Friday, 23 September 2016

Less than 11 months until the next TSE

Years ago it seemed like a far off thought. To see a total solar eclipse in the USA! Wow!

I have been to Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceana, on cruise ships, at road side rests, camp sites, hotel parking lots, and yes - even in a jet aircraft - and yet, the only USA solar eclipse I've ever seen that was almost total was in 1984. It was just about total, meaning that it was an annular from where I saw it. A very short annular as I remember it.

The 1970 eclipse fell on the same weekend as a rather large swimming competition and it was missed. I did see the partial phases, standing outside in the Ohio March weather in a Speedo, and got in trouble for my efforts. My first total solar eclipse was in 1972, so it was not too devastating at the time - just in retrospect. And at the next astronomy club meeting I heard the details from others who had driven to the eastern USA to see the total eclipse. They were excited. They were planning how to see the next one in 1972. I talked my father into joining. It wasn't hard, he was enthralled as well.

So here we are. Just 11 more months to wait until the total solar eclipse of August 2017! I am really excited about it. And I am not the only one. There are plenty of people planning to see it. So many that hotels and campsites are becoming harder to get. Costs are going up up up on some of the remaining stock. So should you panic and buy in?

Here's the situation. Many of the hotels have commitments from travel groups who have requested a lot of rooms. They want to sell you the rooms at a higher price and make money as the proverbial middle man. If you are just starting to search out a place to stay now, you are in for a ride in some places. The best thing to do now is wait until about a month or two before the event and then call every hotel looking for recently released group space at normal (maybe) pricing.

Some are looking outside the path with plans to drive in that day. While that may work very well, it is a bit of a gamble in my mind. Roads could get closed or blocked by traffic. Like minded people might fill it up like rush hour into a big city. Plan lots of time for the commute.

Just 11 more months. The anticipation is building up faster than any other solar eclipse I have done. Maybe it is the prospect of so many old and new friends finally seeing what I have been chasing for decades. We can just hope beyond hopes that the sky is clear all day across the USA that day!

Thursday, 22 September 2016

The Best Camera for Solar Eclipse Imaging is...

It is hard to count the number of times I have been asked the question, "which camera is best for photographing the eclipse?".  The simple answer is almost too simple for most to accept - the best camera is the one you know how to use best. Everyone expects an endorsement of a particular brand or type of camera system. Here is the thing, you can get a great picture with any camera. You just need to realize what it can do and how to do it.

The best thing is to start now! Months before the total solar eclipse you need to begin mastering your camera and lens setup. Practice! The practice subject is the Moon. Take a variety of exposures to see different details but more important to the solar eclipse imaging - to learn how to adjust the camera in the dark. During totality it will be kind of dark and you might have trouble reading the camera settings. You want to train yourself to where you can almost run the system with your eyes closed.

During the eclipse is not the time to learn how your camera works. You should be an expert at your own camera. Trying to jam in a bunch of tips and tricks from the experts at the last minute will result in frustration most of the time. If you just bought the camera and have not used it much, don't try to use it during totality.

The August 2017 TSE will last under three minutes at the longest points of duration. It will be more like two minutes for most observers. And it will seem like 15 seconds. Spending that precious time playing with a camera is not worth it. The experience alone is worth it.

Tip: Take pictures of the cool telescopes and long lenses with their owner/operators. Then trade email addresses to send them a copy in trade for one of their eclipse shots. This way you can get a great variety to show off to those that chose not to go to the eclipse.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Removing Filters for Second Contact Diamond Ring

This past week I have been asked by several people about when to remove the solar filter prior to second contact (C2). The desire is to catch an image of the diamond ring. That means you are removing the solar filter BEFORE the brightest part of the Sun has gone behind the Moon. This sounds dangerous and goes against all advice, so just how does one go about it.

First off: If this is your first total solar eclipse, don't bother with photographing C2. WATCH IT! You don't want to be boring behind the camera when the magic happens. You need to see it with your own eyes. Then use binoculars to take a look at the corona. You will regret not looking directly if you spend the entire eclipse watching through a view finder or video feed.

So let's say the remainder of this entry is for veterans. You know what C2 looks like and you'd like to get an image. Just when it is "safe" to remove the filter. Under a clear sky (no clouds in the way) I would say no more than 15 seconds before C2. And yet here is the rub - some predictions of eclipse timings can be off by that amount!

Why the error? A number of factors with most being your own. Starting with an accurate timer - got one? Using a short wave radio to get the time synch signals works best. It will be off slightly depending on propagation delay times. Internet time could be off slightly, same with the time on your cell phone. We are talking about getting the time to within 5 or fewer seconds for this to work best. About the best timing that is easy to get is from a GPS. But even then, make sure it is really accurate. A cheap GPS will not do the trick. A good GPS also helps in getting your location locked down.

So given a good location and good time, you can plan to remove the filter about 15-30 seconds before C2 is scheduled to appear.

Note that you may need to focus slightly. Some solar filters refract more than others. For this reason it may be advised to use a higher focal ratio as the depth of focus is greater. Note this is DEPTH of FOCUS, a technical term for astrophotographers. Click here for a great write up can be found about Depth of Focus and other related topics.

The hardest part is making sure the image is in the field. Using a DSLR with a video view finder (NOT a direct optical path), you can accomplish this quickly. If using a direct optical path you might be able to see the image projected onto the glass from the side. DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY!

Automation is best, when it works right. I have tried a number of methods with varying success and will explore that in a later blog or two. Getting the automation to start at the right time is best solved manually. So if you have an exposure sequence programmed, you can start it up about 5-10 seconds before C2 and get great results. Fast exposures are needed at C2 just like C3. Click here for an eclipse photography exposure calculator.

I've had some success with C2 images but find that watching it is still the real fun.
2008 TSE C2 from jet - double image caused by window of aircraft

Friday, 19 August 2016

One year out

Okay, we are just about one year out and it is a good time to check the weather in the area where you are planning to view the eclipse. I have added a few new links to the web page for the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse. These links take you to weather and atmosphere pages that will be useful in the days just before the eclipse.

One tool amateur astronomers use frequently is called the Clear Sky Chart. These charts predict the weather for a given observer location (normally an observatory or club dark site).  To use, select a location from the map at that is closest to your planned observing site. When you first click a known point, the duration and name of the location is shown. Next click the name of the location to reveal the details.

In the chart, locate the time near the eclipse time. The squares indicate the conditions and blue is good while white is bad. You can hover over the squares to get more details.

The the predictive tool of the clear sky charts is legendary. Some will tell you it is right almost 100% of the time. Others will say it is a wild guess and has as much accuracy as flipping a coin. As far as I am concerned, it is another way to get more data as the eclipse day approaches!

Monday, 15 August 2016

Should know this week

We should know for certain if the wait paid off on the hotel. Many of the hotels contacted cannot take reservations until a year before you intend to stay. No matter how many rooms you try to book. I know this is the case at many good hotels along the central path.

So what do you do if you want a room?

Wait until one year before the eclipse to try and schedule!

And you might find more success calling just one day later since the computer system is what controls the ability of the operator to make your reservation. OR you book for a day or two earlier to get the room reserved.

In more saturated markets, the price hikes will not take place until all space is sold out and that could take a while.


Several people have contacted me about camping along the central path. Go out there for a visit this year and you will find plenty of open space. But next year the situation could be quite different. There are reports of RV rentals already booked solid in some of the western states. This could crowd the highways and campgrounds a bit.


There are some festivals going on in conjunction with the eclipse event. Temporary housing for eclipse chasers are being made available, at a cost, near these festivals. Some sound like they could be a really good time unless you want a quiet area to set up cameras and telescopes.

I will start listing festivals and such at the main eclipse-chasers web site for the 2017 eclipse. Event organizers are encouraged to get in touch.

Monday, 8 August 2016

It is decided, for TSE2017 we will be ...

After shopping several options, we found a nice hotel located on I-65 in southern Kentucky. This location is inside the central path and allows excellent access to various highways should the need arise.

We selected this location because of duration, ease of access from Ohio and points south for family and friends. So we reserved a number of rooms at this location and locked in the price before they start hiking them as seen at other locations with less availability. While the weather prospects are certainly not as great as those in Wyoming, the increased duration and more options to move into other climate zones quickly is attractive.

So you might see us in Nashville or Hopkinsville or up in the hills or anywhere along the interstate highway system. If you want to join in the fun, drop me an email and I can send you the details.

One thing to keep in mind is that I am 16 for 16 when chasing total solar eclipses. I have not been clouded out and I intend to keep it that way! So if the weather dictates we will be hitting the road early in the morning or late the night before to get to a better position. This is a major advantage of eclipse chasing in a country as large and well connected as the USA.

Clear sky!

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Fixed a long time bug

As a programmer, I was told to never admit mistakes. It makes the entire world of computing seem vulnerable. Especially to those that don't understand the complex nuances of the task. The eclipse-chasers web site has been an on going, learn as I go, project since 1999 and contains millions of lines of code in the form of HTML, PHP, Javascript, and CSS files. When I go back and try to change something, it can be a real education as to what I did wrong and so on. Much of the code was created using reference books containing equations and so the comments all link back to those references. It can be laborious at times.

Fortunately, I am a rather good programmer and know a few tricks of the trade. For one, I use modular structures. Another is that without thinking much about it, I use Object Oriented Programming as a natural language. This makes working the code much easier and I can often correct or modify things quickly as a result.

But there has been one that has been bugging me. Several users have reported that when entering information for an annular eclipse it was logged as a total. All the input matched up with a total, but it was just not being saved correctly.

I have poured through that code carefully and could not find anything that would cause these problems. For years I searched and then, yesterday, the bug manifested itself clearly and I was able to correct it! I am pleased to report that annular eclipses should be recorded properly and not require webmaster intervention. I thought I had licked this problem last March, but I had missed a small module and now it is back in a proper way, no longer an orphaned child of a quick hack.

This has been a good week for fixing simple bugs. Just sent an update to Fred's eclipse-wise correcting a stupid omission on my behalf.

Keep adding your observations to the log and encourage others to do the same! And let me know if you find anything amiss.