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 https://www.icarus-optomechanics.com 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.
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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.

http://www.space.com/36553-total-solar-eclipse-2017-braille-guide.html

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.