Category Archives: Eclipse

Great American Total Solar Eclipse

We are now in the home stretch for what is being called the Great American Total Solar Eclipse. Not in 99 years has a total solar eclipse made its way across the continental U.S. and surely it will be one of the most observed total solar eclipses in history.

Total Solar Eclipse – February 26, 1998

The last total solar eclipse that I was present for was on February 26, 1998. Nineteen years ago my wife and I took a 7 day cruise and saw the eclipse on board the ship off the coast of Aruba in the Caribbean. Seeing the eclipse at sea was a very special treat indeed. With a flat horizon for 360 degrees it’s easier to see the moon’s shadow build on the horizon, speed toward you at almost frightening speed, over take you and speed away. I vividly recall the emotional response it generated in me and all who were there to see it. No pictures or movies can accurately reproduce this type of event. It simply must be experienced. I learned first hand that day why and how some many people become eclipse chasers. Sounds odd to those who don’t give a second thought about astronomical events but rest assured the experience drives people to see it over and over again. Kind of like a roller coaster junkie or sky diver who lives for the thrill and once seen longs for the next high from his or her obsession.

Partial Solar Eclipse October 23, 2014

If you are not lucky enough to live along the path of totality or are not planning to travel to the path of totality and you live in the U.S. then you can still take part in this eclipse minus the totality part. In other words, you’ll still get to see a partial solar eclipse. During all phases of a partial solar eclipse eye protection is a must. Do not look at the sun unless you are using the special eclipse glasses (made of solar grade Mylar). These glasses are available from many retailers across the country. I have seen them at Walmart and Lowes locations here in my area. If you can’t find them you can always order them online. Search “solar eclipse glasses” on amazon.com for a host of sellers. Don’t wait to long. As I mentioned we are getting very close to eclipse day.

Media outlets will be ramping up coverage as we approach eclipse day on August 21, 2017.  There will be live streaming coverage on the internet from a host of locations across the country.  NASA TV and other cable TV channels will be broadcasting the event as will local stations. That is great if you are trapped inside for the eclipse but if you aren’t then might I suggest getting outside and watching it yourself. You can always review the eclipse coverage via your DVR later.

If you are traveling to the path of totality I’d suggest leaving a day or two early and allowing time to get to your destination. Attempting to travel on eclipse day to see the event might  be more troublesome than you initially thought. Traffic will be extremely heavy and gridlock might occur in some places. The last thing you want to do is spend what you thought was going to be fun day with the kids watching the eclipse only to end getting in late and having to rush around or worse watching the eclipse from the car on the side of the highway.

Whatever you end up doing for the Great American Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 I wish you clear skies and hope you are able to take a peak at the event given your busy schedule or better still enjoy totality! And if this one doesn’t work out in your favor then shake it off and start planning for the next one which occurs for us here in the U.S. on April 8, 2024.

If you are needing eclipse data on your location regarding start time, max eclipse and end time as well as what percentage of the Sun will be obscured by the Moon you can go to this special Google map. It allows you to drill down and select your location to produce important eclipse data. It also lists the 2024 eclipse so you can start your planning!

Solar Funnel Project

5″ Meade Newtonian reflector with solar funnel.

Doing star parties over the years I have witnessed long lines of party-goers queued up to take a peak through my telescope. I’ve found this to be the perfect time to talk to folks about what’s being looked at in the telescope. I like to throw out some fun facts and this always spawns more questions and curiosity in the gathered group. Talking to adults and kids about the night sky is one of the greatest aspects of doing star parties.

There is a limit to how many people can look through the scope at any given time, put simply it’s one at a time.  But when I saw this neat gadget called a “solar funnel” I immediately knew it would be great at eclipses to show participants the partial phases and better yet it could do this via projection so many people close by can view the eclipse at once.

After a quick study of what was involved, the materials needed, the construction of the device, etc. I decided to get to work on it. It seemed easy enough. I already had an eyepiece lying around that I could use. So all I really needed was the funnel, hose clamps, and the rear projection screen material. All total I spent less than $20 (minus the eyepiece) for these materials from the auto parts store, hardware store and online ordering the rear projection screen.

The solar funnel works as advertised. This will be a great tool to use during solar eclipses. While testing it out I saw birds, planes  and clouds all pass in front of the sun. I was able to see a very small sun spot as well. In my pictures there of course was not an eclipse in progress so the sun appears round.  Alas, I can’t post any eclipse pictures with it just yet but at this writing we are only 3 months almost to the day away from the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017.

To give the sun the orange color in these pictures I threaded on a #23A orange filter just for kicks. Otherwise you can use a yellow filter or no (eyepiece) filter at all for a white sun.

The solar funnel is best utilized with a small refractor telescope. You might be saying “then why are you using a reflector telescope?” As long as you stop down the optical tube to one or two inches by using an aperture mask (see first picture on this post) you can use a Newtonian reflector. Not stopping down the telescope can be dangerous and will result in permanent damage to your reflecting telescope.

This device is not recommended for catadioptric telescopes or scopes that incorporate both lens and mirrors. Also, be sure and remove or cap off your finder scope before observing the sun. This is also a good time to give the obligatory warning about never looking at the sun with your naked-eye or especially with a telescope if you are not absolutely sure about your equipment and filters. Seek professional assistance before you attempt to observe the sun if you are unsure. They’re your eyes. You only get two (in most cases) so use them wisely.

The solar funnel instructions can be found here. This was an easy and fun project that I’m sure will be a crowd-pleaser at eclipses.

Happy eclipse chasing!

CHAOS OR COSMOS IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON

The lure is there. Friends and family not going to the eclipse are quick to say “be sure and take some good pictures!” You of course were already planning on taking pictures but now there is added pressure to get it done, and those shots had better look great! The last thing you want to do is have to show them some blurry, unfocused, dark, eclipse pictures.

Partial Solar Eclipse 6/10/02

Recording a total solar eclipse on film, digitally or using a video camera can quickly become a huge task that monopolizes your time. The logistics of getting all your equipment to your observation site and setting up in a timely manner alone introduces stresses that factor into your experience.  All of this adds up and can in some cases ruin both you and your family’s eclipse experience.

Here are some suggestions for helping to ease the stress level and to allow you to get the shots you want and need all the while enjoying the eclipse. But that can’t be done, can it? Sure it can.

Planning.  You have to plan in advance. Months, and in some cases years in advance are needed if you factor in travel arrangements. The last thing you want to do is grab your gear a day or two before the eclipse and then go on a test run or worse, just pack it willy-nilly and forget it.  This might seem like a no-brainer but people actually do this and then incredibly expect it to go well. Seldom is that the case.

Meade ETX and Nikon D60
Meade ETX and Nikon D60

Know your equipment. Practice taking images using your weapon(s) of choice now. The Sun is out most days. Do not wait until eclipse day to wonder about f stops,  shutter speeds, whether to use 100, 200 or 400 film speed settings, or to introduce a new unfamiliar piece of equipment. That’s asking for trouble.

Test your equipment as best you can and make notes.  Find out what works. Make a game plan that does not require you to be joined at the tripod leg for the entire eclipse and then stick to it. As I said earlier, you can very quickly become consumed in recording the eclipse only to find out afterwards you really missed the good stuff because you were so focused on the camera work.

Packing. Many people in the “planning” stage have already put in writing a list of things that they want to accomplish during the eclipse. So it’s natural for their packing list to spin out from that planning list. Once you have planned and tested you’ll then know what worked and what didn’t. You’ll have some decisions to make and then you’ll be ready to start your packing list. Do not wait to make this list or skip it.  Make the list while it’s fresh on your mind. Lay it all out on the floor and note everything you need to pack. You’ll be surprised how much there will be, and I promise you’ll catch items that need to be added to your list that otherwise would have been forgotten and sorely missed. I know this from experience.

This is also a good time to begin the realization of what you can and cannot bring do to space or travel limitations. If you are flying to the eclipse spot you’ll most likely be limited. If you are driving and have the entire trunk or back of the van to play with then you can get more creative about what you want to bring. A good rule of thumb here is not to burden yourself with things that you can do without.  Pack the essentials and necessities that will allow you to get the job done.

Outer Corona Structure

Knowing your equipment,  what works best for you and sticking to your strengths is key. Eclipse day is not the day to learn about all the buttons and gadgets on your somewhat new DSLR camera. It’s not the time to get to know the new telescope you ordered either. Stick with what’s reliable and effective. Your chances for success are multiplied this way. Don’t over tax yourself. Manning four cameras yourself is not the best way to relax and enjoy an eclipse with all the amazing things happening around you. Allow yourself time to find a good spot, to unpack and setup well before first contact and then go over your game plan and test your gear.

Meade ETX and Nikon D60
Meade ETX and Nikon D60

Relax and enjoy the eclipse. This is very easy to say but can really be difficult for some people to accomplish. Realize that all your shots will not make the cover of Sky & Telescope. By that I mean, do not worry so much about the pictures. Follow your game plan but enjoy the eclipse and when it’s all over you can relish the great pictures you’re bound to get. If your game plan changes due to an unexpected issue follow the NASA protocol just “work the problem” as best you can but do not allow it to spoil the eclipse.

Make sure you have a list of things you know you want to just see, not photograph. While the partial phases march along slowly time moves swiftly as totality draws near and begins. Things happen very quickly and depending on just how much totality you have 1, 2 or 3 or more minutes, this time will go by in a flash.  I make it a point to ensure that I see the Moon’s shadow expand on the horizon as totality sets in. Just experiencing the diamond ring and Bailey’s beads can be reward enough. If you have your head down at the camera or are scrambling around to shoot with other cameras you’ll miss things entirely. A very effective tactic is to setup a video camera and set it to take images at specific intervals during the eclipse but before totality starts make sure it films continuously and captures your setup and all your friends.

Shooting the Eclipse

When totality sets in get your shots but slow down. Look around. Take it all in. You have very little time. I know I sound like a zen master or something. I don’t mean to but you’ll be glad you did because you’ll see more, experience more and remember more. Most of all have fun and enjoy the grand celestial spectacle that is a total solar eclipse.

 

 

Total Solar Eclipse 2017 T-1 Year

Eclipse Mosaic
Eclipse Mosaic

Here we are less than 365 days until the total solar eclipse that will be seen from coast-to-coast in the U.S. on August 21, 2017.  This will be the first total solar eclipse to grace the U.S. mainland since 1979 and the first to sweep across the entire country since 1918!

animated map of the Moon's shadows across Earth
animated map of the Moon’s shadows across Earth

Before I go any further I want to say to all those reading this article who have never witnessed a total solar eclipse – please, please make every effort to get to the center line next summer and experience totality. Nothing compares to it. No words can adequately explain the awesome spectacle, the emotional response generated and grandeur of a total solar eclipse. You simply must experience it at least once in your lifetime.

Okay, now that I have that off my chest let me start by just being honest and upfront – eclipses are addictive! Watch one and you will probably find yourself gravitating to all the subsequent solar and lunar eclipses on the calendar. Eclipse chasers as they are called share a close bold with gold prospectors. Once the fever gets in your blood watch out, as you’ll be hooked for life.  That is not a bad thing.

Corona
Corona – total solar eclipse of February 26, 1998 from Aruba.

Now is the time to act! But wait?! The eclipse is a year away. Yes, it is but now is the time to plan your trip and make your travel arrangements. Is there a relative of yours that lives near the center line? Can we make a trip as a family to see this event even though it will take place right around the time many schools will be starting up, etc. There is work to be done to ensure you have all your bases covered and your plans ironed out. You do not want to wait until one, two or three months out to start making your travel plans. Trust me.

Photo credit: Astronomy Magazine
Photo credit: Astronomy Magazine

So as we proceed to countdown the days, weeks and months to what will most assuredly be referred to as “the great solar eclipse of 2017” I will be posting about this astronomical event and offering up important and timely information. My goal is to provide this information from a helpful perspective coming from an amateur astronomer who has seen a total solar eclipse with his own eyes and lived to tell about it.

So to recap, make your travel plans now for this eclipse. Do not wait. Now is the time to beat the masses and the last minute chaos and stress that goes with it.

Here are some helpful resources as you plan for the total solar eclipse of 2017.

  • The 2017 Total Solar Eclipse podcast – All about the upcoming total solar eclipse that will sweep across the U.S. on August 21, 2017. Listen to new programs and eclipse topics each week.
  •  Prepare for Totality 2017  is Astronomy Magazine’s page offering an interactive solar eclipse map of the path of totality (zoom in and out), eclipse facts, trip advice, helpful products, solar eclipse glossary, intro to safe solar viewing video as well as a free e-guide for download on the 2017 total solar eclipse.
  • 2017 Solar Eclipse Prime page – Fred Espenak “Mr. Eclipse” detailed discussion on the total solar eclipse of 2017. Your one stop shop for maps and information.
  • NASA’s Eclipse web site – This special web page contains preliminary information about the 2017 total eclipse of the Sun. It will be updated with more information as eclipse day approaches.

Total Lunar Eclipse on September 27th

Get ready sky sleuths for an amazing lunar spectacle! A total lunar eclipse is coming up (weather permitting) after dark on Sunday, September 27th when the moon will turn an awesome reddish-orange as it enters the Earth’s umbra. The eclipse will be visible from most of North and South America.

Total Lunar Eclipse
Total Lunar Eclipse

Total lunar eclipses always happen at full moon. This is when the Moon is opposite in the sky as the Sun or put another way when the Earth is between the Sun and Moon. This situation allows for the Earth’s shadow to consume the Moon, and we see an eclipse.

Continue reading Total Lunar Eclipse on September 27th