Sailing to the Sun


Cloud Shadows Near Sunset over the Atlantic

As we continue our sail across the Atlantic, our heading takes us southwest, directly toward the setting Sun.

This was the scene last night, a day out from the Canary Islands, as we set our course toward the eclipse intercept point. Our heading of roughly 245° takes us into the setting Sun each evening.

We’re now often under sail alone, with engines off. As Columbus and all trans-Atlantic explorers did, we’re letting the northeast trade winds blow us across the ocean. Under their steady force, we’re making a good 8 to 9 knots, sufficient to get us to the eclipse path on the appointed day and time on November 3.

Moon Amid the Rigging

On that day the Moon, seen here as a waning crescent in yesterday morning’s sky amid our square-rigged sails on the 4-masted Star Flyer, will cover the Sun for 44 seconds.

Tonight, October 28, was a magical night. Many of the eclipse tour folks gathered on the aft deck with all the lights off to lie back on deck chairs and gaze up at the Milky Way, with us now hundreds of kilometres away from any other lights.

We had the Milky Way above, while below, the ocean in our wake was exploding with flashes of bioluminescence. The night was warm and of course windless because we’re travelling with the wind. It was an amazing experience.

— Alan, October 28, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Sailing in the Wake of Columbus


Constellation Ceiling in Columbus Museum

Columbus set out from the Canary Islands, following the stars, in his voyages across the Atlantic Ocean.

Today we visited the Casa de Colon, the Columbus Museum, in the capital city of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. It was here, in what was then the Governor’s house, that Columbus is believed to have stayed before embarking on many of his voyages across the Atlantic.

Above is the painted ceiling in one of the galleries, depicting the northern constellations and stars he would have followed to guide him across the Atlantic. You can recognize all the modern constellations and the Milky Way.

Columbus Ship Model

Tonight, we set sail ourselves across the Atlantic, in a two week voyage away from land. Our ship, the Star Flyer, chartered by Betchart Expeditions, has a mix of square and staysails that we’ll use, as Columbus did, to catch the trade winds that will blow us south and west toward the eclipse intercept point and eventually to Barbados.

16th Century Astrolabe

This is an authentic astrolabe from 1500, one of the tools Columbus would have used to navigate the high seas. Today we have GPS.

Columbus Church

Columbus Street Sign

This is the church Columbus prayed at before embarking on his voyages. It was closed the day we visited. We hope we won’t be needing its services!

– Alan, October 26, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Visiting the Royal Observatory of Spain


Royal Observatory of Spain, CadizThree days ago we were accorded the rare privilege of touring the Royal Observatory of Spain in Cadiz.

Founded in the late 18th century Spain’s Royal Observatory served (and continues to serve) the same purpose as the Greenwich Observatory in England – providing an accurate source of time for the navy and country.

Unlike Greenwich, the Royal Observatory of Spain is on a restricted access military base and is not open to the public. So it was through special arrangement that our eclipse group was able to visit and receive a guided tour as part of our day in Cadiz.

Above is the main observatory building, which today houses a telescope and laser range finding system for geodesy work. On display were a host of brass telescopes and surveying instruments from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Astrographic Refractor, Royal Observatory of Spain, Cadiz

Above, in another observatory building, we saw a classic 12-inch astrographic refractor, used to take early photos of the night sky on glass plates, as part of the international Cartes du Ciel program in the 19th century.

Time-Keeping at Royal Observatory of Spain, Cadiz

This is the readout of the precise time, being maintained by cesium clocks in a climate controlled room next door.

Library Room at Royal Observatory of Spain, Cadiz

The real treat was a tour through the Observatory’s library, a national treasure. Some 40,000 volumes date from as far back as the invention of the printing press in Gutenberg. The collection includes books on every science and engineering subject, and reports from all the historic science expeditions of the time.

Eclipse Book at Royal Observatory of Spain, Cadiz

One volume, shown here, is a 1514 book of eclipse tables.

Classic books at Royal Observatory of Spain, Cadiz

Another case held early editions, often annotated by their owners, of the seminal works by Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton. We were very impressed.

Tomorrow our cruise ship docks at the Canary Islands, then we sail southwest with the trade winds to meet the shadow of the Moon on November 3 at latitude 18°06′ N and 39°19′ W.

– Alan, October 24, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer (posted from at sea north of the Canary Islands)

Stars Over the Pillars of Hercules


Sirius over the Pillars of Hercules

In ancient times these twin mountains marked the end of the known world – beyond lay a great unknown sea.

Two mornings ago, before dawn, we sailed through the Straits of Gibraltar, known in ancient times as the Pillars of Hercules. The two massive peaks guarding the entrance to the Mediterranean Ocean were supposedly created by the legendary figure of Greek mythology to separate the two continents, Europe and Africa. Beyond them was a vast and forbidding ocean that few dared to sail.

The feature image above shows Sirius and Canis Major shining above the African side of the Pillars, the mountain known as Jebel Musa. Illumination is by moonlight, twilight and streetlight.

Rock of Gibraltor

The image above shows the more famous Rock of Gibraltar, on the European side of the Straits. This is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

Pillars of Hercules

This image, with the nearly Full Moon in the sky, shows our ship, the Star Flyer, approaching Jebel Musa. We departed the Mediterranean to visit Morocco, then Cadiz in Spain. We’re now heading out into the once great unknown sea, the Atlantic, for a November 3 meeting with the shadow of the Moon.

Orion in the Rigging of Star Flyer

The final image shows Orion, Sirius and Jupiter shining amid the rigging of our four-masted clipper ship, again by moonlight. We hope it’s clear skies and smooth sailing as we cross the Atlantic.

– Alan, October 22, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

 

 

The Subtle Shading of a Penumbral Lunar Eclipse


Penumbral Eclipse of the Moon (Oct 18, 2013)

This is about as subtle as an eclipse can be – a partial penumbral eclipse of the Moon.

I was perfectly positioned to see this eclipse, such as it was. At mid-eclipse when I took this image, the Moon was due south and as high in the sky as it was going to get for the night.

My location was the hotel poolside bar and rooftop patio 10 floors up overlooking the harbour in Malaga, Spain.

Can you see the effect of the eclipse? Barely, perhaps. The Full Moon travelled through the top of the Earth’s penumbral shadow, creating a slight darkening of the lower portion of the Moon. I’ve boosted contrast a lot in processing yet the effect is still barely perceptible.

No matter. With luck, in two weeks time we’ll experience just the opposite – the most spectacular eclipse the sky has to offer, a total eclipse of the Sun.

We set sail tomorrow.

– Alan, October 19, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Moon Over Malaga – Two Weeks Until the Eclipse


Moon Over Malaga, Spain.

On the night of a penumbral eclipse, the Full Moon shines over the harbour on the Mediterranean at Malaga, Spain.

This was the view earlier tonight of the Full Moon from Spain, on the night of a partial penumbral eclipse.

The eclipse had not yet begun when I took this shot in the early evening. But even at mid eclipse at 1 a.m. local time, any darkening from the penumbral shadow would be very tough to photograph with anything but a very long telephoto or telescope, which I don’t have with me on this trip.

The penumbral eclipse of the Moon tonight is the complement of the total eclipse of the Sun in two weeks time. Lunar and solar eclipses usually occur in pairs. It is the total solar eclipse on November 3, half a lunar cycle from now, that is the attraction.

To see it, we leave Spain tomorrow and set sail across the Atlantic – not in this century-old German sailing ship, the Eye of the Wind – but in a modern ship the Star Flyer.

– Alan, October 18, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

The Moon in Spain …


The Moon over Spain - Daytime

… shines mainly on the plane!

These were views seen from my airplane window earlier this evening as we descended into Madrid, Spain. The lighting, direction and timing were perfect for catching the crystal clear gibbous Moon shining in a beautifully clear sky (as it should be from this altitude) with a low Sun illuminating the clouds.

The view below, taken later after sunset, catches the Moon in a twilight sky, with the  shadow of the Earth sharply defined as a dark blue band above the horizon.

The Moon over Spain - Twilight

In two days, on Friday October 18, the Moon passes through the outer part of Earth’s shadow, for a mild penumbral eclipse of the Moon.

I’ll be perfectly positioned in Spain to see it, but that’s not what I’m here for. I’m off to chase not the shadow of the Earth but the shadow of the Moon, as it hits the Earth two weeks after the lunar eclipse. On November 3 worlds will align again for a total eclipse of the Sun across the Atlantic Ocean and central Africa. I’ll be on the ocean.

Internet connections willing, I’ll be blogging from shipboard about the eclipse and views of sea and sky as we cross the Atlantic from Spain to Barbados chasing moonshadows.

– Alan, October 16, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer