eclipses) that is not the biggest demographic all the time. Travel to the jungles of Africa, to the polar regions, almost anywhere, is not easy. It costs money and time. So retired folks have the time, but do they have the passion? Some do. How about professionals? Sure! And what about astronomers? Of course!

How do you afford eclipse chasing? Are eclipses chasers all rich?

Now this is difficult. A lot depends on your income level and lifestyle. The key is, how much of a priority it becomes. If you scrape the money together, find some financial aid, help in group travel - you can do it. Not a lot of opportunities, but with the right passion it happens. For myself, it meant skipping vacations to save up money and time for an eclipse chase. It meant skipping a few eclipses because I could not get the time or money to work it out. So not every eclipse chaser is rich. Some are, lucky them, and others aren't rich with money, still lucky because they chase eclipses! So yes, eclipse chasers are rich in experience and passion and some even have money too.

It seems most Eclipse Chasers are Americans, is that true?

To a certain extent that is true if you search only English web sites. There are web sites in other languages devoted to eclipses and I know quite a few eclipse chasers who are not American. There are quite a few from Canada, Australia, and the UK who fit into the English speaking types. Of those, there are more American eclipse chasers. Do keep in mind that eclipse chasing is international in scope. So it depends when the eclipse is taking place and where as to what the national demographics will work out to be. This summer, hands down, there are more eclipse chasers in America. (Note that Europe won that distinction in 1999, China in 2008, and so on.)

How does one become an Eclipse Chaser?

Go see one, then plan to go see another one. That makes you an eclipse chaser. Or just plan to go see one, you are an eclipse chaser, a virgin eclipse chaser, but still one of us with the passion. Once you have seen one, then log in to the web site to log your eclipse - you are now an official eclipse chaser by all respects.

This summer a whole new crop of eclipse chasers will be born. Another eclipse will cross America in 2024 and I am sure most that see this one coming will want to see it again.

Which eclipse was your favorite?

ALL OF THEM! Depends what kind of experience or travel or what ever we are talking about. My first, my last, my wife's first, my kid's firsts, my friend's first - all are great. I cannot pick a winner. That is like picking your favorite toy as a child, it is the one in front of you at the time. I am passionate about all of them, so are most serious eclipse chasers.

Do you have plans for future eclipse travel?

Yes, I have already signed up for a cruise to darkness in 2019 and am investigating options for the next couple before 2024. If all goes well, I will have seen over an hour of totality in 2019! That is an exciting mark, too bad this summer's eclipse isn't a bit longer in duration.

Just how many eclipses have you seen?

This summer will be my 17th total solar eclipse. The complete log can be viewed as a world map at:

 More to come soon....

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Eclipse stuff galore!

The American eclipse this summer has produced one thing, more kitsch (stuff) than you can imagine. There is eclipse fever running in the market. So far I have come across Eclipse beverages (the best being Eclipse Moonshine), Eclipse foods, Eclipse shirts, Eclipse hats, Eclipse buttons, Eclipse tattoos, and virtually any marketing gimmick you can think of.

Cartoons - I have added over 200 cartoons to the eclipse nuts web page. Many are about the solar eclipse this summer. And I have been asked by several people if they could use the cartoons for t-shirts. As long as the application is not for commercial purposes, I am cool with that, just send me a picture of you wearing the cartoon shirt after the eclipse!

Art work - here is an example by Clare Casey of some very cool artwork associated with the eclipse. I am looking forward to seeing more examples after the eclipse as artists are inspired to try and capture the feeling of totality. A gallery of eclipse art can be viewed here.

Need new clothing? This year is proving to be a treasure trove of shirts and hats. All that is missing is eclipse pants, socks, shoes, shoe laces, and maybe even some underwear. In the picture below I am wearing a shirt and hat from GreatAmericanEclipse and I just recently got a newer shirt from them called "Occupy Totality".

Snail Mail Anyone? Even the post office is getting into the game with eclipse stamps that contain "magic" ink. When heated you can see the Moon! When cooled you can see the dark Moon eclipse. I bought mine in Florida. They were dark until I went out to my car. And they didn't turn dark again until I got them into the air conditioning. These stamps are unique, last forever, and very cool. Get them at the US Post Office while you can.

And there is more to come.... stay tuned for a later blog entry! If you know of anything cool related to the eclipse, please send pictures or a link or leave a comment below.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Eclipse 2017 - the big one!

I was talking with a reporter who asked how I felt about the "big eclipse" coming in August. I had to snicker. It isn't a big one. Let me explain.

Just how Big?

In terms of "big eclipses", the August eclipse isn't all that big. Eclipses are measured in time. The time that the Sun is completely blocked by the Moon is called totality and we measure the duration of totality.

From the perspective of duration the August 2017 will not be a particularly long eclipse. The maximum duration does not even crack three minutes. Eclipses can last up to seven minutes (for ground observers) so this one does not even make it to the middle of the scale. It is below average.

I suppose another way to measure eclipses is how many people may get a chance to see it. From that perspective, the August 2017 eclipse ranks up near the top. A lot of people could potentially see it, many with a relatively easy drive (under normal circumstances) to the central path.

In comparison, the eclipse of July 2009 was a really big one. Not only was that eclipse a long one in terms of duration (longest in the 21st century) it crossed heavily populated areas like Shanghai in China. The eclipse path started in India (also a highly populated place) before crossing the mountains into China and then out to the ocean.

An American Eclipse

This eclipse is unique in one big aspect. It crosses the lower continental USA and no other countries. That is a lot of land mass (an entire continental width) to cover and still only be one country. Of course, that is partly because the USA is a big country.

The USA has 50 states,  two of which are not directly connected (Alaska and Hawaii). The other 48 states are sometimes called the lower 48. They make up the familiar shape of the USA. This eclipse crosses the lower 48.

There has not been an eclipse path in the lower 48 since 1979. That makes it a big thing, especially if you are American. Hawaii did get to see a total, a rather long one at that, in 1991. By comparison that is a small population and land fall amount compared to the August 2017 eclipse. Still, that has been a long wait for many.

For people who reside outside the USA, this eclipse is a bit of a hassle. Especially if you come from countries under travel restriction or quotas. The USA is not always an easy place to visit for some. Visa application fees expensive (about $160 each time you apply) and he process can be difficult. An embassy visit might be required and so forth. Thus the "Big One" is not as attractive for some eclipse chasers that live outside the country.

Solar Minimum

The August 2017 eclipse is occurring at solar minimum. That means that the Sun has fewer sunspots than at Solar Maximum. Sunspots are storms or disturbances on the surface of the Sun. During a total solar eclipse they are seen along the edge in the form of prominences. Plus they can cause interesting shapes and twists in the solar corona.
1983 Corona shape near sunspot minimum - Bill Kramer
1991 Corona shape near sunspot maximum - Bill Kramer

Is solar minimum a bad thing for solar eclipses? No, it just means that the corona might not be as bright and rounded. In fact, the shape of the corona will most likely be quite interesting with short polar brushes and coronal wings extended out along the equatorial directions. The eclipse in 1983 (see image above) was nearer to minimum and it appeared as a butterfly in the sky. For comparison a very active corona can be seen in the 1991 eclipse. Eclipses at solar minimum often exhibit very complex coronas so it will be interesting to see what we get.

For a preview of the coronal shape, see the SOHO web site.

So it will NOT be big and great?

It is going to be great, don't get me wrong. All eclipses are great. It just won't be a particularly long eclipse. And there will be a big audience to see it. It is summer time and the chances of good weather along the path are quite high.

Trust me, it will be Great! It will be Big! You are gonna love it!

However I tend to think of this eclipse as the "Easy One". Since I am America I have no travel issues other than getting to the central path and finding a hotel. We booked a hotel quite a while ago that would be easy to reach for us and family and friends. That was easy. There were a lot of choices. By getting a hotel in advance we avoided the increased costs others are finding as they look now, nearer to the big event. So not only was it easy, we got a good discount by booking a block of rooms for our friends and family. This one was relatively cheap.

It was not like trying to find a hotel or lodge in the middle of some jungle or out in the ocean. No exotic transportation is needed, we can drive a car. This one is EASY! That makes it a Great American Eclipse indeed!

Now then, as to the name "The Big Eclipse" - it is a book for kids. A well done book at that! Check it out at

Saturday, 15 July 2017

The Eclipse Chaser Community

The eclipse this year has been interesting as numerous reporters are keen to get a scoop or some sort of unique angle on the story.

One question I am asked repeatably regards the "eclipse chaser community". It is because of the web site - - that I started back in 1999. My original intent was to simply put my own eclipse chasing experiences up on the web. The community aspect was never part of the plan, it was intended to be a tool to keep track of past eclipses and share ideas for future ones.

I had never thought about the community concept before the questions began to appear. Yes, we do have conferences and meetings, but a community?

Group photo at an eclipse conference

Do we have a community?

One could argue that the various astronomical societies serve as a type of community. The American Astronomical Society, the International Astronomical Union, and Astronomers without Borders are just a couple examples. These types of communities focus on astronomical things like research, education, and public outreach. These are not really communities as much as organizations. There are officers, there are rules, in some cases there are even dues to join. Within these organizations one finds communities of common interests, yet none really cover eclipse chasers.

Eclipse chasers are an amorphous collection of communities at best. I must qualify that statement as being from my perspective. As viewed by an outsider, a reporter for a newspaper looking for a story, we are all one big community.

So here is how I break it down for the reporters that have asked.

Shared Interest Groups

On Facebook and Yahoo you can find some eclipse chaser groups. They range in size from a couple of people on up to several hundred. Many overlap in that they are the same members in the multiple groups. On the mailing list oriented group discussion ranges from the absurd to the technical about eclipses. In general the conversation is very well controlled thanks to it being moderated by a true diplomat amongst people (thank you Mr Gill). The Facebook groups tend to get infiltrated by various lurkers and vendors making them less popular with the more technical crowd. They are fun in that some of the topics tend to be more about silly and absurd aspects of eclipses and travel.

The log at the web site includes over a hundred members and they represent a sizable fraction of the eclipse chasers out there. The list is by no means complete. There are some who refuse to be put on it for what ever reasons. As the programmer of the log, I just hope it is not because it didn't work for them and they got frustrated.


All eclipse chasers must travel. If you just wait for an eclipse to happen in your neighborhood, you might find yourself very limited. Even the luckiest neighborhood may see only one or two eclipses in a life time. Eclipses cross a place at an average rate of once every 350 years or more. Yes, there are lucky places. Like Carbondale Illinois where one can see an eclipse in August and again in April 2024.

Thus eclipse chasers have to travel to see multiple total eclipses. When traveling around the world to these events you do get to meet the same people over and over again. Of course, group rates can help at times too. If you have a band of eclipse chasing friends it is possible to secure excellent places to stay and methods of transport to get there. This can be very important when considering costs. Unlike the popular myth that all eclipse chasers are wealthy there are some who do have to struggle financially to get to the various eclipse locations. Obtaining a group rate saves a bit here and there, may even result in a few free rooms, and that helps everyone out.

In addition to the band of friends you can also find travel companies. They use the group rates and then package the entire thing into a product one can join. Loyalty to travel companies is common as they often bring astronomical expert/celebrities along and market to past customers aggressively. You don't save much money traveling with tour companies but you do develop good friends and find others who share your passion for eclipses. Most of the travel/tour companies do an excellent job at providing the type of experience one would want when going to different parts of the world chasing eclipses.

In my opinion there are traveler communities inside the eclipse community. Most are quite diverse in their make up. They may have serious astronomers, amateurs, families, retirees, friends, and who knows what else in their ranks. I have met a variety of people ranging from what some would call the super-rich to recent (unemployed) graduates spending their gift money. Many of us save up just for eclipse travel and don't bother with the more traditional types of vacations. (In my situation we did a lot of camping vacations to save from one year to the next before splurging on something special - a solar eclipse.)

The key to eclipse chasing travel is that it is travel with a purpose. Everyone shares the same goal, to see the eclipse. The other stuff is a bonus extra. Others might say something about always wanting to visit where ever as well as see the eclipse. Thing is, it all comes down to the common goal of seeing the eclipse. And that makes us a community. We travel with a purpose.

Calculators, Computers and Map makers

The other sub-community within the global eclipse chasers group are those of us that enjoy the challenge of calculating eclipse paths, making maps for others, and computing various details related to the eclipses. There is no real formal community here, just a bunch of people who share that interest.

There are quasi-professional groups such as the IAU WGSE (International Astronomical Union Working Group on Solar Eclipses). The IAU WGSE presents papers and has a goal of promoting eclipse knowledge. We don't have meetings. We mostly just use email to share information, even then not very often, and it is mostly consists of requests to check each others works.

This is a very small community at best. Some skills are required and then one must want to share with others.

Yes, we are a community

So in thinking deeper about the question, yes there is a community of friends, associates, businesses, professionals, and others who share a passion about solar eclipses. It really is something you need to see to understand how this can happen. A diverse group of people, some highly educated and others who never finished school are all attracted to one of nature's most amazing shows. It just goes to show how powerful the total solar eclipse experience can be for people.

A Follow Up

A question that was asked after this entry was published related to the number of eclipse chasers out there and if they are all Americans. Getting a count on eclipse chasers is difficult as it is not something everyone will admit to being. There are over 300 chasers listed in the log. Yet the Solar Eclipse Mailing List has over 500 members. So if we double that number we get about 1000 serious eclipse chasers.

Now what about the not-so-serious eclipse chasers but people who do go to solar eclipses. These would be people who have seen more than one eclipse. I'd estimate there are several thousand people in this category. During the eclipse of 1998 almost a dozen cruise ships carried over a thousand people each into the path of totality. The eclipse of 1999 had several cruise ships in the Black Sea along with eclipse chasers from England all the way to Iran.

And eclipse chasers are international. It is the nature of the game. Not only do Americans enjoy it, so do other nationalities. I host an English language eclipse chaser web site yet I get visitors from all over the world every day. There are eclipse web sites in other languages too. Solar eclipses are something every living human being can enjoy.

So how many eclipse chasers in this community? I don't know, quite a few is my guess.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Eclipses on other planets?

Is the Earth the ONLY planet to enjoy a solar eclipse?

Virtually any astronomer can assure you that eclipses are not an uncommon thing. An eclipse occurs when one object casts a shadow on another such as when the Moon's shadow hits the Earth. That is when a solar eclipse takes place. When the Earth's shadow hits the Moon, a lunar eclipse takes place. Using a modest backyard telescope one can see the shadow of the Jovian moons hitting the upper cloud decks of Jupiter causing a solar eclipse there. And if the angle is right one can also see the moons of Jupiter emerge or get engulfed by the shadow of the giant planet.

Thus the simple answer is that Earth is not the only planet to enjoy eclipses.

But do they see really good eclipses on other planets? A good eclipse is where the apparent size of the eclipsing moon is the same as the size of the Sun in the sky. Here on Earth the Sun and Moon appear to be about the same size in the sky. The reason is one of perspective. The Sun is massive. 400 times bigger than the Moon. Yet it is 400 times farther away making it look the same size.

You can see this effect by using two coins, a big one and a small one. Put the larger coin on your desk and hold on to the smaller one. Now block the view of the big coin with the small one by holding the smaller one closer. (It helps to close one eye.) Move the smaller coin back and forth until it matches the size of the larger, more distant coin. Now measure the distance to the larger and smaller coins. Also measure the size of the two coins. If you compare the ratio of the larger value over the smaller value you will find they match up. (Example, two coins, one is three times larger will match in size if the larger coin is three times further away. Try it!)

Now back to the question about the other planets. Do any of them have a moon that appears to be the same size as the Sun? There are over 180 known moons in the solar system and they vary in size greatly. There are moons that are very big and there are moons that are very small (kilometer or so).

To figure this out the first step is to determine how big the Sun appears from the other planets with moons. All of these planets are further away meaning that the Sun will look smaller to someone observing from that location.

The next step is to find out about the various moons of the planets and determine how big they appear in the sky.

Now we can compare the sizes to see if any match up or come close. Given the diversity of the solar system moons there will be some that appear to be many times the size of the apparent Sun as well as some that will be mere dots in the sky. And as we reach farther and farther away, the Sun itself starts to appear as a dot. This means we would need a powerful telescope to see the eclipse.

The results of one such analysis I did can be viewed at:

I created a table of just over 100 various moons with various sizes and found, as expected, that an exact matching ratio is rare. Just not as rare as I anticipated.

It was expected to find that only the Earth and Moon had such an arrangement of matching angular sizes. But what I found were two other moons, Pandora and Epimetheus both in orbit about Saturn, also has a near perfect fit just like the Earth and Moon! Check out the study to see which moon was actually the best.

The study revealed at least three more moons that create total eclipses where one could see the corona all the way around the eclipsing moon. I say at least because that is a subject open to debate. I set the test up to look for any circumstance where the moon was two times the size of the Sun or less. That means the corona must be visible out two solar radii, not an uncommon situation (the corona can be seen out to six solar radii with dark adapted eyes from inside the Earth's atmosphere, so one could increase this cut off level and see even more matching situations).

It turns out that such coincidences are not as rare as I had believed!

There is quite a range in sizes. The moon Triton  appears 26 times larger than the Sun from Neptune! Now this does not mean it fills the sky. Neptune is pretty far away from the Sun. Without a telescope, the Sun would appear as a bright dot in the sky. Triton appears to be about half a degree, the same as our Moon appears to us over Earth. On the other end of the scale some moons appear to be a dot against the solar disk. The worst case was the Sun appearing over 16,000 times larger than the eclipsing moon!

BUT - this is important!

The eclipses of the Sun as seen from the Earth are the best. Why? Earth is the closest planet to the Sun with a natural moon in orbit. And thus it has the closest view. From Saturn, we would need a 10x telescope to see the same thing we see with the naked eye from the comfort of Earth.

cartoon by Bill Kramer

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Eclipse Book Review - American Eclipse

There are a lot of eclipse books suddenly available. Most contain maps and details about the eclipse this summer and I do have some recommendations on that subject. Fred Espenak's books are the best overall. You may have seen his web sites about eclipses, and are the most popular. Go to Eclipse Wise Publications page to see his books about the eclipse - great information and great maps!

And there are some fun books for nerds.

One I just finished reading is titled American Eclipse by David Baron. I was impressed with the amount of research that went into this book about the eclipse of 1878. Having little to no knowledge of the eclipse other than some referenced in books from that era it was fascinating to follow along as David tells the stories of several eclipse expeditions into the American frontier. The expeditions included some famous names of the day such as Edison who was testing a device to measure heat from stars and the solar corona. A charged political atmosphere of the time is highlighted putting the entire story into a neat perspective that left me feeling like I had experienced the journey myself. I cannot say enough good stuff about the writing style. It was fun. The descriptions of the eclipse were by someone who has been there. I liked the descriptive text and may end up borrowing some of the phrases in future eclipse writings and talks. If anything to add some variety to the descriptions I often use to convey the eclipse experience.

I picked up the book while in a Barnes and Noble book store. The number of astronomy and science books are few and rarely seem to change. I always check to see if anything new showed up any time I am in the store. This book was just published, obviously in time to market for the eclipse this summer. Anyone who likes history is encouraged to take a look at it. It is extremely well researched and written. Plus I found at the end a nice dedication to fellow eclipse chaser Jay Pasachoff who the author claims inspired him to do the project and see more eclipses. Good job Jay!

When I described some of the hardships the chasers in the book encountered to Denise she remarked that I should write up about our adventures in 2002. While we were not cold like some of the campers in Wyoming and Colorado in 1878, we did experience some "discomforts". But that's another story....

Friday, 30 June 2017

Just how fast do you need to go?

This question has come up more than once recently. And from some pretty strange sources. If someone wanted to view the eclipse from the west coast to the east coast, how fast do you need to go? There are those that have access to aircraft and wondered if it was possible to keep up with the shadow of the Moon as it raced across the continent from Oregon to South Carolina.

As a quick answer, you need to go pretty fast. Like in the range of 1400 to 2400 MPH. That is pretty fast. Supersonic!

The average overall speed would be just over 1600 MHP based on a distance of around 2500 miles in about an hour and a half. At first the speed would be higher, in the 2400 MPH range. That is because the shadow is hitting at an angle. It is more oblong in shape (like a football) but that doesn't matter much because we need to keep up with it. The shadow speed slows as the eclipse reaches the part of the globe that sticks out the most, near Illinois/Kentucky/Tennessee. At that point it is "only" doing about 1400 MPH.

Is there an aircraft that can do it?

Turns out yes, there are several aircraft that might have a chance. The problem is how far can they run at that speed. Most might need to slow way down to fuel up the tanks and by then the shadow has out run them.

In 1973 a prototype of the SST Concorde raced the shadow of the Moon across Africa. It was able to keep up for an astounding 74 minutes before breaking off. The thing is, there are no windows looking up from the Concorde, just a small area for instruments to be placed. They could see out the window, not the eclipse, but the shadow sweeping over the land below.

What about those super spy planes, can't they go that fast? Again, they can but not for long. They go even faster otherwise they might burn up the fuel too quickly. So while they can run at the speed for a short while they would either have to slow down and fuel up or jump way ahead and make a loop about the shadow thus not staying under it the whole time.

14 or 12 states?

If one wanted to see the eclipse from every state that touches the umbra the problem is one of geometry. Up in the air you are outside of the shadow! It is hitting the Earth at a slight angle and is shifted to the South the higher up you go. For 2 of the 14 states the umbra makes a glancing blow at surface level - but not up where the jets fly! I suppose now we need to see what states to the south of the central path might need to be added to the list of states crossed at jet elevations....

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Planning your eclipse day

It seems every journalist in the USA is taking a stab at writing a piece about solar eclipses. This is great! Finally we get to tell the story. You see, a total solar eclipse is an experience.

  • For some it starts years before the actual event. They are considered the eclipse chasers
  • For some it is just like any other day. They are innocent by standers
  • For the rest it is another day on vacation with an eclipse chaser. They are groupies.

I am writing this blog entry is for the eclipse groupies.

This is kind of what it will be like to experience your first eclipse in the company of an eclipse chaser.

Morning, sunrise:

Eclipse chasers have been frantic about weather and other secret contingency planning. They probably did not sleep the night before. Chances are good that this will be the first time you are actually looking at the weather with any real concern. You are wondering whether or not it will cooperate during the solar eclipse. The sleep deprived chasers will be the first clue. If they are frantically loading up to move, you should join in and help - after you have some breakfast and coffee maybe.

But let us assume the location is deemed good and proper so there will be no moving to a new one in the early hours. Now you can sit back and watch the dance of the eclipse chasers.

If the eclipse is in the morning, before noon, then the eclipse chasers have been set up since sunrise (if not hours earlier). 

If the eclipse is in the afternoon, then the eclipse chasers have been set up since shortly after sunrise (if not hours earlier). 

Generally the eclipse chasers will stake out an area to view the eclipse, sometimes days in advance. The location may be marked with tape or a small sign. Most will wait until eclipse day with the most concerned members being up early and putting up tripods or other equipment to define a boundary.

They will choose a location based on many reasons. Some want the landscape view, others want an unobstructed view, some want specific silhouettes visible, while others choose a space way bigger than they need so they can select who sets up near them. Other considerations may be a desire to be near a scarce resource like electrical power or to best observe shadow bands. What ever the reason, most will follow where ever the more experienced eclipse chasers in the group locate so they can see what they are supposed to do. They also like to be near the expert so they can ask questions should something come up (at this time it is either equipment set up or camera related).

First Contact:

First contact has a big build up with little to actually see. The Moon is just starting to cover the Sun. It is just a small arc of darkness against the edge of the Sun. You cannot see it with the solar glasses right away, the Sun will still look like a ball. But give it a few seconds and the anomaly will begin to appear. It will slowly grow covering the solar disk over the next hour.

Over the next hour each time you check the Sun with a viewer a through a solar telescope, more and more of the Sun is covered by the Moon. For most this eclipsing process seems to take a lot longer than needed. Kind of like waiting for anything, time just runs slower when you watch it carefully. Should you have the ability to completely ignore the partial eclipse phase you will not really notice much until the Sun is about half covered. The temperature may start to dip and the light of the Sun is starting to seem odd. It is not as bright as it should be (on a clear sunny day). You will hear eclipse chasers remark about the temperature at some time. If you don't have a light shirt or cover up of some type, now is a good time to consider getting one. The eclipse is still half an hour away and that may seem like eternity to eclipse chasers, it really isn't and thus a good time to get ready for the next parts.

As the total eclipse draws near the eclipse chasers will caution others not to move or jump around, a buzz will start as people say they see darkening on the horizon to the West or they spot shadow bands. Shadow bands are waves of light and dark that sweep across the surface making seem as if the ground or a wall is vibrating in light. They are kind of hard to see if you are not at the right angle.

Venus and other brighter planets may become visible at this time. The sky takes on a darker blue color similar to a clear sunset. You should notice the air feeling cooler and maybe the wind settling down.

Second contact:

With just seconds remaining the buzz of noise from your group will increase until there is a scream of joy or amazement and others yell out second contact. My advice is to wait another couple seconds before looking at the eclipse. The diamond ring at second contact will flash blind you and cause spots to appear in your field of vision. Much like a bright flash camera going off in your face, and having that happen right at the start of totality is really poor timing.

Looking up at the eclipse is amazing. An eye in the sky, a bright flower with a dark center, an angel, the open yaw of a dragon falling on you from above, and much more have been used to try to describe the view.

It does not matter once you have seen one. You are now part of that special group.

After Totality:

You have lost your eclipse virginity and are no longer a groupie. Now you know. There is a good chance some of you just might become eclipse chasers.

After totality there will be a celebration and much discussion about what was just seen. Pictures will be compared and shared. And plans will begin in earnest about the next one. It seems strange, but most will ignore the eclipse ending. Watching the Moon slip away and the Sun grow can be a very sad for eclipse chasers. It means another eclipse is over and it will be a while before they can see that amazing thing in the sky again.

- Wishing you have clear sky above your head for the eclipse in August!

Friday, 9 June 2017

There will be how many people?

Michael Zeiler has been "playing around" with the GIS tools from ESRI (where he works, so it really isn't playing around per se). He has put together some awesome eclipse maps from the databases they have available for population, traffic, and so forth to predict how many people could show up for the eclipse at various locations.

Click here for The Great American Eclipse analysis.

These tools can be used for city and state planners to help anticipate the best and worst case scenarios in terms of visitor counts. Emergency response could be impaired in some cases and it is not a bad idea to pre stage responders in some places.

For eclipse chasers these tools show that the highways could become full of cars going to or leaving after the eclipse. The chances are greater that traffic jams will happen after the eclipse as everyone decides to head home about the same time.

I suppose it is handy to have a GPS or at least some good maps of the back roads just in case!

Fred Espenak has a road atlas that could prove quite useful if the local Internet resources are stressed.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Doomsday Eclipse Prophesy?

I was looking at some eclipse videos on YouTube and ran across a large selection where the eclipse coming in August is considered a sign from God about the end of the world. It seems that there is a population of people greatly concerned about it. These sites get a lot of views. Are people really believing what they say, or is it just a source of amusement as it was for me at first.

Rest assured, the eclipse is not a sign that the world is ending. It is a celestial event that is worth seeing and really beautiful. Where these folks got the idea that it signified something special is from the deep past, when mankind did not have a grasp on the workings of the solar system and heavens above. Today we have a grasp. We know what causes eclipses. We know about planetary movements. We can predict these things with great accuracy because we have figured this stuff out.

So just where do these folks come up with these ideas? One thing I found in common is that they all want to sell books and subscriptions to hear more of their "wisdom". And I observed that these supposedly good people see no problem in stealing images from websites and other sources in their productions (with absolutely no credit). They abuse copyrights and trademarks, operating outside the common practices of good journalism. As a result I am very skeptical about the motives. I think they are a bunch of hustlers trying to con people out of their money and time. So do not buy the books and do not send them money, just ignore their pleas for support.

Just as a side comment I also noted that there seems to be concern about some mystical planet coming by that will cause all sorts of problems. Some of the dates of destruction have come and gone yet the same people keep on spewing this trash. It really amazes me how seemingly credible sources are willing to play along. Or are they? Many of the quotes and video clips were taken out of context, a common tool of the fake-media.

While I am big fan of free video on YouTube I do find such nonsense distasteful and worthless. All I can say is that if you encountered my blog while searching for eclipse doomsday predictions, forget it. No doom, just a great show, hope the sky is clear for you to see it.

2012 Total Solar Eclipse by Denise Kramer

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Spectrograph - a real science thing

Eclipse chasers do more than just hope to see a total solar eclipse (a remarkable thing to behold), some are hoping to gather data useful to scientific investigations of the Sun. The data desired is to help measure the exact size of the Sun, search for traces of elements and new atoms in the solar atmosphere, and to see the effect of atmospheric scattering amongst other things. New cameras and instruments are expanding our ability to gather this data.

One instrument not normally in the arsenal of amateur astronomers is a good spectrograph. Simple spectrographs are fun to play with but they don't show the resolution needed to really identify most emission and absorption lines. Most major observatories have spectrographs and in many cases they are bulky or require special setups to use. Spectrographs are useful in astronomy when studying the composition of stars and other objects.

During a total solar eclipse, around the time of the diamond rings, the light from the Sun goes through an amazing sequence of change. Spectral images of this time can be quite important to those studying the transition layers of the Sun from the photosphere on out to the corona. Images captured during those fleeting moments by cameras equipped with basic spectrographs are called Flash Spectrum images. Click Here for an example.

Icarus Optometrics FLASH-SPECTRUM-TSE2015-1024x697.jpg

I was contacted by Aris Voulgaris who is marketing a spectrograph that does not use a slit. The company is Icarus Optomchanics. They have a website at where you can learn about their tool. It is well designed for use with a digital camera and can be mounted in line on most telescopes.

Normally I don't plug one commercial product or another but this is very unique. So for any astrophotographers looking to expand their work and maybe even go after the Flash Spectrum, check them out!

I did contact them and inquire about costs and delivery time. Currently they can deliver in under two weeks for a cost about US$1500. You will need to contact them directly to determine your imaging needs and custom accessories. Nice product, nice people.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Franklin Kentucky viewing area

Denise and I just visited Franklin Kentucky, a small town in the path of the total solar eclipse where we have made hotel reservations. The hotel is located right off the interstate meaning that we can move to alternative locations should the weather situation look bad.

Just north of Nashville, TN along I-65 is the town of Franklin KY. This is where we will be staying.

If the weather looks good, we will see two and a half minutes of totality just before 1:30pm local time from the front of the hotel parking lot.

This location is not ideal, just convenient. Near the hotel allows bathroom breaks (during the partial phases), access to food and drink, and a comfortable place to be. The show is in the sky, so the surroundings are really not all that important if all you want to do is see the eclipse.

Front of hotel car park area

When we arrived at the site, the weather was not good. Fortunately for us, the next day revealed a very blue and transparent sky. We expect that the car park area will be full of cars so the chances of setting up on the pavement is slim. Instead we thought the grassy area in front might be nice.

Grassy slope in front of Hotel. See is on ramp to I-65 South off of SR 31.
Why isn't this location idea? LIGHTS! Being near the freeway entrance means that large lights will be visible in the sky too. For those seeking a wide angle view, it isn't great at all. The street lights will dominate the image. For those of us using longer focal lengths, it is not a real problem just like taking pictures of the Moon from a lit up area.

A chain restaurant common in this part of the USA, Cracker Barrel is across the street.
For those of us willing to give up creature comforts there are some excellent alternative viewing locations near by. Farm fields and gentle rolling hills dominate the landscape with lots of trees and beautiful scenes. We ventured out to explore the area and found a couple of good choices including the historic downtown area (classic Americana), a race track (Kentucky Downs), an unused and overgrown picnic/camping area (we urged the proprietors to make it available).

Our plan is to arrive in the area a few days ahead and further scout alternatives for setting up. Kentucky and Tennessee are lovely settings for the eclipse and if the weather cooperates we will have a great time. We are not too far from Hopkinsville too. There is an interesting festival going on the weekend before the eclipse. Given the time, we will be stopping by there in the days leading up to the eclipse to check it out.

Oh, by the way, in our adventures we discovered a local distiller is ready for the eclipse selling Total Solar Eclipse Moonshine. More on this and other unique mementos of the eclipse later, that is a good subject for another blog entry.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Why isn't everyone excited about the eclipse?

I am an eclipse evangelist. I freely admit I love going to total solar eclipses. And I am quick to share my love of eclipse chasing with anyone that will hear it. If asked, I will tell people that eclipse chasing is worth the effort and expense. Going to exotic locations is part of the fun. And if you have a travel bucket list, chances are good that an eclipse may be near by at some time in the future and should be added to the list.
Eclipse Chaser: Eclipse shirt/hat, solar filters for binoculars, dark sunglasses (except at night and during totality).
For residents of the USA, this summer presents an opportunity to see a total solar eclipse without exotic travel. (Unless your idea of exotic travel is further than a few miles.) I have telling everyone I know in the USA how wonderful this is going to be and that they should make an effort to go. Total solar eclipses are amazing and fun!

So why isn't everyone on board with this concept? Over the years I have tried to get other people to join me in going to see a total solar eclipse. Unfortunately the success rate is pretty low in that most people don't really want to go see one or more specifically, they don't want to go see the one I am promoting. The reasons to not go to a total solar eclipse vary from one person to the next.
Why NOT go to the total solar eclipse?

  1. The cost is too high. I get this. Sometimes the cost is way up there. When an eclipse is taking place in the middle of the ocean or over some continent where travel is costly this excuse makes sense. Even as an eclipse chaser I have surrendered to this problem in the past. Thus I am a bit selective in which eclipses I am willing to go see.
  2. Timing is bad for a holiday. The number of 'professional' eclipse chasers is few and most of us have to take time off from work or other obligations to travel. If the holiday time is not available or if the time required is excessive this is a reason to skip the eclipse.
  3. Don't want to go there. Again, a legitimate excuse. I skip eclipses where the weather may be bad or questionable. I have also skipped eclipses that required travel to locations in the world that are simply not fun to visit, have a poor track record with tourists, or do not offer a good chance of seeing the eclipse due to the climate.
  4. Other priorities when it comes to holiday time. Even I have succumbed to this reason in the past. When gainfully employed vacation or holiday time may be precious or inadequate to accommodate an eclipse chase along with other vacations. Suppose your idea of an ideal vacation is to lounge on the beach. Why go to a polar region eclipse and give that up? Or in my case, suppose your idea of an ideal vacation is to go to a resort or amusement park with the entire family. 
  5. Not interested in stuff like that. Okay, this is the only reason I cannot get at all. Eclipses are interesting even if you don't like science and astronomy. The Sun goes out without clouds in the middle of the day. How can anyone not be interested? I include this reason just because I hear it frequently as an excuse to skip an eclipse opportunity. Sorry, I don't get this one.
So you going? If,not, ohhhh, never mind.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Braille Eclipse Education tool

Here is an unusual offering in the eclipse and astronomy educational tool kit. A Braille eclipse educational tool, with maps, for the blind that teaches about the upcoming eclipse in August.

Space.Com is where you can find more information about the Braille educational tool. Go to their web site and have a look if this is something that may interest you.

I have to admit that when I heard about this project I thought it seemed kind of absurd. How could someone who is blind appreciate a total solar eclipse? After all, the main impact is visual. But then I gave this some thought and came up with a series of ways that one who is blind can appreciate the eclipse. Keep in mind that when you loose a sense light sight, your other senses are better that most others. Improved hearing, sense of smell, and touch could indeed enjoy a total solar eclipse. (I am not volunteering to be blind folded for the eclipse to test this notion. Instead I'd be very interested in hearing from others who have impaired sight and what they thought of the eclipse.)

What are the other effects during a total solar eclipse besides the light show?

Temperature drops as the eclipse progresses. Winds may pick up and drop off at times as various thermal layers in the atmosphere are directly impacted. These drops may trigger other reactions in nature. Just as animals react to the loss of light and might head home or come out for the "night", so do plants. Fragrant plants may change as the light drops and then increases. Just like they do at sunset and sunrise. And of course there is the noise changes. People getting excited, exclamations of joy and awe as the eclipse progresses - then absolute joy after third contact. Animals make noises too. During one eclipse we heard a large cat (tiger) roar as it awoke to find it night already. Birds headed home to roost for the night might set out a call as to other land based animals.

So don't dismiss the eclipse due to blindness. The experiences of one observing a total solar eclipse might prove fascinating.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Eclipse 2017 Commemorative Stamp

The USA Postal Service will release a new "Forever" stamp for the upcoming total solar eclipse. The stamp is scheduled to be released on 20 June. (See USPS eclipse stamp announcement)

This stamp is very unique in that it reacts to the temperature. When heated by touch, an image of the Moon appears in the middle. The image below shows the stamp in two states. The left image shows the normal stamp. The right image shows the same stamp after being warmed by your hand. This process uses Thermochromatic ink, the first of its kind by the USA postal service.

Because thermochromatic ink reacts to UV light you should keep the stamps out of direct sunlight (somewhat ironic given the subject matter of the stamp). From USPS announcement:
"Thermochromic inks are vulnerable to UV light and should be kept out of direct sunlight as much as possible to preserve this special effect. To help ensure longevity, the Postal Service will be offering a special envelope to hold and protect the stamp pane for a nominal fee."
The stamp images come from Fred Espenak (Mr Eclipse). He supplied both images (eclipse and Moon).

Stamp sales are expected to be brisk. Local post offices may run out of them quickly so if you plan to send post cards or letters with the stamp on them (or just add a few to a collection of eclipse stamps) you need to move quick to get some. As the eclipse date approaches the stamps may be difficult to obtain.

These stamps are a rare honor to both the eclipse taking place across the continental USA and the Fred Espenak who has provided many years of eclipse details to us all. Lobbying by eclipse chasers led to this special commemorative and Fred worked in secret (he didn't tell any of us!) with the postal service to deliver this cool (err, hot?) product. Thanks to all involved, this is a unique and special way to commemorate a very unique and special eclipse.

To see other eclipse stamps from the past visit the virtual stamp collection gallery at