Yesterday (August 21) millions gathered along a thin path crossing the continental United States to watch a total eclipse of the Sun. Those with favorable viewing conditions along the path of totality enjoyed an amazing sight and experience. Totality fell close enough to a west-to-east center line across the continent that at least a partial eclipse was visible to anyone with access to clear sky.
Since, with some self-doubt, I had decided not to travel to the path of totality, I organized and promoted the Hiram Eclipse Watch event. With the support of the Hiram College Physics Department, it took place on the campus of the college.
I planned to set up two telescopes: a six-inch Meade refractor with a Baader Planetarium Safety Herschel Wedge, and a 90mm Meade refractor with glass/metal filter. I also was to carry my Canon EOS 7D Mark 2 camera, 400mm telephoto, and 2X teleconverter (>1,200mm focal length equivalent), and white light film filter. Only a day or so ahead of the eclipse, I was testing focus and exposure using the gear I’d planned to carry with me. The camera failed! I contacted Canon and they advised it needed to be sent in for factory service. Fortunately, I’d saved my old Canon EOS 50D DSLR. I pulled it from its storage box, charged the camera’s batteries, and without testing, bundled it up and took it to the Eclipse Watch site.
The 50D performed like a champ, making the images I’m showing here!
Despite last-minute worries over cloud cover, even possible rain, we had clear to partly-cloudy skies for the duration of our 80-percent partial eclipse. An estimated 375 visitors came out to share the experience, and by all accounts had an excellent time. Several guests even sought me out and thanked me profusely for bringing out the telescopes and hosting the watch event. Some families even brought blankets and enjoyed a picnic on the lawn in the shade of old trees!
Their happiness and excitement = my pay day!
It was very hot and fairly humid and I labored hard in the sunshine erecting and operating the telescopes, rationing out eclipse viewing glasses, explaining the eclipse event and solar features, and making a few photographs of my own. By the end I was dripping with sweat, dehydrated, hungry, and very tired. I packed the gear quickly because a newspaper reporter wanted me to email her my eclipse photos for publication.
In the cool air of the Physics office I was ready to edit and upload my image using my iPad and cellular connection. Oh, right. No adapter for the old-style memory card the Canon 50D uses! I had a memory card reader with USB connection with me but >> gad! << Hiram College computer network was down because students were returning to school and bringing malware in with their laptop computers! The Physics Department’s computer didn’t have a card slot for camera cards so I couldn’t transfer files from old card to new and to the iPad from there. Frustrated at every turn! So, I had to rush home to process and upload a photograph of maximum eclipse to a newspaper.
At home, I loaded the images on to my computer, edited the best one, composed a brief email, went to click [send] and the computer froze!! First. Time. Ever. Fortunately, after an emergency restart, the computer came back up as if nothing had happened, the message and image attachment had been saved in [drafts] and the email was transmitted. Whew!
End of day I was tired, wired, and dirty.
Oh yes, and happy.
On Saturday night, July 29, I headed out to the Medina County Park System’s Letha House Park for a little stargazing and photography. The Cuyahoga Astronomical Association was hosting a public star party and it seemed a good occasion to try some Milky Way photography from their “dark sky” site.
Following a beautiful orange sunset, I shot photos of the assembling sky watchers. I had not planned to shoot photos of the Moon but the waxing crescent dominated the sky with its bright presence. I installed the 2X telephoto adapter to my 400mm lens for a nice 800mm optic. I got decent photos of old Luna but the effort would have benefitted with use of a crop-sensor camera body and its boost in apparent magnification; instead, I was using my full-frame (35mm equivalent) body. I won’t complain too much. The photo looks pretty darned good for an image made on a whim!
Waiting for the sky to darken enough for Milky Way images, I spoke with several small groups of people and pointed out objects of interest in the dimming sky. Many folks had never looked through a telescope before and were thrilled to be doing so that night! Others were excited to learn the names of a very few constellations, and to see the emerging Milky Way. One couple asked whether I’d ever seen strange, unexplained phenomena in the night sky (UFOs, etc.): strange and wonderful, yes; unexplained, no. It’s a little surprising how many people ask, however.
Sky dark enough, I started recording images of the sky. I used a simple photographic tripod, a 15mm diagonal fisheye lens, and my full-frame Canon EOS 6D, wide open at f/2.8, for various lengths of time. The waxing Crescent Moon drown out most of the Milky Way visually – it looked like an area of cloud spread thinly from the south to overhead – but showed up better in photographs. Near the horizon in the photo above, may be spotted the “Tea Pot” asterism of Sagittarius, and constellation Scorpius on opposite sides of the tree (and Milky Way) at center. The bright star above the Moon is Arcturus.
In another shot, concentrating on the Sagittarius area of the sky, I captured a little meteor that I did not see at the time of the exposure! I will definitely want to try shots like this again on moonless nights! Trouble is, however, on the horizon: human-made light pollution! Over the years since the astronomy club built their rural Medina County (Ohio) observatory, light pollution from the city of Medina has grown noticeably worse. My final photo in this post shows just how bad it’s getting. The center of Medina is about 12 miles from the park observatory and the city’s glow is intruding high into the sky. What once was a nighttime glow just above the treeline now extends high above it.
We are losing the glory of the night sky to the form of human environmental pollution that is probably easiest to control and that provide immediate benefits in doing so: turning off unneeded lighting, directing lights downward where they are needed (uses less light and power), and immediately save energy and money. I hope I don’t have to drive farther away from town with each passing year in search of darker skies. I can hope, can’t I?
After months of searching and work (a story unto itself) we located and purchased an older ranch-style house on a large lot in Medina, Ohio. We had been living in the house for one week and I decided it was high time I take a look at the night sky! The weather was clear and cold Friday night — about 40 degrees when I ventured outdoors — so I had a look around.
The house is situated one mile from the old town square of this small city on a street lit by two orange, low-pressure sodium lights. A big-box shopping district is located about two miles north of the house with a neighboring city beyond. There’s plenty of light pollution and, to the unaided eye, the clear night sky is gray. I could make out the brightest stars of some constellations, however, and easily spotted the Pleiades star cluster rising in the east. I believe I also made out a wisp of Milky Way, as well! I set up my camera on its tripod and did some test shots to assess the photographic sky.
As you can see by the photos here, the camera easily detects stars we can’t visually pull out of the urban nighttime glow. As expected, more stars can be seen overhead — through less atmosphere and less illumination — than near the horizons. While this isn’t a very good spot for astronomy, it’s not impossible. And while the nighttime conditions may not support stargazing, they do offer some artistic potential.
In any event, you work with what you’ve got!
Our Solar System doesn’t care about your local weather. When something rare and interesting like today’s transit of Mercury across the solar disk takes place, it happens and there are no “rain checks.” And so it was this morning when the day dawned clear to partly-cloudy allowing us to glimpse the beginning of Mercury’s trek only to have the show stopped by rapidly encroaching clouds progressing to solid overcast!
At the predicted hour Mercury appeared as a tiny dot, silhouetted in the lower left-hand quadrant of the Sun’s bright disk. Using special protective filters, observers on the ground watched as the small dot slowly moved inward from Sol’s limb. Here in Northern Ohio, transit watchers were treated to the beginning of the show. Much of the nation missed out entirely, cloud cover already in place at dawn!
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, a spacecraft, is unaffected by Earth’s pesky atmospherics and its technology produces some very dramatic images. One of my favorites shows Mercury about to cross between the satellite (us) and the Sun’s glowing photosphere; the planet has the active solar atmosphere as backdrop. Planet Mercury is 3,030 miles in diameter, not much bigger than Earth’s Moon, and looked every bit as tiny as it is compared with our nearest star!
Today’s transit of Mercury took place over several hours. For us in Northern Ohio, the transit began at about 7:12 AM Eastern Daylight Time with the Sun barely up. Midpoint of Mercury’s passage was at 10:57 AM, and the transit ended at 2:42 PM. Because of the orbital inclinations of the inner planets, the alignment needed to produce a transit of Mercury happens only about 13 times per century making even a glimpse of the event something special. After today’s, the next transits of Mercury will take place in November 2019, November 2032, and November 2049.
At least we won’t have to wait for so long as we must for the next transit of Venus — that happens in December 2117.
Clear skies have been rare this winter so when a cloudless sky presented itself this night, I had try a little sky shooting. The air was still and that was a very good thing … it was +19F degrees out there. I wanted to try out the new fisheye lens a bit more, even under our heavily light-polluted suburban skies. To my eye, I could make out the brighter stars and planet Jupiter; the celestial objects floated on a field of gray, due to the aforementioned light pollution. To my surprise and delight an eight-second camera exposure revealed numerous stars though, unsurprisingly, missing the clouds of the Milky Way. The photo above is my favorite among the few shot tonight. I’m excited to take that camera and lens to the country and darker skies and see what may be seen from there!
The much-anticipated total lunar eclipse of September 27, 2015 was a challenge for me, a disappointment for many others. The night started out with a thick layer of clouds floating overhead, a few breaks (known as “sucker holes) visible here and there. I was pretty sure I would see nothing.
Enough openings appeared, however, that I got my tripod and cameras ready just in case. I’m glad I did!
By standing on my balcony, watching, camera pointing to where the Moon was behind the clouds, I was ready for the brief appearances it would make. I was able to see most stages of the eclipse and capture some reasonably good images … considering the conditions!
The hours of watching seemed to pass quickly and before I knew it, the event was ending. We are privileged to have the opportunity to see only a few total lunar eclipses in our lifetime so it’s best to make the most of each one!