Eclipse Road Trip

The Astro Babes took part in the Great American Eclipse last week, although we split up and observed from two different vantage points close to the centerline.

Amy chose to go West with Astronomy Magazine and several of the NPMAS members to St. Joseph’s, MO, while Mars Barbie, Judy (an eclipse buddy), and I headed south to the centerline in Carbondale, IL.

Judy started the trip by saying that she’d read that 12.2 million Americans lived inside the path of totality, over half the nation lives within 400 miles of the path of totality, and 80% of Americans live within 600 miles. We joined those last two statistics as we headed out Sunday morning on our 582 mile trek to the center line.

Along with many other eclipse goers, we spent Sunday night at a Walmart Superstore.

The Carbondale Walmart turned out to be a good choice for us for a number of reasons:

    1. It was a safe place to sleep.
    2. It had warm running water and indoor toilets.
    3. It was air conditioned.
    4. They had all our eclipse needs, including Darkest Hour Black Cherry Eclipse Soda, tee shirts, Moonstock Wine, and eclipse cups and shot glasses.

As the sun rose on 8/21/17, we were still debating where we were going to view the eclipse. Most of the action was at Southern Illinois University where they had a Comic-Con, a marketplace, a craft fair, a carnival, and NASA scientists on hand to answer questions. We had a parking spot there, and it was still possible to buy a ticket to the guided eclipse experience that would include 14,000 other people at Saluki Stadium. Heck, Mat Kaplan of Planetary Radio was going to emcee the event that we could also watch live on the Saluki Stadium scoreboard. NASA was going to stream the eclipse coast-to-coast live from SIUC, and there were tons of news trucks with 300 journalists from 80 news outlets there.

Saluki Stadium had to be the center of the eclipse universe, right? But if that wasn’t exciting enough, we could have driven just north of Carbondale to a vineyard called Walker’s Bluff and joined a four-day music festival celebrating the eclipse. Who wouldn’t want to experience the total eclipse of the Sun while listening to Ozzy Osbourne sing “Bark at the Moon” during totality?

But Judy and I opted for a quieter, more outdoorsy experience, so we headed eight miles south to the centerline and Giant City State Park.

According to these guys, who were part of the Continental-America Telescope Eclipse Experiment (CATE), the park was on the actual centerline at the PLD, the Path of Longest Duration, at 2 minutes and 42 seconds, which is why they were there.

The CATE project hoped to capture images of the inner solar corona using a network of 68 telescopes operated by scientists, students, and volunteers. Along the 2,500 mile path of totality, each clear site hoped to produce more than 1,000 images, beginning with a partial solar eclipse and ending with 2 minutes of totality. The resulting dataset would create 90 minutes of continuous, high-resolution, and rapid-cadence images of the Sun’s inner corona.

Judy and I were just outside of Makanda, IL, a village where the eclipse was expected to last 2 minutes 40.2 seconds. Our location was 2 minutes and 40 seconds – close enough. Giant City State Park filled to capacity as the eclipse start got closer.

We also appreciated the shade (rather than the sun-baked aluminum bleachers at Saluki Stadium) because it was 93 degrees and humid that day. I took this picture from the spot where we ended up.

While waiting for the eclipse to start, we wandered around the park and talked to a lot of people from all over the country who were really excited about the eclipse. Turns out that many of them had joined us in the Walmart parking lot the night before.

About 40 feet from our spot, we found this guy. Pete was a bagpiper from Virginia, and he took a break from playing jigs to explain how his bagpipe worked.

As the eclipse began, I started getting organized, finding all my times and securely taping filters onto my binoculars. Mars Barbie took the opportunity to catch some eclipse rays.

Judy and I ended up sitting next to these three guys from Chicago. They didn’t know much about the eclipse, but were interesting companions during the wait for totality.

I’m sure that everyone has seen these by now, but to me it meant that totality was approaching, and I felt my heart rate increasing by the second. When I first noticed the crescent shadows, I looked around and saw that everyone was either talking or looking up – hardly anyone noticed the crescent-shaped shadows on the ground, so I made it my mission to point them out to as many people as possible.

A few minutes before totality, Judy, Barbie and I settled down on a blanket to wait for the show. Here’s Judy and Mars Barbie waiting for totality.

I laid on this blanket and watched the approach of totality through my binoculars, which turned out to be a blessing because the magnification made it easy to see the beads and the ring. When totality did arrive, it took my brain a few seconds to realize that I could now look at the sun directly. I moved the binoculars away and was blown away just like everyone else in totality.

A minute or so into totality I realized that I could also remove the solar filters that I had so securely taped onto the binoculars, and had to literally rip them off to get a look at totality with the binoculars. It was indescribable.

I’d been warned not to bring a camera or worry about taking pictures, but at the last moment, I pointed my phone at totality and took only one shot. Here it is!

As soon as totality ended, I raced to our white car parked nearby, and looked for the elusive Shadow Bands. They were faint, but I did see them. So we saw it all – Baily’s Beads, the Diamond Ring, the Corona, the Shadow Bands – we saw them all from that small state park in Illinois. What a treat! Our neighbors to the north in Carbondale weren’t quite as lucky – Carbondale was clouded out during totality, although I read that the clouds did give way for a partial diamond to appear.

Barbie wasn’t too happy with all the traffic we had to deal with on the way home, which also included a two-hour nap in a BP gas station somewhere north of Champaign, but we made it in one piece. It was quite an adventure – can’t wait for 2024!!

–Lynn

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Comet Lovejoy – Check It Out!

At our astronomy club’s last gathering, someone mentioned that comet Lovejoy was both visible and within reach of a good pair of binoculars. Well, as you can tell, I’ve been in a bit of a dry spell as far as observing is concerned so I thought maybe I should try it.

Comet Lovejoy
Comet Lovejoy

I have a thing about being cold. I don’t like it. I really don’t like it. I’d much rather curl up on the couch under a blanket and watch I.Q. (one of my favorite movies that has a comet in it) than go out in the cold and try to find one.

I just couldn’t turn my back on this one though.  After all, it was up early, relatively bright and should be easy to spot in my backyard. All the requirements of a quick observing session have been met.

Thursday night I looked up the position of the comet on my Sky Safari. The comet made a triangle with Rigel in Orion and Aldebaran in Taurus. No problem!

I put on my snow pants, boots, jacket and scarf and headed outside with my trusty 10 x 50 Nikon binoculars. I kept them inside my jacket so the lenses wouldn’t fog up on me right away.

When I got outside I realized that it wasn’t so bad! Cold, yes, but not too bad at all. The view from my backyard was actually pretty good! I could see Orion, Taurus and the Pleiades against a fairly dark sky. I eyeballed where I thought the comet should be. I had to sweep a little back and forth but within minutes I found it!

It was a fuzzball, no tail. Apparently the tail is pointing towards us at this time. I was really thrilled! I went inside to make sure I was seeing the right object. I checked the star pattern around the comet on my software. Yep, I saw it alright!

It’s still visible in the Northern latitudes so get out there and check it out! Here’s some info on where to find it – Comet Lovejoy

I officially logged my first observation of 2015. So far so good!

Amy

Orion – America’s Spacecraft

Photo by NASA/Bill Ingalls
Photo by NASA/Bill Ingalls

After the sad story of the failed Antares spacecraft launch, I thought I would share some good news! On Friday December 5th, NASA launched the Orion spacecraft, also known as ‘America’s Spacecraft‘. The success of this quick mission is the first step in the long range goal of putting boots on Mars.

Our first goal was to develop a spacecraft that will take us out further than any human being has traveled so far, out past the moon. The Orion spacecraft will do just that.

Artist concept of Orion capture mission courtesy of NASA.
Artist concept of Orion capture mission courtesy of NASA.

The next step is to use the spacecraft in the Asteroid Redirect Mission. This mission is both exciting and, for me, a bit scary! It involves capturing a small asteroid and putting it in orbit around the moon in order to study it. Imagine, our own moon could have a small moon of it’s own! I say scary only because I just have this thing about the moon. I just don’t like the idea of messing with it. That’s a topic for another post.

NASA Photo
Orion Re-entry. NASA photo

As I watched the capsule descend to earth, it sent shivers down my spine. I knew that this was a huge step. One that will end with another “small step for a man”, our first step on Mars.

Congratulations NASA and thank you!

Amy

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Meteor Shower? More Like a Drizzle

Random Meteor

What do Twizzlers and meteors have in common? While you ponder that let me tell you about our night of meteor watching.

Friday night Lynn and I ventured out in the wee hours of the morning to join our fellow meteor shower hopefuls.  Most of them had been there awhile, taking in the beautiful dark sky with their telescopes and SLR cameras.   We showed up around midnight with lounge chairs, blankets and high hopes for a great show.

We both decided to use this time to log a few hours of observing for the A.L. Meteor Observing club. So, pencil and paper in hand we settled in and waited, and waited.

We had a show alright – but it wasn’t from the Camelopardalids. Thank goodness for the sense of humor that seems to have a common thread in all of us. The night was filled with quick bursts of Star Wars lines “just fly casual”, and streaks of running jokes from “Airplane” – “and stop calling me Shirley”.

Finally boredom led to eating (doesn’t it always) and the giant box of Twizzlers made the rounds. So here’s what Twizzlers and meteors have in common – two. I ate two Twizzlers and saw exactly two Camelopardalids.

Not a great show, but as Wayne says “no observations is still data”! So we’ll record our two hours of meteor watching and count it as time well spent under a beautiful night sky with fellow astronomy geeks.

Amy

 

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Mars at Opposition

Last night was the big night to see Mars up close. Ok – relatively close anyway. What is opposition you ask? When Mars is at opposition it means that it is directly opposite the sun relative to us. As you can see here, on April 8th the sun is directly opposite Mars from our perspective. It’s about 57 million miles away, not the closest it can get, but not too bad.

Mars at Opposition
Mars at Opposition

As you can see, in 2003 Mars was very close, at 35 million miles. What this means for us observers is that Mars is bigger! We’re able to see more surface features and polar ice caps. Some may even be able to see clouds!

Mars at Opposition
Mars at Opposition

I went out tonight with my 90mm refractor. Unfortunately I didn’t bring a powerful enough eyepiece outside with me and by the time I went back in to get one the clouds rolled in. Such is observing in Wisconsin.

Try observing Mars this week – do some sketching at the eyepiece! Try adding a filter, green to bring out the polar ice caps. You could get out your smart phone and try some through the eyepiece photography! If you’re really busy you could spot Mars over the trees on your way home and take a moment to smile at our planetary neighbor.

It’s all good.

Amy