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.