Space Station Over a Star Party


ISS Pass Over Star Party (August 10, 2013)

The Space Station flies over a campground of astronomers awaiting the fall of darkness.

Last night was the main night for summer star parties, being a dark-of-the-Moon Saturday in August. As I usually am each year, I was in Cypress Hills, Saskatchewan, attending the annual Saskatchewan Summer Star Party. About 330 attended this year, a near record year.

The night was partly cloudy but stayed clear enough for long enough to allow great views. As the sky was getting dark the International Space Station flew over from horizon to horizon, west to east, passing nearly overhead. I had a camera and ultra-wide lens ready and caught the pass in 10 exposures, each 30 seconds long, here stacked in Photoshop. The accumulated exposure time also makes the stars trail in circles around the North Star at upper right.

It was one of many fine sky sights hundreds of stargazers enjoyed this weekend at the SSSP, and no doubt at dozens of other star parties around the continent this weekend.

– Alan, August 11, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

The Great Australian Eclipse – The Shadow Movie


This is 6 minutes of pre- and post-eclipse – and the all too short eclipse itself – compressed into 30 seconds. You can see the dark blue shadow of the Moon sweeping across the sky.

The long oval shadow comes in from behind us from the west and comes down to meet the Sun which is rising in the east. That moment when the shadow edge meets the Sun is second contact when totality begins in a diamond ring effect, and the Sun is entirely hidden behind the Moon.

The shadow then moves off to the right. As its left edge hits the Sun, the Sun emerges in another diamond ring and the eclipse is over. All too soon. Even at mid-eclipse the Sun is not centred in the oval shadow because we were not centred in the path of the shadow but instead drive well north of the centreline, to avoid cloud farther south. We saw 1m28s of totality, 30 seconds less than people at the centreline or on the coast. But we had no annoying clouds to worry about.

Also note Venus at upper left. And the hugs and kisses at the end!

– Alan, November 15, 2012 / © Alan Dyer 2012

 

The Great Australian Eclipse – Our Happy Group!


OK, one last eclipse post! Here’s our happy band of Canadian chasers, post-eclipse.

Some were seeing their first eclipse. A few others, myself included, were chalking up eclipse #14. Eclipse virgin or veteran, the experience is always breathtaking and unbelievable. Moments after the eclipse ends you cannot believe you saw what you did – the sight is so unearthly. And you want to see another. The next total eclipse of the Sun is November 3, 2013, in the mid-Atlantic and over central Africa.

– Alan, November 14, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

The Great Australian Eclipse – Second Diamond Ring


This is the sight eclipse chasers hate to see, yet celebrate the most! It is the diamond ring that ends totality.

This was the “third contact” diamond ring when the Sun returned in an explosion of light from behind the edge of the Moon.

Compare this view to my earlier blog, and you’ll see that the second diamond ring at the end of totality did not happen opposite the first diamond ring. That’s because we were well off the centreline of the Moon’s shadow, so from our perspective the Moon travelled across the Sun’s disk slightly off-centre.

From where we ended up in our chase for clear skies, we experienced 1m28s of totality, well under the 2 minutes maximum that others saw near the centreline. But we felt 1m28s of clear skies was better than 2 minutes under partly cloudy skies. Indeed, some on the coast saw the Sun only briefly during totality, or not at all.

Instead, while the last minute move was stressing, once we were set up, we had relaxed assurance we were going to see the whole show!

– Alan, November 14, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

The Great Australian Eclipse – Outer Corona


For this shot I overexposed the inner corona on purpose to reveal more of the extent of the streamers in the Sun’s outer corona.

The pink at left is the chromosphere layer shining from behind the Moon just before the Moon uncovered the blindingly bright photosphere with a burst of light, the diamond ring.

It takes a lot of specialized processing, far beyond what I’ve done here, and stacking of multiple exposures to reveal the delicacy of structures that you can see with your aided eyes during a total eclipse. There is nothing more astonishing in the sky for its complexity and yet subtleness than the Sun’s corona. It is the main attraction at any total solar eclipse. You have not lived astronomically until you have seen the corona of the Sun with your own eyes.

– Alan, November 14, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

The Great Australian Eclipse – Inner Corona


Taken shortly into totality, this shot shows some of the complex structure of the Sun’s corona, and a cluster of red prominences peaking out from behind the bottom edge of the Moon.

For the November 14, 2012 eclipse I shot two cameras. One, with a wide-angle lens, was automatically taking a frame every second. Three of those frames are in a previous blog. For this shot I used a second camera looking through a 4-inch refractor telescope I keep stored in Australia. It worked great! I seldom get to shoot an eclipse through a telescope, as so many eclipses are in remote locations where carting a telescope and mount are impractical. But for an Oz eclipse (I’ve seen two from Australia now, in 2002 and now in 2012) I get to use my Oz gear.

Because the Sun is nearing solar maximum its corona appeared evenly distributed around the Sun, with streamers reaching out in all directions. At solar minima eclipses the corona extends just east-west with little over the poles.

This image, like the other closeups I’m posting, are still frames shot while the camera was taking an HD movie. Firing the shutter while the movie is recording interrupts the movie but records a full-resolution still frame, a very nice way to get two forms of media with one camera.

– Alan, November 14, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

The Great Australian Eclipse – Diamond Ring #1


The last bit of the Sun shines from behind the ragged edge of the Moon as the total eclipse begins in Australia.

This is “second contact,” and the first diamond ring effect that heralds the start of totality. The Moon (the dark disk) is just about to completely cover the Sun. You can see the pink chromosphere layer of the Sun’s surface and a flame-like prominence at 4 o’clock position. The Sun’s atmosphere, the corona, is just beginning to show.

I took this November 14, 2012 from a site near Lakeland Downs, Queensland, Australia. While we did look through some thin cirrus clouds, they didn’t hamper viewing at all, and were not the concern that the thicker clouds were at other sites, especially at the beaches.

– Alan, November 14, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

The Great Australian Eclipse – Success!


It wouldn’t be an eclipse without a chase. But in the end we had a nearly perfect and cloudless view of the entire eclipse — the Great Australian Eclipse. We were ecstatic!

This collage of wide-angle shots shows the motion of the Moon’s conical shadow. At top, you can see the bottom edge of the shadow just touching the Sun. This was second contact and the diamond ring that begins totality. The middle frame was taken near mid-eclipse and shows the bright horizon beyond the Moon’s shadow. However, the Sun is not centred on the shadow because we ended up well north of the centreline, sacrificing as much as 30+ seconds of totality to get assured clear skies. The bottom frame was taken at the end of totality as the first bit of sunlight bursts out from behind the Moon at third contact and the final diamond ring. Notice the Sun sitting at the well-defined left edge of the Moon’s shadow. The shadow moved off to the right.

Why did we end up off-centre? Clouds! The day before, at our 11 am weather briefing meeting, we decided not to stay on the beach but to move inland to one of the sites we selected from the previous day’s reconnaissance. The forecast was not even accurately “predicting” the current conditions at the time, saying the sky should then have been clear. It was raining. We did not trust the predictions that skies would clear by eclipse time on Wednesday morning.

We drove inland on Tuesday afternoon, getting to our choice site at the James Earl Lookout on the Development Road about 4 pm, to avoid driving in the dark and to get there before the parking area filled up. It was a good plan. We arrived to find a few people there but with room for all our cars filled with 20+ Canadians. We staked our ground with tripods, did a little stargazing after dark, then settled in to spend the night in our cars.

At dawn we got everything ready to go, only to see puffs of orographic clouds forming over the hills in the direction of the Sun. I did not like it. So with an hour to go before totality we packed up and moved down onto the plains away from the hills to a site near Lakeland Downs, the site you see here. Apart from some high cirrus clouds, skies were superb.

As it turned out, folks a few miles away at the Lookout did see it, but by the skin of their teeth. Clouds obscured the Sun just before and just after totality. That’s too nerve-wracking for me. And from the beaches, some people were clouded out, others saw all of totality, others saw just a portion of the main event. It was hit and miss. From home at Oak Beach we might have seen it but only just. We were very happy with our decisions to move and flexibility to be able to do so.

I’ll post some close-up shots of the eclipse shortly.

Tonight, we party!

– Alan, November 14, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Sign on the Centreline


I’m in eclipse country here, as the sign proclaims, just about on the centreline of the coming Moon’s shadow.

Today we drove 3 to 4 hours out onto what is called the Development Road or the Mulligan Highway, inland from the beaches where we are staying. This is the road that goes up to Cooktown (where Captain James Cook beached the Endeavour in 1770) from Port Douglas, but via the inland route. As you can see it is dry! That’s a good thing. While the coast was cloudy and rainy today, Monday, the inland sites we inspected were sunny, with word from the locals that the morning at eclipse time was perfectly clear. As it always is they promised us!

So we have some Plan B sites selected, and checked out with the local Queensland Police to make sure we’re OK to use them. However, weather forecasts for Wednesday morning at eclipse time are promising clear skies on the coast where we would prefer to stay in convenient comfort.

Not far from here, near the Palmer River Roadhouse, some 8,000 people have gathered in the dusty Outback for a festival of music and “new age healing.” We’re seeing lots of the participants on the road (often driving beat-up vans) looking like they’ve been transported by time machine from the 1960s and Woodstock. Eclipses attract many people of all interests to the track of the Moon’s shadow. Good luck to them … and us, two days from now.

– Alan, November 12, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Two Days to Go Until the Eclipse


This was the sky at eclipse time, two days prior to the total eclipse of the Sun.

Had the eclipse been today we likely would have missed it. The Sun broke through briefly but minutes later the rain seen here off shore was over us. But a few minutes later it was clear and sunny again. It will be a game of chance to be sure.

Today, we travel inland to scout out viewing sites 3 hours away over the Dividing Range on the Development Road as a Plan B.

– Alan, November 12, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Four Days to Go Until the Eclipse


 

This is sunrise, four days before the November 14 total eclipse of the Sun, from our preferred viewing site on the coast of Queensland, Australia.

In four days, the Moon, which you can see as a waning crescent at upper left, will pass across the face of the Sun.

We’re here at our Beach House at Oak Beach, just south of Port Douglas, right on the eclipse centreline. The site is fantastic and we may have the beach pretty much to ourselves, or at least just for the residents of the beach houses long Oak Beach Road. However, the clouds are worrying. A system moving through is blanketing the area in cloud but promises to move off by eclipse morning. The total eclipse occurs about an hour after sunrise. So this is the view we’ll have, though we have a kilometre of beach to pick from.

However, we just spent one of several days scouting out alternative Plan B sites along the coast and inland. Mobility is often the key to success when chasing eclipses. It is a chase after all, and being able to see an eclipse right from your front yard (or in our case, front beach) is always the ideal plan. But plans often change.

There are lots of eclipse chasers here — about 40,000 have converged on Port Douglas area, which even at peak tourist season (which it is not now) handles only 10,000 people at a given time.

– Alan, November 10, 2012 / © @ 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Eclipse — A Parking Lot Partial


This was the view Sunday evening as the Sun descended into the northwest sky, accompanied by the Moon covering part of its disk.

I shot this near mid-eclipse with a handheld camera and filter dimming what would have otherwise been a vastly overexposed Sun. A liberal use of Photoshop’s Highlight recovery and Shadow details tools compressed the dynamic range even more, to bring out details in the sky and clouds and in the dark filtered image. But this is a single image, not a composite.

As you can see, even at its best the Sun shone through light cloud, which added somewhat to the scenery of the sky and the weird quality of the light at mid-eclipse. But all told, I’d rather do without clouds at any eclipse. They make for anxious moments I could live without.

I took this shot from the TELUS Spark science centre, where we set up sidewalk telescopes for viewing the eclipse, looking over the parking lot and hill to the west of us. It’s where the Sun will also be for the transit.

— Alan, May 21, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer