Total Solar Eclipse August 21, 2017 in Tennessee

I finally got the time to get some eclipse pictures together! Between increased duties at work, the long drive back from Tennessee, and hurricane Harvey, I have been a wee bit busy, sorry!

Almost a year ago my wife and I decided we were going to go see the total solar eclipse 2017. Looking at a list of total solar eclipses, this was the only one until 2024. So we decided to go. For us, the best place to see the eclipse was in Tennessee so that is where we decided to go.

Early on Saturday 19th my wife and I loaded up Buster (my MINI Countryman) and headed up to Memphis. We spend the night there and had a little fun on Beale street. Since it was my wife’s birthday and she was being nice enough to let me head to the eclipse, I figured she should have a little fun, and we did! We did make sure to call it a night early enough so that we wouldn’t have an issue driving up closer to the central line the next morning however.

Sunday the 20th we ate lunch at the Hard Rock on Beale street (Hard Rocks are kinda our little tourist thing) and then headed for Paris, TN. This was our base camp as it allowed me to keep an eye on the weather and had easy access north, west or south to wherever the skies were clear. I could not afford to miss this so I was making sure.

I made plans for three locations, one primary, one further south and one further north. A good portion of the evening was switching between weather apps seeing who said what. All the while I had the weather channel on the TV going. Yeah, I was a little over the top. 

After figuring out what time I would have to get up to make the worst case destination in my plans, we went out and had a nice little dinner, then headed to bed.

The next morning the weather was awesome so we headed to the Eclipse Event in Clarksville, TN at the Old Glory Distillery which was right in the middle of the total solar eclipse 2017 path of totality. The people there were awesome and their spirits were awesome too! Unfortunately their stuff is only available in Tennessee so that may mean we have to go back, heh.

All over Clarksville there were vendors on the side of the road selling everything from water to t-shirts. There was a really great turnout which I think is fantastic. Some people live their whole lives and never experience one of these so it was great to see so many people, especially children, coming out to watch it.

Setting up telescopes for the solar eclipseI set up my 110mm Orion refractor I use for imaging on my Orion Sirius mount, installed my Thousand Oaks glass filter and then fired up the laptop. Next to this setup I put my old Nikon D90 DSLR on a tripod with a 200mm 2.8 ED lens and a 1.4 teleconverter using Baader Solar Film. I also had a video camera using Baader film mounted below the refractor.

My wife in the shade staying cool while watching the laptop screen.It was hot in the parking lot so I put up a little shade tent and let my wife sit under it watching the laptop while I stayed out in the sun making sure everything went well, it didn’t. It took forever to get the mount to line up on the sun, then it wouldn’t track, then a cable came unplugged. It was a nightmare. At just a couple minutes to first contact I told my wife I did not think I would be ready in time. I was fortunately wrong.

I also tried to take a total solar eclipse video but had a problem with the video camera so there is no video unfortunately.

Yes, I tested everything well in advance to the event, but even so, things can still go wrong. I am just thankful that the only real disappointment was that the video was completely useless, both cameras got plenty of great images.

I did decide that my old method of using the shadow behind the telescope to line it up on the sun was a terrible idea. I have since acquired a TeleVue Sol Searcher and will never go back. This thing makes it so very simple to get any telescope lined up in seconds.

Let’s take a look at some images!

The first one is a compilation of images as the sun changed, always wanted one of these images. I did make one of the last eclipse I imaged which was an annular eclipse. While not quite as amazing as a full eclipse, the annular was still incredible and the ring of fire it shows when it reaches annularity is really nice.

Progression of a total solar eclipse

Next we have the money maker, total eclipse. The rays coming out are simply astounding.

Totality.

And here is one of the chromosphere:

Prominences shown in pink around the edge of the eclipseThis is an  enlargement from the D90 which is far inferior to the ones taken through the telescope with the D7000, however you can clearly see the red chromosphere showing up as pink here. This only happens for a few seconds so the fact that I captured them is pretty cool.

One note I want to make is that when you get the chance to see one of these, do not pass it up. Being there and looking around is simply amazing. No other time in my life have I seen light like that, dark but very edgy with multiple shadows because of the way the sunlight shines around the moon. It is nothing like you think, it is way cooler.

Lastly is this image:

Having fun after it was all over.After the eclipse was over it was time to go inside and buy some of their limited edition Solar Shine, made just for the eclipse. It was all a blast!

Driving back to our hotel virtually all of the vendors on the side of the roads were gone which I found odd as there were a ton of people on the roads heading back to wherever they were staying for the night. Seems to me that would have been an excellent time to put everything on discount and sell it rather than tote it back with you. 

I know Sue Ann and I brought more back than we took 😉

I would really like to thank all the people at Old Glory, they were amazing! Also thanks to all the people who bought my book How to Take Pictures of an Eclipse. Hope to see you all at the next eclipse in 2023 (Annular) and 2024 (Total here in Texas, yeah!).

I hope you enjoyed reading about our eclipse journey!

 


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New book on taking pictures of eclipses released!

How to Take Pictures of an Eclipse front cover How to Take Pictures of an Eclipse back cover

 

Do you want to learn how to take photographs of an exciting Solar or Lunar Eclipse? Do you have the right equipment for the job? Do you want to know ALL the tips and techniques needed to make this a success?

A total Solar Eclipse is an incredible sight to behold. It is one of nature’s most awe-inspiring events and has been the subject of amazement, wonder and fear throughout the ages.

But they don’t come around very often. In fact, the last total solar eclipse in North America was 40 years ago. In 2017, however, you will have another chance to witness this rare phenomenon as another total solar eclipse will occur on the 21st August. The total solar eclipse 2017 is something to not be missed!

Now, with How to Take Pictures of an Eclipse, you can be prepared to capture this unique moment as well as other solar and lunar eclipses with information on:

¬Safety warnings
¬The basics you’ll need to know
¬Getting the images you really want
¬What sort of camera to use
¬Using a telescope
¬Motorized mounts
¬And much more…

Capturing this amazing, once-in-a-generation event is something that you won’t want to miss out on and capturing the best shots of it is crucial when it comes to the bragging rights.

Now is the time to act if you want to be prepared for this spectacular sight. Get your copy of How to Take Pictures of an Eclipse now and make sure that you are ready to get the photographs that will amaze your friends and family and be the envy of all.

Get your copy in either print or Kindle edition and be ready for the eclipse today!


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Astrophotography tutorials, reviews, and more on YouTube.

I have had a YouTube channel for a long time but never really developed it until recently. Now I have started putting up astrophotography tutorials, astrophotography videos, reviews, and much more at a breakneck pace mainly aimed at astrophotography for beginners. Just last weekend I put around five videos up with several more in process.

Astrophotography tutorials, reviews, and more on my YouTube channel

Just this weekend I added the following videos:

I have also redone several of the existing astrophotography videos to bring them up to HD (1920 x 1080 @ 30fps) so they look better.

If you have a astrophotography tutorial or video topic you would like for me to cover, use the contact form to let me know. I will be covering anything and everything I can come up with for a while to help build the channel. If you are interested in contributing videos to the channel, let me know as well.

Most of the videos there, and the ones I have planned are designed for the astrophotography beginner. Many were originally designed to augment my books which include several that are a beginner’s guide to dslr astrophotography. If you have ever wanted to know how to take pictures of the night sky, drop by and take a look at some great astrophotography videos.

Be sure to subscribe to my astrophotography videos channel!


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Brightest supermoon in seventy years

Last night was the brightest supermoon in seventy years, or so they say. Unfortunately I was not doing anything special for the occasion although I did get to spend a few minutes out at the observatory and took a few pictures.

So what exactly is a supermoon? Let’s start answering that question with the fact that the moon’s orbit around the earth is not a perfect circle but more of an ellipse. At times that means the moon is closer to the earth than at other times. A supermoon is when you have a full (or new although you can’t really see it then) moon at the same time as the moon is at it’s closest point in it’s orbit of the Earth.

Put a little simpler, it is when the moon is full and close at the same time.

What this means to us astronomers and astrophotographers is that the moon appears bigger and brighter than at any other time.

Supermoon rising over the observatory domeThis image is the moon rising above the observatory dome. Unfortunately unless you are familiar with the SHSU observatory and what the moon typically looks like out there, you may not see that this does indeed look pretty big. It was an impressive sight.

This next picture should get your attention however:

Supermoon backlighting the observatory domeMost people would guess that this is the observatory dome right before sunrise, or sunset. They would be wrong. This was taken at 7:09pm CST facing east (the sun sets in the west, so behind me, not behind the dome). The light you see is the moon about 20 degrees or so above the horizon.

Yes, it was that bright. How bright? Reading a printed book with nothing but moonlight was not only possible, but quite easy.

When is the next supermoon?

If you missed it never fear, the next supermoon is scheduled to appear on December 3rd, 2017. It will not be quite as spectacular as this one however. If you want something this amazing you will have to wait until November 25th, 2034!

Until the next supermoon, Clear skies!


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Five planets in the morning sky

This morning I viewed five planets aligned and the moon in the morning sky. It was a simply amazing sight. I had to get up really early in the morning to get out to the dark site so that I could spend a little time imaging, and a lot of time just admiring the view, and still go to work the next morning.

Five planets in the sky

Screenshot from Stellarium showing the position of the five planets at approximately the time I was viewing them

The five planets that were visible were Mercury, Venus, the Moon (yes, not a planet, but still a wonderful addition to this lineup), Saturn, Mars and Jupiter in that order from west to east along the ecliptic. What you don’t hear about is that Pluto is actually there as well just to the left of Venus on the screenshot above. I was not into astronomy the last time there was a five planet alignment back in late 2004 and early 2005 and it was a little different with the order of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and then Saturn. Depending on when you observed back then you could get the moon in there as well. I was not about to miss the 2016 planet alignment!

Three of the objects in the sky

The moon, Venus and Mercury on the morning of the 5th.

It was a cold morning, just below freezing when I arrived at the dark site. The air was calm and clear. Once I set up my equipment and let my eyes adjust to the darkness the planets just jumped out of the sky. The moon, Arcturus and Vega also begged for attention. Even with five planets in the sky the real action for me was in the rising Sagittarius which contained Mercury, Venus and the moon.

I had of course seen all of these five planets before, but only once for Mercury, and I had never imaged it. It is far too small and bright for my equipment to do anything but render Mercury as a bright point of light just like Vega, but in a wider field with its neighbor, it was spectacular.

Venus is the most difficult I have imaged before, and for my equipment I think I have a pretty amazing image. After many sessions, tons of attempts, and more hours than I care to admit I finally got an image of Venus which showed something besides a bright dot. In the image below you can clearly see the shading on the clouds that cover the planet, amazing.

Venus

My attempt at Venus, click to enlarge and see the cloud shading

This image required the use of a video camera instead of my typical DSLR or CCD cameras. Stacking hundred is images is the only way I could get something this clear of something this small. Even with this setup, Mercury is far too small to pull this off.

Mercury is the most difficult of these five planets to image and my next chance to image it with any real meaning will be the transit on May 9th, 2016. May is a terrible weather month but I will be keeping my fingers crossed. I got lucky enough with the Venus transit so I guess it could happen again.

I hope you enjoyed my article on the five planets!


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Keeping warm while observing or imaging

It is time to start thinking about keeping warm while observing and imaging as winter is right around the corner. Observing is a very low energy activity. During the winter when views are the best you will be shocked at how cold you can get when you are not moving. Even in warmer climates like down here in Texas where a really cold winter night might typically hit 20F, it is amazing how cold you feel when you haven’t really moved in hours.

The key is to always take far more warmth than you expect to need and to layer. My rule is that if I am comfortable walking out my front door and sitting on a deck chair for fifteen minutes, I need at least four times that much clothing/blankets.

Yes, this sounds like overkill but if you wear too many layers you can just peel one or two off. If you do not bring enough, you have to pack up and go home. Which would you rather be prepared to do?

Clothes for keeping warm while observing

When I will be out all night and the temps will be below 30F I wear two layers of long thermals, pants, ski pants, socks, wool socks, insulated boots, shirt, sweatshirt, fleece jacket, heavy jacket, scarf, gloves and hat. As if that is not enough I carry two wool blankets and an electric blanket as well.

Silly? As long as I am keeping warm while observing you can call me anything you like. Every hour you spend out there bleeds off heat. You are far colder at the end of the first hour than if you sat on your deck for fifteen minutes. You are far colder after eight hours at a dark site than any deer hunter after sitting in a stand for two or three hours.

Thermoses

Two things that help are a thermos full of hot chocolate/coffee and another one with some hot soup. Stay away from alcohol as it may make you feel warmer right as you drink it but it actually causes your body temperature to drop (that was a really fun experiment that the television show Mythbusters did).

alcohol

What you want to avoid is anything that generates enough heat that it might affect your viewing/imaging. Things such as space heaters, or firepits are really bad ideas. Fire is particularly bad as not only does the rising heat waves and light cause problems but the ash floating in the air will cause visual/imaging issues and will tend to coat everything within a much larger area than you think. I will be the first to admit doing some binocular viewing on a crisp night with a roaring firepit is a lot of fun, but I certainly will not be setting up my serious equipment anywhere near a fire. Keeping warm while observing is not worth having to spend an hour cleaning all my equipment and having poor quality images.

If the cold begins to get to you while imaging you can always retreat to your car. I would not start it, as the lights and heat waves rising from the vehicle could cause problems with your imaging. You certainly will be warmer inside an enclosed vehicle even if it is not running. If you are at a site that has AC power you could even run an extension cord through a cracked window and use it to power your electric blanket.

I hope some of this will give you ideas for keeping warm while observing.


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Historical Astronomy Equipment

Recently I became interested in astronomy equipment that was, shall we say, less than modern. I was enthralled with the way they used to do things we we take for granted today, such as tell time.

I live about an hour drive from Plantersville, Tx, home of the Texas Renaissance Festival. The Ren Fest as it is popularly known is like a theme park based very roughly on a renaissance time period European town with inhabitants dressing as people from all over the world in that general era. There are a ton of shops (over 300 I read somewhere), shows and rides. One can spend the day watching jousting, see a falconer, ride a camel, shoot a bow and arrow, visit a period tavern (or twenty) and listen to live music. It runs every weekend in October through November and really is a lot of fun.

This year my wife and I went and I was fascinated with a few pieces of astronomy equipment for sale I thought I would share with you.

The first item is an Astrolabe. What is that you may ask? It is a device used to calculate and predict the positions of celestial objects including the sun, moon, planets, and stars. You can think of it as one of the first handheld astronomy calculators or computers. It was also used to determine the local time, for surveying and triangulation. It was first used around 150BC and continued use into the 15th century.

An astrolabe, an early piece of astronomy equipment

The front and rear of my 4″ bronze and pewter astrolabe.

There is a shop that has a lot of this kind of stuff, all hand made in the workshop of Norman Greene from Berkeley California. The astrolabes came in a variety of sizes with the 4″ I bought being the second largest I remember. They also come in a few finishes including a monotone pewter, monotone bronze, this dual tone bronze/pewter and a gold plated monotone. I opted for the dual tone because I thought it was much better looking and easier to read. I also took the display model instead of a new one as the use gave it a lot of character. I also bought the optional stand you see in the images above.

Included with this device is a book describing a variety of basic astronomy uses such as finding the time, showing the position of stars and more. While giving the instructions is well beyond the scope of this blog post I will give you some of the instructions so that you get an idea of how it can work.

To find the elevation of the sun during the day, hold the device about waist level by the included chain or ring through the top. Rotate the pointer on the rear of the device so that the shadow of the leading part is centered on the rear part of the pointer. This gives you the sun’s elevation in degrees as read on the outer ring where the pointer is pointing (approximately 51 degrees in the image below).

astrolabe4

This calculation can be used to further determine the time of day or night (using a star instead of the sun). I don’t pretend to be an expert with this thing but I am certainly having fun learning how it works.

As an aside, mine has a single plate and there are versions with many plates that supposedly can do advanced stellar calculations. If I ever get good with this one I might move to the more advanced model, we will see.

Up next is an Aquitaine Sundial, or Shepherds Watch. This is a much simpler device to tell time which looks like a large ring. I did not purchase this from the Ren Fest as I had already spent too much money on the astrolabe and did not want to push my luck with this too as the wife was already looking at me funny. Instead I bought my Aquitaine Sundial from Amazon.

Aquitaine Sundial

My Aquitaine Sundial.

To use one this amazing piece of astronomy equipment, simply adjust the center brass ring to align the hole with the current month marked on the outer pewter colored ring. Holding the device by the included strap/necklace point the hole towards the sun and look where the bright light shines through the hole and onto the scale marked on the inside of the ring. This should show the current time.

The one downside of this simple astronomy equipment is that it has to be made for a specific latitude. The one I have is designed for about 40 degrees north latitude (about the center of the US). Unfortunately I live just over 30 degrees, which means I have to make adjustments to get it to show approximately the correct time. It is still a fun thing to whip out at astronomy events and have people ask you how it works.

Star gazing equipment like this sure does make you respect the ingenuity of renaissance scientists.

You can read more about the Renaissance period at Wikipedia.

 


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