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

Supermoon With a Super Eclipse

The Astro Babes were together watching the mosquito-filled eclipse Sunday night. We watched the Moon darkening over the bay of Green Bay, which added a whole new dimension to the eclipse. The moonlight was very bright and sparkly on the water when we first arrived at the beach, but the reflection also faded with the Moon until it also disappeared.

Although we originally had planned to complete the requirements for the Astronomical League’s Lunar II observing program, we had been promised a solid wall of clouds all night so weren’t prepared when the skies cleared and the eclipse was in full swing. Thanks, weather guys.

Yesterday we heard from our fellow club member Rodrigo. Once again, he compiled a great montage from Sunday’s total lunar eclipse over Wisconsin. Thanks for sharing, Rodrigo!!

Moon Eclipse 9-27-2015 low

Here’s what Rodrigo had to say about his amazing picture:

This one is a composition of different times (20 min intervals) from 8:00 pm to 10:50 pm. The pictures are exposed to match what I saw naked eye. So some of the faces are actually HDR of the moon shoot so the bright portion is not overexposed (moon #4 and #8). I used my Orion 80mm and tracked with my small Meade LXD 75 and Canon no mod Xsi. The first portion was between 1/400s and 0.3″,  ISO 200 and Totality was 8s ISO 200, and then I used ISO 400 and cut the exposure to 4″ due to the wind.

Another Star Party in the Can

Even though I’m late in posting this, rest assuredMAS-logo that the Astro  Babes did make it safely home from the Northern Nights Star Fest Sunday night.

The heat stayed with us for the remainder of the star party, but there was dew relief on Saturday night due to a light breeze. We were also treated to some amazing auroras around 11 p.m. Some of our club members took pictures, and I will post one as soon as I can get my hands on one.

We were also treated to lots of lightning that flashed behind the trees at the south end of the observing field for at least an hour. We had originally planned to cover our equipment with plastic and load it up in the morning, but when it looked like rain and storms were zeroing in on us, we joined everyone else and packed up the car in the dark. We headed back Sunday morning.

We had some observing successes, each earning an observing certificate for bagging 15 objects, plus lots of cool peeks into huge 25″ and 30″ Obsessions. And the Minnesota group are great hosts and fun to hang out with and share our love of astronomy. I feel we’ve made a few friends there.

Already looking forward to next year, but crossing fingers that the heat won’t be there to greet us again. Five days of temperatures near 90 and no air conditioning is not for the faint of heart!

Lynn

Another Soggy Night

Friday was another day filled with astronomy, humidity, dave-faulknerand excessive heat. Ninety-one Fahrenheit with a dew point in the low 2,000’s. So of course you know what THAT means. Dew, dew, dew!

The Northern Nights Star Fest has been a challenge for Amy and me, although the skies have been mostly clear. Last night we again abandoned the 8” club scope and the 20×80 binoculars because they only seemed to work with the hair dryer blowing constantly. Guess it’s time to break down and do something about dew heaters. It’s been really, really frustrating for us.

But fortunately, there were over 60 telescopes of all flavors and sizes on the observing field (WITH dew heaters) and we got to see some pretty incredible stuff. I saw the Andromeda galaxy naked eye for the first time, and that was exciting.

Another of my faves (although hardest to see) was Stephan’s Quintet, a group of five faint galaxies in Pegasus. Four of them are in a cosmic dance. I’ll warn you though, even in a 30” Obsession they were pretty hard to make out. I also got to see Jacques comet in the 30”, tail and all. How cool is that?

Amy loved Draco’s Cat’s Eye Nebula in Kevin’s 18” Teeter. She said it had a turquoise jewel-like center that was very cool. She also renewed her interest in radio astronomy and is now talking about trekking out west to the Green Bank observatory.

Lots of astrophotography lectures yesterday and today that we played hooky from since we don’t have any fancy cameras or processing software. Maybe we’ll get to that hobby later.

Lynn

Star Party Time

Despite two harrowing near-misses and a wrong exit in Duluth, the 20150813_154840Astro Babes safely rolled into Palisades Minnesota yesterday for the start of the Northern Nights Star Fest. Unfortunately, we got clouded out on the first night, but we weren’t complaining because we were both snoring by 9:30.

Today was the first day of organized programs. First, we heard a lecture by Dave Falkner, a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador and former president of the Minnesota Astronomical Society, our host club. His presentation was about the 2004 Mercury’s Messenger Mission to learn more about how our Solar system was created. Research included studying why Mercury’s iron core is so large and so dense, as well as understanding Mercury’s unusual magnetic properties. The mission ended in a decayed orbit in 2012.

The next presenter was a fellow club member, Kevin Nasal. He had recently bought a Teeter’s 18” truss-tube Dob telescope, and he shared his comparisons with an Obsession telescope of equal size and quality.

Following that, a group of us got some training on how to use the MAS’s 25″ Dob. The training was interesting, but it was so hot and humid out in the observing field that it was hard to focus. And I won’t even mention the pesky, angry bees who lost their home in the observing field yesterday and are still buzzing around looking for revenge. Good thing they sleep at night!

Tonight we’re expecting clouds and possibly rain again, and the plan is to just to hang out, maybe watch a movie with the group, and get ready for tomorrow and Friday nights’ clear skies.

Lynn

Star Party in Amberg

A great time was had by all at Gerry’s star party scheduled spider-pixThursday through tonight in Amberg, WI. A small group turned out on Thursday, but Amy and I were lucky enough to catch the best skies on Friday night. Tonight (Saturday) was clouded out.

Yes, there were misquitoes and flies, but Deep Woods Off took care of them. This spider, however, looked big enough to grab the Deep Woods Off can and chase us around the observing field. At least we didn’t have to battle any dew.

The skies were unsteady around 10:30, and thin clouds occasionally interfered briefly with what we were trying to observe. But as the evening progressed, seeing steadied and I found M4 and M5, and easily split Alcor and Mizar with Gerry’s 10×80 binoculars. We saw Pluto in Gerry’s 10″ Schmidt, watched a really bright Iridium Flare, and the Milky Way brightened as the sky got darker.

Amy and I also entertaiobserving-fieldned ourselves by looking for Asterisms, and found the Engagement Ring, the Owl Cluster, the Gas Pump, and the Guardians of the Pole. We’ll write more about Asterisms in a later blog.

Oh yes. I can’t forget to mention the Twizzlers and the Banana Cream Pie from the Amberg Pub. Thanks Gerry and Mary!!

Lynn

Jupiter Triple – Check!

Here's a bad selfie of me with the three shadows on  Jupiter.
Here’s a bad selfie of me with the three shadows on Jupiter.

Ok – so a clear night and a telescope would have made this a bit more satisfying, but hey, we can’t have everything!

On the night of the triple shadow transit we were, of course, clouded out. We weren’t alone this time, practically the entire U.S. was under a blanket of clouds. So that’s where we went – to the cloud! If we can’t watch a live transit, we would settle for a live webcast of one.

Yay Griffith Observatory! They came through with a promise of a clear sky and a live broadcast. I tuned in, made sure Lynn was online too, and made myself comfy on the sofa. There were over 1400 people online, and the comments were streaming so fast that I could feel the excitement! Plus, I was sharing this experience with people from all over the world!

Then Jupiter came into view. Well, the hazy blob appeared on screen. It seems that high altitude winds were making the view unstable. Fortunately Lynn was quicker than I was when someone posted an URL for another live webcast from Brazil. She texted me the new site and we both switched to Brazil.

Jupiter was setting there, and the sky was clear! Perfect! By now I had moved to the recliner, and had hooked up my TV to act as a monitor, thanks to Lynn for the idea. Why can’t all observing sessions be this comfy?

As the shadows crawled across the face of Jupiter, I was transfixed by the image. Checking this rare event off of my ‘must see’ observing list completed a very hectic week for me. Sure it would have been nice to be peeking at this through the eyepiece, but sometimes we have to take what we can get.

So here’s your lesson for the day, when a rare astronomical event is clouded out, somebody somewhere will be showing it on the net. You gotta love technology.

Amy

Make Mine a Triple

jupiter-triple
A computer simulation of the appearance of Jupiter at 6:30 am GMT on 24th January 2015l. Image credit: Ade Ashford/Sky Safari Pro.

We are so clouded out here in Wisconsin that it’s not even funny. And then, to crush any hope that we have of watching the Jupiter triple tonight, it starts to snow. One look at the satellite map on Weather Underground sealed the deal. No observing of the triple for Amy and me tonight.

However, we’ll be glued to the Griffith Observatory feed with all the rest of the clouded out saps in the country. Show starts at 8:30 p.m. PST. Be there or be square!

If you are one of the lucky ones to watch the transit tonight, or just want to share your thoughts about the live feed, share them with us!

http://new.livestream.com/GriffithObservatoryTV

 

During our last weekly meeting, it became apparent that Amy and I are getting excited about the upcoming triple transit of Jupiter this Friday, January 23rd. The transit:

  • is going to be at a reasonable hour that will not require an alarm clock
  • temperature promises to be above zero (probably into the double digits at transit time)
  • will happen on a Friday night so there’s no worry about getting up for work the next day
  • event has the word “rare” in it

All this scenario needs is a clear, dark sky and we’ll be happy.

Amy and I have witnessed the transit of Venus, and I think we may have seen a double transit at some time because they are pretty common.

But a triple, with the shadows of Callisto, Io and Europa visible on the surface of Jupiter at the same time, well, that doesn’t happen very often. In fact, it averages out to just once or twice a decade. Jupiter’s equator and the orbits of these three big moons will be almost edge-on to our line of sight, which only happens twice in Jupiter’s 11.9-year orbit of the Sun.

We’ll be doing some planning during the next few days, calling Tony and the other big club telescope guns to see if anyone will have something impressive pointing towards Jupiter that night. For this event, the bigger the better holds true. It will be a great opportunity to take some pictures and see something that most people never witness. Find a club or a big scope and get out there! As I said, all this scenario needs is a clear, dark, sky and we’ll be happy. Extremely happy.

– Lynn