Monday, 28 August 2017

Eclipse Road Trip - After all that driving

Vintage Questar with solar projector - first contact
Mid Totality - Canon Powershot 60 - 1/60s
All I can say is "Wow, this has been fun!"

We saw a lot, we had a clear sky for the eclipse, we had relatively smooth traffic, hotels worked out well, met lots of friendly people, saw a rocket launch at Kennedy Space Center, and had a grand tour from Cleveland Ohio all the way to Ft Myers Florida.

Dublin Ohio, Field of Concrete Corn

Into Kentucky!

Coffee shop along the way

Franklin KY Solar Eclipse

Antique shop in Nashville

Minivan transport

Welcome to Florida

KSC Visitor Center

Eclipse Day in Franklin KY

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!