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.

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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.