Solar Eclipse 2017

I was lucky enough to witness one of nature’s wonders today- the rare spectacle known as a solar eclipse. I live in Texas, so I was not in the path of totality, but the partial eclipse was still an awesome sight.

I was unable to take photos because I lacked the proper equipment, but I will share my experience as best as I can with words. I used three pieces of equipment to view the eclipse- my smartphone, with help from the NASA livestream, a pair of ISO certified glasses, which I obtained courtesy of my local astronomy association, and a camera obscura (i.e. a card that I tore in half and poked a hole in with a thumbtack.)

eclipse_equip

(Not pictured- my smartphone and the thumbtack.)

I got an early start viewing the solar eclipse from my smartphone, watching the live feed of the eclipse that NASA was streaming from Oregon. When I was able, I went outside to view the eclipse firsthand. I went outside at 12:08pm CDT, and followed the eclipse’s progress until 12:26pm CDT. The view through my eclipse glasses was sharp, and the dark curve of the moon was starkly visible against the sun’s orange crescent. When I began viewing, the coverage was ~15%, and before I went inside again the coverage was ~30%.

I went back outside at 1:00pm CDT. I viewed the eclipse through my glasses, and also decided to try using a little pinhole viewer I’d made. The pinhole viewer worked much better than I’d anticipated. I didn’t have to adjust the angles of the cards very much at all before the eclipse became visible, and though it wasn’t as big and clear as the view through the glasses, I could clearly see a bright little crescent of light on the card. The last time I viewed the eclipse, the coverage was ~50%.

Viewing nature’s wonders was its own reward, but I would be remiss if I didn’t at least attempt to discover any superpowers the eclipse might have unleashed from deep within me. I haven’t tried everything, of course, but here are the possibilities I’ve eliminated.

I cannot stop time.

I’m not indestructible. (I still have a little scab on my chin that hasn’t miraculously healed.)

I cannot pass through solid objects.

I’m not a magical girl. (I tried shouting “moon prism power, make up!” but nothing happened.)

I cannot see the future.

 

It’s too hot for me to attempt to try super strength or super speed, and I haven’t had enough time alone to try to fly. If anyone else has any ideas on superpowers for me to try, leave them in the comments. I assign a very low probability that I received any superpowers at all, but I have nothing to lose, and everything to gain in testing it.

Keep your eyes on the skies, everyone, and happy viewing.

Advertisements

Attention Citizen Scientists

If you are a layperson, there are still opportunities for you to contribute to scientific progress. Below are some links to interesting research projects where amateur scientists can contribute.

 

The 4*P Coma Morphology Campaign is asking for amateur and professional images of comet 45P/HMP and comet 41P/TGK.

 

4*P Coma Morphology Campaign

 

You can do comet hunting with the SOHO mission- instructions are found here.

 

Guide to SOHO Comet Hunting

 

Also for amateur astronomers, the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA). By timing and observing lunar and asteroid occultations, scientists hope to discover double stars and understand the lunar terrain better, among other benefits.

Citizen Science Alliance

IOTA

 

This project also caught my eye, as the last time I went down to a local park for some stargazing, I was assaulted with a cacophony of frogs.

 

FrogWatch USA
These are just a few projects, but there are many more available here.

 

 

Adventures in Amateur Astronomy-Part I

I had many reasons not to get a telescope, from lack of storage space, to the lack of a safe, dimly-lit place to stargaze. So, naturally, when asked what I wanted for my birthday this year, I’d already chosen the model of telescope I wanted.

I chose the Orion 4.5 starblast based on several recommendations;  the telescope has a reputation of being good for beginners. I ordered a model with an equatorial mount because it was not recommended for beginners. If I’m going to learn astronomy, I figured, I should learn astronomy. Once I get used to finding and tracking objects on my own, I’ll look into computerized object locators and motorized tracking.

I felt giddy with anticipation as my birthday drew near, but I managed to wait until midnight on my birthday to open it. I wasn’t able to do a very thorough examination of the box’s contents, due to an unexpected illness in the family, and I spent the next day in the doctor’s office.

The day after my birthday, however, I was able to begin setting up my telescope.

tripod

 

I was halfway through the assembly before I realized that one of the mounting rings, which is necessary to attach the telescope to the mount, was missing. I called the Orion company’s customer service line, and they told me that, since the telescope had been purchased through amazon, I would need to e-mail them a copy of the invoice.

I sent Orion an e-mail with a note stating that the second mounting ring was missing, and I attached the invoice. Orion sent an e-mail in reply stating that they would soon send me another e-mail. Finally- progress!

When I received the second e-mail, the representative expressed confusion regarding which item I was missing. I’d told them, twice now, that a tube mounting ring was missing, but the representative thought that perhaps I didn’t mean the entire mounting ring, but rather a small black washer that screwed into the top.

 

In order to avoid any further confusion, I called the customer service line directly, armed with my case number. When I was finally transferred to the right person, I explained that yes- in fact- the whole tube mounting ring was missing, and yes, I had checked all of the boxes.

“That’s weird- the telescope should have come with two tube mounting rings.”

“I know, right?”

After confirming that I’d really ordered the telescope, I was really missing a mounting ring, and I wasn’t some random person trying to scam them so I could run a black market for telescope mounting rings, Orion was nice enough to send me the missing part, and I was able to assemble the telescope.

telescope

If you’ll notice, the black washer was missing from the top of my new mounting ring, but at this point, I really didn’t care.

In all honesty, the representatives from Orion were friendly and helpful, and so far, I really enjoy my telescope.

 

Next time- collimating the mirror, using the finder “scope,” and being an astronomer who is afraid of the dark.

A Special Announcement

timewarp

Good day, citizens.

Due to last night’s bi-annual time warp, many of you may be experiencing strange symptoms. The most common symptoms include fatigue, headaches, and disorientation. However, as mild as the symptoms may be, they are a cause of concern, as they can cause increased accidents and decreased productivity.

To reduce your post-time warp disorientation, citizens are advised to get to sleep at your usual time, take rest breaks as needed, and report to your local stimulant dispensary, or “starbucks,” for chemical assistance. If you continue to experience symptoms that are unusually strong, or last longer than a week, please see a physician.

Despite the illness, fatigue, and increase in fatal accidents following the bi-annual time warp, please remember that the time warps are necessary to maintain the stability of the space-time continuum, as well as the fabric of society. If we did not create time warps are regular intervals, entropy would erode, causality would fail, broken vases would fix themselves, old people would turn into babies, and Earth would spin backward, flinging us all into space. Because of this, we must all sacrifice a steady sleep schedule to the greater good.

Please continue to monitor your health, and thank you for your cooperation.

Sincerely,

The Department of Temporal Affairs

 

 

 

Lunar Eclipse, 2015

Last night provided a thrilling drama far beyond what I expected from a lunar eclipse, even a supermoon lunar eclipse.

Perhaps I should have expected drama. According to the mainstream, it’s not merely a lunar eclipse, but a “blood moon,” a term which conjures images of elder gods demanding sacrifice. I guess I’m lucky, then, that instead of having to deal with plagues of locusts, meteors striking the earth, and wormwood spewing from my faucets, the worst I had to deal with was a thin layer of cloud cover.

Even so, I did experience many ups and downs as the moon bobbed in and out of the clouds. One moment it shone full and bright, the next moment it was completely invisible. Then it peeked out of the clouds for just a moment more before plunging back behind the veil.

I was worried one moment that I would miss the eclipse entirely, and the next moment I was elated when the moon emerged, partially veiled in the dark umbra, and then in a bright crescent. I spent the evening live-tweeting the event, so I was rushing in the house to upload each clear shot I got before dashing out again to take more.

I do wish I had better equipment. I was once an amateur photographer, but this was back in the film days, and as far as digital equipment is concerned, I am at baffled by the features and shocked by the sticker price.

In my hobbyist days, I took photos using black and white film on a refurbished Minolta my dad bought from a flea market. For tonight’s eclipse, I used a Sony HD Handicam. It was far more expensive than my Minolta, and I find I can do less with it because everything it automatic. I can change some settings, but not many. The photos I took were hopelessly mediocre.

The first shots I managed were of the moonrise.

moonrise moonrise4

I added a filter for this next moonrise shot, which I think adds a lot more clarity in viewing the moon’s features.

coolfilter

And here is the reason for my first panic, as the moon began to rise over the cloudline.

DSC01005

After this, the moon was completely covered as it presumably moved into the umbra. I couldn’t see the moon at all until the eclipse was full.

eclipse shot

eclipse2

eclipse3

Here we see my camera’s limitations. I can’t do long exposures with this camera, and the eclipsed moon was too dim for the camera to pick up, so I had to switch to the night vision function. I used the filter above to correct the green tint. You can’t see the “blood,” but to be fair, the moon didn’t seem that visibly red, here. To the naked eye, it looked a lot darker than the orange-red you see in most photos. Of course, this might also be due to the very thin layer of cloud cover that was still present.

And here we come to the happiest I was all night- the clouds shifted enough to allow me to photograph the umbral emergence.

These two shots are, by far, the best of the evening.

umbral2

umbra4

I was able to keep shooting until the eclipse was almost over, and the moon disappeared behind the clouds for the rest of the night.

almostover1

almostover2

almostover3

almostover4

You can see the irritating clouds here as they drifted back in, illuminated by the moonlight.

I wonder if the cloud cover didn’t add to my enjoyment of this event, just a bit. I would have been sorely disappointed if the clouds had entirely blocked my view, but each time the moon emerged, and I managed to get another shot, it felt like a moment of triumph.

I hope everyone out there got as much enjoyment out of the experience as I did, but for those who were unable to view the event, I hope my poor photos can convey the wonder I felt as I watched. Watching the lunar eclipse drives home the fact that yes- I am standing on a spherical object, suspended in space, and we can actually observe the shadow it casts for ourselves. Anyone can observe the reality.

I hope to record other celestial events in the future. Until then, happy stargazing.

Alien Race Discovered

Scientists from Centauri University announced on Glorbday that an alien race has been discovered in the Sol system, 4.37 light years away.
This race of creatures, which scientists have dubbed ‘terra-cats,’ appears to be highly intelligent, though somewhat violent. Scientists studying the newly discovered species have urged planetary leaders to exercise extreme caution in their attempts at making first contact with this new race.  Dr. Xular Mardiw, professor of Xenobiology at Centari University, has been studying the terra-cat’s psychology and culture with the help of broadcasts the terra-cats have sent via radio signal.
“These creatures have a very complex, warlike society,” Dr. Mardiw said.  “They spend much of their time racing each other in vehicles filled with explosives.  We believe that surviving these so called ‘high speed chases’ is a coming of age ceremony for the terra-cats.  They also have complex mating rituals, which involve spraying the body with orange body paint, making aggressive shows of their muscles, and imbibing large amounts of intoxicants.”
Despite Dr. Mardiw’s warnings that these terra-cats are an aggressive species, many Centaurians have a hard time taking the new species seriously, due to their resemblance to the common Centauri house-cat.
“They’re about an eight our size, their bodies are as hairless as a newborn’s and they make the most adorable mewling noises,” Prime Minister Yardup said during a press conference on Glorbday evening.  “My daughter has asked me if we could capture one and keep it as a pet.”
Already, videos depicting the terra-cats, who appear to come in many colors and varieties, are a hit on the Centauri Communications System, or CCS.
“The video I uploaded of the terra-cats dancing already has 50,000 views,” a CCS user that goes by the name Radical_Xenu said.  “They’re so adorable, spinning around on their little toes in puffy skirts.  I don’t see how anyone could say that they’re dangerous.”
Prime Minister Yardup remarked on Gleepday that plans were already underway to contact the terra-cats as soon as possible, to offer delicious zarnu biscuits in exchange for more videos.