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.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Almost 2017

It has been a long time coming! When the 1970 TSE skimmed along the Eastern coast of the USA a small group went from the local astronomy club. They achieved success and the report they gave inspired my own family to make plans to see one.

Ted Pedas (talking) talking with my mother in 1972

We went, in 1972 and again in 1973, traveling with Ted Pedas and his Voyage to Darkness crew. It was, in a nutshell, a lot of fun, a grand experience, educational, and worth doing again. But not worth skipping school it turned out. In 1979 I did not go as I was in college and going would have interrupted school at a critical time. And that was the last time a total solar eclipse fell across the continental USA.
USA 2017 Eclipse Path -

The next one would not be until 2017 - and that is almost here!

I have been to numerous other total solar eclipses, 16 in fact. They really are something worth seeing again and again. My wife and kids have come along and enjoyed the experience too. We are a family of eclipse chasers!

This year we bring a new member along. A grandson named Finn. While less than a year old (born in November), he won't remember anything of the event, but he will have the bragging rights at sometime in the future! Why not start young?

Finn rocking to some serious music

Monday, 19 December 2016

Greatest Eclipse - a strange term

You may have noticed the term Greatest Eclipse appearing on some maps of the total solar eclipse path. Perhaps you already know what that means.

Recently, some questions came up related to this term in the SEML, an open discussion group of eclipse enthusiasts. My initial reaction was to try to define the terms being used [see previous blog entry] but after further consideration and some guidance from some great minds I am revising my feelings.

The term is meaningless for total solar eclipse chasers unless one wants to say they are at the best place for syzygy.

Syzygy is the alignment of three astronomical bodies such as the Sun, Earth, and Moon. During perfect syzygy an eclipse takes place.

So if you want to experience the greatest syzygy, then the Greatest Eclipse point is the place to be!

The term "greatest eclipse" indicates that the cone of the lunar shadow is closest to the center of the Earth. For a total solar eclipse this point is somewhat near the center of the central path. It all depends on the inclination of the Earth to the Ecliptic, latitude of the observer, and so on. Really, it is not the greatest point to see the eclipse, but it is normally a good one - if the sky is clear.

For a partial solar eclipse, the greatest eclipse point is where the maximum eclipse coverage will be seen. So for that context, a partial solar eclipse, the point makes sense. But it really does not hold much interest for total solar eclipses. Especially if compared to duration which is very important for some.

Seeing a total solar eclipse is not about the amount of time you see one. No matter how many minutes the total eclipse is predicted to last, it will seem like just a few seconds. There are those who have seen over two dozen eclipses that will tell you that every eclipse seems to last about 15 seconds. The key thing is to see it! It really is a surreal experience. Once you see one, you know, and then you might want to add more time by going to another and another. Some of us keep on going, we can never get enough! See the eclipse-chasers log. Only a few have reached over a half hour of total eclipse observing!

I often tell people that as an amateur astronomer I can stare at the Moon or Saturn or Jupiter for hours and not get bored with the view. They are amazing to behold themselves. A solar eclipse - well, I have seen just under one hour of totality so far. I've looked at Saturn longer than that in a single night! Truth is, once you see one, you want to see another one.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Greatest Eclipse and Longest Duration

There is a point of confusion for many interested in eclipses. The term "Greatest Eclipse" appears on many eclipse maps. So does that mean it is the greatest place to see the eclipse? Or maybe the longest duration point of the eclipse path? Or maybe something else?

The term "Greatest Eclipse" is, in my opinion, a poor choice of words to describe a geometric point, one that is calculated. But one is pressed to come up with a better term and thus we keep using it. And every eclipse we need to clarify just what that means. So here goes....

Just for clarity, we are only talking about total solar eclipses and not annular or partial, although the same term applies in both (see Types of Eclipses). I want to focus on totality only since that is the "big show". Annular and partial eclipses are nice, but they are not really spectacular like a total solar eclipse.

The greatest eclipse point is where the shadow of the moon (a cone shaped shadow) is nearest to the center of the Earth. It is a calculated point using the geometry of the eclipse. This point may just coincide with the longest duration and could even coincide with the best place to be for an eclipse - but that is not always the case.

The longest duration is a function of the elevation, angle of the Earth towards the Sun, lunar profile and so on. Many times the greatest duration is found near to the Greatest Eclipse point, maybe just a few kilometers off. The computation of the greatest eclipse point is direct, the computation of the greatest duration is iterative. That means we calculate a heap of points to find the longest duration.

For example, this summer's eclipse across the continental USA, note that the Greatest Eclipse (in green) is east of the Greatest Duration (magenta). Map courtesy of NASA.

So where exactly is the really greatest place to see the total solar eclipse? Where ever the sky is clear at the time of totality! Oh, and inside the narrow path as seen in the map above!

Monday, 12 December 2016

Eclipses from the Air and Sea

I recently updated the Eclipse-Chasers.Com web pages for the lists of intercepts in the air and at sea. If you know of any other eclipse flights and cruises, please let me know so I can add them in.

List of Eclipses seen from Aircraft

List of Eclipses seen from Ships

It is unlikely there will be many opportunities to catch the TSE 2017 event from the air or sea, but that remains to be seen. When mobility is important, these two options offer the best chances to get under clear sky (or above the clouds).