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.
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.

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.

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.