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

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Where are you going to be for the eclipse?

One of the most frequent questions I've gotten about the eclipse coming this August 2017 is where I plan to view it. There are a lot of factors this time around. Many choices, roads, good weather data, and fun venues.

So - Where will I be seeing the eclipse this summer?

The right answer is: Under clear sky!

The reality is that we cannot control that feature of the weather. So that means one might need to travel. And planning for said travel means locating oneself near good roads and with options to move to alternative micro-climates. On the really good side is the fact that this eclipse will occur in August, a time where there are relatively good weather predictions across the eclipse path.

Denise and I drove a large section of that path from Wyoming through Illinois. Interstate highways were the primary roads and there are plenty of ancillary roads as well should traffic be an issue.

Along the road we encountered wispy clouds and a common good trend. The sky most cleared near to sunset.  This is a good trend because as the atmosphere cools off during the clouds tended to drop out. Atmospheric cooling does happen during a solar eclipse as less sunlight is heating it up.

Maybe an overpass is not a good place to set up
Overpass in Nebraska, nice sky!
Storm fronts present the worst case for eclipse chasers
This cooling effect comes with potential hassles such as increased wind in some geographic areas. Eclipse chasers who went to the Sahara in 2006 reported increased winds before 2nd contact (these winds died out BEFORE second contact as the atmosphere regained a form of thermal balance). The Sahara is an extreme environment of course.

So what is America like during the month of August? Specifically later in August around the 21st? Humid and Hot with a trend towards drying and cooling later in the month. All good in my mind.

An additional factor to be considered for us this particular eclipse for us are friends and family. For years they have heard about our eclipse chasing exploits around the world. Most of the time they wonder why. Now one is coming near them and we wanted to include as many as possible in our planning. Being originally from Ohio, we opted for a central base camp near Nashville TN. From there we can go East or West depending on the weather prospects.

So where will we be? If the weather plays good we will be in Kentucky or Tennessee. I've avoided getting involved with planned tour groups and venues so that we can be flexible and move as needed. Should the weather be bad we will be on the road the night before if not earlier to get to clear sky. So don't be surprised if you find us near by at the last second!

For a really good analysis of the weather prospects, check out Jay Anderson's web site. He is a meteorologist and has been studying eclipse weather for years. But of course, also keep in mind that old adage "Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get".

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Public Outreach

As a "Solar Eclipse Expert" my input is often sought after by journalists. The reach out via email and ask for phone interviews, video shoots, quotes, and so on. Sometimes I respond and the results can be interesting. Here are two recent articles where I consented to phone interviews.

We eclipse chasers can be difficult to interview. Terminology is important to us. Spelling is important (it is Baily, not Bailey!). Safety is important to us. And this can sometimes put us in conflict with the published result. An example is the use of a picture showing unsafe viewing of the Sun. Too often stock footage is used where people are seen using various things to view block out the Sun that are not recommended. The only recommended item is a solar filter, a modern one, that meets international standards. Sun glasses, CDs, film, and so on are simply not safe for a variety of reasons.

I have great respect for journalists. I used to write regular articles in magazine about subjects I knew intimately. As a result I did not have to interview people and try to understand what they were saying. Too often I have had experiences where journalists do an interview and then write what they understood or thought they understood. The result can be something that is wrong in one way or another. Should we blame that on modern education? Or our inability to clear communicate what we mean? Either way, the gap exists and one must be careful about what one reads.

See more Eclipse Cartoons at

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Coming to America?

Solar Eclipse Conference 2014 (New Mexico USA)
Eclipse chasers are an international community. Because eclipse chasing involves travel all around the world it is necessary to navigate the international travel visas, restrictions, and so on to get to the eclipse path. Sometimes getting a visa is not an easy situation, which can be greatly exasperated when the eclipse is only visible inside of one country - and that country imposes restrictions. I first encountered that when going to the USSR in 1981 to a total solar eclipse. The authorities (on both sides) were not easy to convince. To get into the USSR required invitations (granted to eclipse travel groups) and then individual visas. On arrival our equipment was carefully checked and recorded. Oddly they did not check serial numbers and so on as we left. But it was still a bit of an uneasy situation.

Well, this summer's TSE only touches the USA and for many eclipse chasers, this presents a problem. Several eclipse chasers have been denied visas (after filling out the proper forms and visiting the embassy) and of course, there is a travel ban for people from a certain set of countries.

We experienced our own difficulties trying to bring two friends from the West Indies (Jamaica). They filled out the DS-160 (an exhaustive multiple page web form), paid the fee of US $160, scheduled a visit to the embassy, and then went to visit the embassy. At the embassy, officers asked a variety of questions including "Why do you want to see the eclipse?" (a rather stupid question from an eclipse chasers point of view yet perfectly valid one from someone who doesn't know about eclipses). The result was that one was granted a visa, the other was not. And the really odd thing was that the gentleman rejected was told to apply for a work visa (he does not want to work in the USA, just visit and see a total solar eclipse).

I have heard of other eclipse chasers having trouble getting visas to come visit the USA and see the eclipse from countries such as Ireland, Romania, and others. Most of the time, visas are granted but for a small number of unfortunate people, getting one is proving very difficult.

Of course, there are also eclipse chasers from a small set of countries are automatically rejected due to difficulties vetting people from those lands.  The situation is very unfortunate since other options are simply do not exist. (Ships and planes would have to come near to the USA border but not enter.) I just hope that issue can be cleared up in time for the eclipse. It would be tragic if astronomers could not come due solely to their country of origin. Most scientists are not political (until funding or tenure is involved) thus it is difficult to comprehend.

If you are reading this blog entry and have any ideas on how to help people stuck in the visa situation, please leave a comment or contact me directly. There are others out there facing the same problem so your input might be just what they need to get to totality in August.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Cartoons pages

I have added a new feature to the eclipse-chasers web site. Cartoons!

A couple years ago I started to doodle some cartoons related to solar eclipses. After showing them at a solar eclipse conference (SEC2014) I was encouraged to assemble them into a book, now available and called Eclipse Nuts.

But I did not stop drawing after making a book, so I needed a way to release these visions to the general public to be used and abused by eclipse chasers around the world. The result - a new web page sequence that I will be adding to every couple days.

So far I have about 30 cartoons posted, with short descriptions about each. Let me know if you have any ideas for other cartoons or silly eclipse stories to share. Most of these cartoons are based on real people and real events, just embellished a bit for humor purposes. Hope you enjoy them.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

TSE 2017 from balloons, drones, and rockets

People are proposing some pretty absurd ideas about this upcoming eclipse. Some want to photograph the ground from up in the air with their drones or from balloons or rockets. I want to take a stand against these notions. What follows are my reasons.

1) You should really watch the solar eclipse, not worry about some aerial contraption.
2) It is not nice to block the view of someone else watching the eclipse.
3) There is a possibility of something going wrong.
4) There is even the possibility of something going horribly wrong.
5) The solar eclipse is pretty cool, watch it!

Drones Last View during a Solar Eclipse - Bill Kramer

A kick start type of project was started not long ago for balloon observations of the ground during the eclipse. This has been done before for scientific purposes. See my list of solar eclipse observations from the air. It was also done in 2006 for tourists in Turkey using hot air balloons.

Several people have expressed interest in flying drones during the eclipse. This is a really bad idea. The eclipse is cool, the eclipse happens, you will suffer some sort of issue no matter how practiced you are. Set the drone down and watch the eclipse instead.

Eclipse drone attacks! - Bill Kramer

Another project is to fly a weather balloon near the eclipse path photographing the ground. The idea is to try to detect the "edge" of the shadow. This has some value to cartographers trying to model the same. You see, there is a MAJOR difference between being inside the path of totality and being outside. In addition, eclipse observations at this dividing line are assisting in refinements to the visual solar diameter.

And then there are rocket opportunists wanting to launch during totality and take images. I am very concerned about this sort of activity except by professionals who know what they are doing. Rocket trails into the sky could obscure some observers and that makes me even more concerned. So my advice when asked is not to do anything like that. Would you shoot a rocket up during a sporting match while your favorite team is scoring the winning points? (If you answer yes to that, please leave me a comment letting us know where you will be so we can be far away!)

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Is your hotel reservation okay?

Update March 27 - Hey check this story out! Oregon Hotels canceling reservations and raising prices under investigation.

Want to hear an eclipse chaser horror story? Imagine making a reservation a year before an eclipse, getting a great rate on a room that the hotelier doesn't know sits in a good location only to find out your reservation did not exist when you called to make a minor modification? The horror! Months before the eclipse, almost every place sold out, outrageous rates for the remaining locations and you don't have a reservation that you thought you had just a few minutes before!

This happened just recently according to a story circulating the web. Kind of makes one nervous. Especially if the story matches in any way with what you have done for reservations. To remove that fear, simply check your reservation with the hotel directly.

The story has prompted some to give up reservations too. So you might want to look into finding out if any cancellations have come in at a place you thought might have filled up earlier. Worth a long shot to check every couple of weeks from now on too unless they tell you they have a waiting list already - at which point join it!

The night before the eclipse could be hectic with people seeking rooms. If you plan to arrive late at your room make sure it will be there when you arrive by calling ahead and requesting a late check in. Most hotels will honor that commitment.

I hope everything runs smoothly though. It will be a great day for many to see a wonderful eclipse of the Sun by the Moon!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

March 7 1970 memories

A lot of eclipse chasers were recently sharing memories of the March 7, 1970 total solar eclipse that went up the eastern seaboard of the USA. Like this summer's eclipse, the path could be accessed by many living in near by large cities. And thus many did.

From some well know experts in eclipse chasing from the Solar Eclipse Mailing List on Yahoo:

  • I watched that same eclipse on TV, with Frank Reynolds of ABC doing the "play by play" of it, while I was sitting in the den of the fraternity house I was a member of at USC, in my sophomore year there.....   I had always wanted to see a total in person, but had had no clue as to how to actually go to see one....
  • For various reasons we ended up in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn near Cape Charles. I think it has since been taken over. It was not the existing Holiday Inn further north. If necessary, weather-wise, we would drive south on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, which had just re-opened after having been attacked by a ship! However, the weather was absolutely perfect! There were white sheets from the motel beds in the back of a truck, on which shadow bands were quite evident. I have a set of slides, with fixed exposure. As it gets dark, the slides get dark on the outside scene, but the lights inside the motel room windows start getting brighter! And of course, during totality, cars with headlights on drove happily in both directions on the highway beside the motel!

My own experience with that particular eclipse is less dramatic. I was unable to attend totality because I was involved in a swim meet that weekend. My only view was wearing a Speedo walking out front of the natatorium with a solar filter. I was in Ohio, so it was only a deep partial, yet I was not going to miss it. The result was a view through partly cloudy sky and a thorough tongue lashing from my coach. It was March, in Ohio, there was still some snow on the grown, and to make things worse, I almost missed my event. No one knew where I had gone and I barely made it back to the pool deck in time to swim. I will say this, I remember the water feeling nice and warm.

This summer's eclipse occurs on a Monday and I do hope many are able to get out school or work and see it. Even the partial is fun to see.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Eclipse 2017 - To Photograph or Not (Part 5)

If you have read the previous posts, we reached the point where you decided to photograph it. No more debate on that point. Now the question has come up about using a smart phone.

I am going to state right away that my experience with a smart phone is minimal. The lens size is too small to do any good. It is kind of smart but does not account for a smart user, one that knows what settings will work. And that bloody autofocus simply will not cut it.

So the first thing I've learned is that if you want to use a smart phone and it does not allow for settings where the user is controlling the smarts, forget it. Use it to get people pictures before and after. And do make sure that flash is set of always off.

It is pretty amazing what a small lens and chip can "see" though. Wide field images are great while close ups may be relying a bit too much on software to clean up the image. There are also attachments for the phones to add a macro lens on the front. This increases the magnification of the system. Lunar experiments show it has a strong potential to achieve satisfactory results.

I am interested in seeing the results after this next eclipse. Are you an eclipse chaser yet?

But let me toss out a few cautions and tips.

  • Turn off the flash. Cover it with black electrical tape just to be sure.
  • Be aware of what and who is around you.
  • Set the screen brightness to minimum for totality.
  • Don't hold the camera up in the air, hold it steady in front of you.
  • Being seated lets you use your knees to help keep the camera steady.
  • The flash is a real problem, make sure it is off.
  • Experiment by taking pictures of the Moon to learn approximate settings.
  • A decent image of the gibbous to full moon phase is a good setting for the diamond ring.
  • The settings from a good image of the thin crescent moon phase works for a nice corona.
  • No selfies during totality, you are missing the eclipse!
  • To show lots of corona, use the settings of a good image of the earth shine.
  • Make sure you have plenty of battery power before the eclipse starts.
  • Turn off the flash. Really.

There are also after market mounts to help hold the smart camera phone steady. If you are going to shoot longer exposures or make a movie then you really want to have one.

Making a short movie with the smart phone could be fun. Showing people as shadows against the brighter sky and hearing the comments is pretty easy to set up. Just start the movie mode and mount the camera in a sturdy way behind you. It should catch your reactions and the eclipse sky.

Above all, don't get obsessed with taking pictures during totality. Experience it!

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Eclipse 2017 - To Photograph or Not (Part 4)

Okay, so you really want to photograph. You have a camera, maybe a camera phone, maybe a DSLR, but you really want some current, relevant details.

Here is the thing, the technology is constantly changing and getting up to date information is almost impossible. If you are going to use a new camera then I can only advise one thing - lots and lots of practice. We still have plenty of lunar views and sunsets (or sunrises) between now and the solar eclipse. So get out there and do some practicing!

Lunar pictures showing full lunar disk are best for eclipse practice.
Practice with the Moon and Earthshine

Now, where to learn as much as possible before the big day... Here are three recommendations.

How to Photograph the Solar Eclipse by Alan Dyer - This eBook is amazing, I highly recommend it. Alan Dyer makes beautiful astronomical pictures and the presentation in this eBook is amazingly simple yet complete. Follow his directions and you can create wonderful images.

How to Photograph a Solar Eclipse by Fred Espenak - Web page and book reference. Recognized as one of the leading eclipse experts in the world, Fred has put together some useful information for experts and novices. His book, Totality - Eclipses of the Sun, is a great reference and has a detailed chapter about eclipse photography. The web pages of Mr Eclipse and his books are highly recommended.

Photographing Solar Eclipse by Bill Kramer - My own web pages about how to photograph a total solar eclipse. I've seen 16 total eclipses thus far and done some sort of photography at each one. With practice comes knowledge and I tried to share that on the web pages.

Most of what you will find is based on using a DSLR. That is, a larger camera with interchangeable lens. You can use a smart phone, I suppose that should be the next subject.

Know of another good resource? Leave a comment with a link to it!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Eclipse 2017 - To Photograph or Not (part 3)

TSE 2016 - Bill Kramer - Handheld, Canon Powershot wide angle 
Let us suppose you have decided you want to do BOTH. You want to observe the eclipse and you want to take some pictures. You have a couple choices.

Simple approach: Watch the eclipse but have the camera at the ready. Set it up just before totality for NO FLASH, manual infinite focus, vibration suppression on, exposure set in manual at 1/125, ISO/ASA preset to 400. Take a picture if you remember. I have used a Canon Powershot SX60HS for an eclipse without a tripod. Not all of the pictures came out nice, but some did. And I could adjust the focal length with the camera, no lens change required.

TSE 2016 - Bill Kramer - Canon Powershot handheld, maximum optical zoom

TSE 2016 - Bill Kramer - Canon Powershot handheld

No selfies: Do not waste your time taking a selfie during totality. It will look bad and the flash might go off in your face. If you really want a selfie type image, set up a wide angle shot with you between the camera and the eclipse. Don't block out the eclipse in the view. Let the camera run in video mode (make sure your memory and battery are up to the task).

Exception to selfie comment maybe?
More stuff: Bring a tripod and a camera that can be preprogrammed. Set up the camera on the tripod shielding the display so as not to shine in your face (and your neighbors). Use the multiple exposure setting if available. Using the timer can be a bother if there is a light on the front of the camera counting it down. That can be "fixed" using some electrical tape. Otherwise a cable release or remote control is the ideal solution.
TSE 2006 - Melissa Kramer - Questar prime focus

The best way, total automation: Bring along multiple cameras and maybe even a telescope that can all be controlled by a computer. The number of I/O ports may limit how many of these things you can connect. The cameras should be connected first. The telescope only needs to track the Sun and that may be a simple setting on the mount. Once set up you can sit back and relax, watch totality, and hope the software you use works.

What software should you use? Take a look at my web pages about photographing solar eclipses for more information.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Eclipse 2017 - To Photograph or Not (Part 2)

In my previous blog entry I gave reasons NOT to photograph the total solar eclipse coming in August 2017. Now I want to clarify a few things starting with my answer to the question of whether or not to photograph the eclipse - just go ahead and do it.

My first total solar eclipse took place when I was a teenager. I was (and still am) an amateur astronomer. So as not to miss anything I came prepared. Telescope, binoculars, camera with zoom lens, extra film, tripod, cable release, thermometer, and hours of lunar photography practice under my belt.
About to loose my eclipse virginity in 1972.
I thought I could handle it, you know, teenage optimism. My plan was to watch 2nd contact, do a few pictures, scope out the view with binoculars, some more pictures, temperature reading, telescope views, pictures of 3rd contact. I had practiced in my back yard and it was easy to fit all that inside of two minutes. I figured the only difference was that it was to be on board a ship.

Of course, that is not how it went. The moving ship presented its own challenge. The view moved in and out of the telescope eyepiece. It did not stay centered in the camera. Add in the excitement of the total solar eclipse and the whole thing was overwhelming.

Eclipse 1972 - 210mm Pentax, 200 ASA Color film (Kodak)
I did follow some very good advice and not try to photograph second contact. Instead I watched it directly and looked through my telescope as the chromosphere slipped behind the lunar disk. It was spell binding! The coronal details, the prominences, and it was happening all too fast. 

After gazing at the eclipse in the telescope I snapped a few pictures with my 210mm camera lens set up on a tripod. A few, hah, I finished the roll in seconds! Modifying the exposure every time I took picture after picture and was dismayed not to have any film left as third contact took place.

Many of the pictures did not come out good. The trick was to time the picture at the top or bottom of the "wave" as the ship rolled and pitched in the sea. That was anticipated but did I think about that? No.

I watched a bit of third contact through the telescope catching the chromosphere emerging from behind the lunar limb. It is an amazing view!

All in all, I did not have time for my binoculars. The temperature reading was forgotten. Looking through the telescope was awesome enough, that is a view I will never forget. Two minutes of totality is just not enough. You don't have enough time to get to all the toys.

So, after hearing how splendid a total solar eclipse, why did I even try to photograph it? Well, you know, it was a total solar eclipse! I could not help myself. I had photographed the Moon, planets, star clusters, constellations, nebula, galaxies, and there was no way I was not going to try and photograph a total solar eclipse.

Do not use your flash! Silhouettes against the eclipse sky are great!

Are you going to photograph the eclipse? If so, I totally get it. Have fun! And do practice on the Moon in the coming months. Catch the Moon at all phases. That way you will be ready for the New Moon Phase on August 21st 2017!

For some more tips, visit my web page Top Ten Rules of eclipse photography.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Eclipse 2017 - To Photograph or Not?

Do you want to photograph the eclipse this summer?

In my opinion, if you are asking this question, then don't. Put the camera aside, look through binoculars, maybe even a small telescope, check out the panorama, look and listen - you'll love it!

But if you really want to photograph the eclipse, check out my basic instructions at - they cover the essential information you will want.

Thanks to the Internet you will find plenty of great images to show others. Once you see the eclipse, you will appreciate some of the pictures even more.

You just can't take an image and capture it all. 

Solar Eclipse Totality is surreal. When a total solar eclipse is taking place and you are in the shadow, you have stepped into a new universe where the Sun is shining but not shining. Replaced by a very dark disk, an eerie shine of electric hair surrounds the disk, it looks like an eyeball staring right back at you. Everything is plunged into a strange darkness. A faint amount of light, like the full moon shines from the now dark Sun. The horizons are brighter than overhead with sunset (or sunrise) colors on some.

And you really think you can capture all that metaphoric nonsense with your camera? Professionals try and only catch a bit of it. A single metaphor, at best, at a time. So sit back and enjoy the show.

The very act of taking the image changes the situation.

Taking a picture of something as grand as a total solar eclipse adds a whole new dimension to the problem. You become involved in something that is detracting you from watching the eclipse take place. You will miss out on details, cool stuff, and so on. And of course, you might want to photograph yourself doing all that (a wide angle video showing the eclipse and yourself can be fun, just watch what you say).

Get pictures of people before and after totality.

The most memorable pictures will be those of people right before and after the eclipse takes place. Don't take any pictures during totality unless you MAKE CERTAIN YOUR FLASH IS OFF.

People pictures are highly favored since most eclipse photographers don't have any pictures of themselves. They will be anxious for a trade with you.

Do not miss the eclipse!

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Eclipse 2017 Hotels, Motels, Campsites, and so on

Have you found a place to view the solar eclipse in August this year? You want to be along the narrow path of totality, nothing else compares if you have a clear view of the event.

The eclipse is under six months away, the hotels are filled up (well, most of them are) and now it is going to be tricky to find a place. Here are a couple tips.

Look to the biggest cities
There are several very large cities along the path with sections inside the path. See the maps for details - Kansas City, St Louis, Nashville, Columbia, Charleston. Many of these cities will have vacancies open up as the eclipse gets closer and reservations are cancelled. You see, it is not uncommon for eclipse chasers to reserve several hotels for the same night along the path and then cancel out due to favorable weather or offers from other locations.

Ask about long lost relatives
Do you know people along the eclipse path. Take a closer look at that map and see if maybe a distant cousin or uncle may live in or near the zone of totality. Maybe they know of a place to stay or will allow you to couch surf their place (spend the night). The nearer to the path of totality the better since you don't want to get caught up in traffic jams on eclipse morning.

Think again about random camping
Camping sites are going amongst the most difficult to find. Even reserved sites could encounter problems so have a back up plan of a place to stay. Those with camping vehicles may have more options since large parking lot areas can be used with the permission of the owner. That said, I know there are several already taking reservations and charging for the option.

Good luck! Hope to see you under the shadow!

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Eclipse Non-Experts Rant

Recently, NASA put out a web page series about the upcoming August 2017 eclipse of the Sun. (see For the most part, it is a well done target for social media and news agencies however it has been noted by several eclipse experts that they made some errors. These errors are not critical to enjoying the eclipse, they just look bad and make the entire work questionable. Many thanks to Xavier Jubier for pointing these out and helping to get the right information out to everyone.

I would argue that NASA's mission is not to educate the public on solar eclipses and all things astronomical. Those tasks fall to other organizations such as the International Astronomical Union (IAU) or the American Astronomical Society (AAS) and US Naval Observatory (USNO) in the case of the 2017 eclipse. NASA would do a greater service pointing readers to the web sites of these other organizations for real information instead of trying to copy-clip-paste together something flashy from multiple sources just for the sake of the news media.

* * * * *

So here are some places to visit for REAL expert information about Solar Eclipses and the specifically, the upcoming eclipse in August. These web pages are maintained by real experts and eclipse enthusiasts who want to get you the right information. The following list is by no means complete, it is just a good start.

AAS Eclipse 2017 site.

IAU Eclipse site.

EclipseWise - run by eclipse chasing expert Fred Espenak. Fred built the original eclipse web site for NASA and was not as concerned about making it flashy as in making it correct. Fred is now retired from NASA and is an extreme amateur astronomer living the dream with a nice observatory in the back yard situated out in the extremely dark sky of Arizona.

Eclipse-Maps - run by eclipse chasing expert Michael Zeiler. Michael is a cartographer who works with ESRI, a high end map making software company. Several years ago Michael decided to try his hand at eclipse tracks and ended up creating some wonderfully detailed maps. He has since started another web site dedicated to the 2017 eclipse - Great American Eclipse. - run by EXTREME eclipse chasing expert Xavier Jubier. Not enough can be said about Xavier and his passion for eclipses. He has climbed mountains, smooth talked his way onto mega yachts, computed and chartered jets to chase the umbra. His maps are based on Google and have loads of details. He also has a very useful eclipse photography tool for Macintosh users.

Another expert in eclipses is Glenn Schneider at the University of Arizonia. He has been instrumental in eclipse prediction calculations and automation of cameras (so one can enjoy the eclipse and not fiddle with the camera). My own website, eclipse-chasers, contains maps, images, and lots of useful photography information. I have been chasing eclipses since 1972 and enjoy sharing the experiences.

Just as a note, the web sites I've listed above, are almost all by members of the IAU Working Group on Solar Eclipses. These pages are works of passion, we really enjoy solar eclipses and want you to have the right information. Beware of the hyper-news-copy-clip-paste style of web sites out there who live on your clicks. Just because a major news agency uses a particular resource does not mean it is a good one, dig a little deeper for the right stuff.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Price Gouging for the August 2017 Total Solar Eclipse

There will be a total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. The thin path of the lunar shadow will cross the entire USA from Oregon to South Carolina. Lasting just over 2 minutes [maximum of 2m 41s], people are expressing interest in seeing this amazing celestial show. The American Astronomical Society, local Astronomy Clubs, and NASA have all gotten into the act of providing information and in some cases logistical support. City and small governments are preparing to host the influx of people by planning festivals and events surrounding the eclipse. There will be carnivals, concerts, fairs, and block parties at a variety of venues. Really, there are so many choices it is difficult to try and list them all. [of course, some are trying to do it -

Eclipse Opportunists
Now then, there have been claims of price gouging by some on the web. I did some research and was unable to spot anything significant except in places where demand is high and supply is very low. Most eclipses do not fall across such a well populated and modern area. In fact, most of the time we end up camping in some farm field (at a very high rate) or staying in a hotel that was built just for the purpose of eclipse chasers (again, quite pricey). So eclipse opportunism isn't new.

Why is the demand higher in some areas? 
Three reasons, weather prospects, duration, and population density. The weather prospects are best out west in Oregon through Wyoming. August weather tends to be clear and dry there, perfect for those with cameras and long focal length lenses. As the path progresses east the weather prospects get worse. Climate study shows clouds and some rain potentials for that section of the path. The duration is best around Kentucky so that is attracting a lot of interest. And then population density comes into play. There are many large cities within an easy drive to the central path. How may of these people will want to be staying somewhere in the path (recommended practice)?

So listen to this....
Claims have been made that entire hotel chains are coordinating to raise prices around the date. I did find places where the inventory of guest rooms is exhausted. Those places have very few rooms left and they are going at premium rates or with extra day requirements. Locals with an extra room are cashing in on the opportunity as well. They are trying to get as much as possible out of the deal. Perhaps these are the sources of the price gouging? If one was not very quick in securing a location it is unlikely a good deal can be found in the premium locations.

Several eclipse opportunists have contacted me asking if anyone is interested in their offerings. These are ranch owners who have an extra room or two along with some making pasture land available for camping. Rates vary quite a bit and are excessive. But again, that is in the premium locations.

I checked major cities that fall under the path (Nashville, St Louis, Greenville) using search tools like Trivago. Typing in the dates of the eclipse I did not see any higher pricing nor restrictions as I had heard from other sources. In fact, there are some pretty good deals on that web site, I may use it again in the future.

At this time, rooms are still available along the central path. That situation will change as the eclipse fever spreads. I strongly recommend looking and booking now. Pick a place, search the options, and if possible do not pick a room just outside the path of totality. There may be travel difficulties the morning of the eclipse, especially from high population centers and if the weather is looking poor.

What have you found?
I would appreciate knowing about any cases of price gouging. Add a note below if you find it to be the case. Alternatives still exist in most locations, you might have to compromise standards or spend more than you want, but they are still available.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Close to the edge?

There has been some discussion lately amongst eclipse chasers about going to view a total solar eclipse near the edge. In the past, predictive methods have made that a bit of a gamble as the actual edge might fall just a bit off from the predicted values. You don't get a redo if that happens in the wrong way!

Getting an edge view can be of scientific value. Obtaining exact timing information with an exact location is one way to verify the calculations as well as help in determining the size of the solar layers such as the photosphere, chromosphere, and inner most corona. Having a good video, a timing source that is reliable, and a very good GPS is essential for these measurements. This may be of great interest to a few eclipse chasers. For those wanting some details see the following:

For an idea of how much of a difference being inside the path of the umbra shadow, on the edge, or just outside, take a look at the images in Glenn Schneider's web page. Specifically look at the images showing the views towards the eclipse and away from the eclipse. Note the orange color areas, it does appear to be perfectly clear edge to the shadow.

Eventually there will be a movie as well over a 1000 hi-res images were captured looking out the windows of an air craft flying through the shadow.

Views from the edge of the path are dramatic as well as potentially useful. A prolonged diamond ring. However they are quickly finished as the photosphere of the Sun brightens the sky quickly.

In my own opinion, eclipses are short enough. Go for the central part of the path where it will be longer. This helps if there are some clouds -gives them a chance to move along. And if you end up just outside of the path of totality it is not nearly as impressive as being inside. It would be a pity to just miss.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Eclipse Map Animation

Revolutionary? Maybe. It is certainly a new way to visualize the eclipse path. Check out the video by the Eclipse Cartographic Master - Michael Zeiler - at - shows the shadow racing across the land scape for the Total Solar Eclipse (TSE) this August.

Fly over the Great American Eclipse from Michael Zeiler on Vimeo.
This video is absolutely amazing and represents a LOT OF COMPUTER work. It would have been impossible just a few years ago. Makes me (a retired computer engineer) wonder what will be available for the next great American Eclipse in 2024.