Archive for the ‘ECLIPSE CHASING’ Category


November 25, 2019


I had noted the temperature was actually getting warmer as I did the weekly hike up Spencer Butte with the Club.  No, it wasn’t just that I was working hard, but it was cold at the bottom, and it wasn’t nearly as cold a thousand feet higher.  We hike up to the top from the city, 3.2 miles gaining 1400 feet of elevation.  Slower hikers leave earlier; sometimes, I decide to leave early if I am rehabbing part of me, and other times I leave early so I can hike alone.  Often, I have a line of people behind my, liking my pace, but making me feel like the Pied Piper.  I don’t like such a situation, for I tend to walk faster, when I am already at cruising mode, and I get tired sooner.  Once I stopped suddenly on a hike to take a picture and got run into by the guy behind me.  I learned that backpacking through Alaska willows and other brush. Don’t crowd the person in front. They may have to suddenly stop, and they have sharp hiking poles. That can slip. Anyway, the summit of the Butte is finally reached after a series of rock steps, about 130 altogether, not counting the occasional smaller ones, and I looked down on a foggy, cold valley from the land of blue skies and sunshine.

Off to my northeast, the mill in Springfield had a plume of smoke rising in the sky then flattening out and spreading along an invisible barrier like a river.  I could see about fifteen miles of the smoke river, coming first towards me then moving away to the northwest.  

Wow, I thought, a classic inversion.  Warm air normally rises, and it normally keeps rising as the atmosphere usually gets colder with height. Valleys during winter collect heavier cold air as it sinks, and set up an inversion, where warm air rises through the cold air until it reaches the warm air above—not below—and stops rising. I first noted it in southeastern Arizona, back when I was commuting from Tucson to Las Cruces for graduate school.  Once, on a bike, I went through a thick fog bank going up to Mt. Lemmon, breaking out at about 4000 feet into bright sunshine and a dew point temperature, where water will condense into clouds, 30 degrees fewer than just a few hundred feet below.  Those who turned around in the fog missed a sunny day, which was about five minutes’ ride further up the mountain.  

My wife and I hiked through an inversion in the Grand Canyon in February 1989, when the whole canyon was full of clouds and bright sunshine up at Yaki Point.  We hiked down the South Kaibab, entered clouds, then broke out below into overcast conditions.  It was remarkable.  

Jan at Yaki Point, South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon. February 1989. Microspikes are on the toes of the boots.
Coconino Sandstone (the largest vertical layer visible), viewed from South Kaibab Trail

Back on Spencer Butte, I waited for others to come up and googled the University of Wyoming’s weather sounding page.  The closest weather balloon released was from Salem, about an hour north, and indeed showed a change in temperature of 0 C (32 F) at ground level and 10 C  (50 F) at 1500 m or 5000 feet.  Classic inversion, I noted, staring at the river. I told a few people about what we were seeing, but nobody seemed interested.  

Back then, I was still posting on Facebook, and I later posted the picture and the weather sounding as a textbook example of an inversion.  Here is another example, with a link to the actual weather at that hour.

Salem, Oregon sounding from 4 am 23 Nov 19. Notice the temperature C, third column from the left, gets warmer as one ascends, from roughly 33 to 46 degrees at 923 m or roughly 3000′ above sea level. Then the “normal” cooling with elevation gain begins. The 98% humidity at ground level suggests fog was occurring. The actual weather was indeed foggy.

Facebook is not the land of people’s liking textbook examples explaining physical phenomena.  I got exactly one comment, a nerd icon, which I didn’t even know such existed. It wasn’t the reason I left the platform, but it was one of the accelerants.  I haven’t missed the sniping, arguing, or ignorance since I left it.  Nope. I try to walk in beauty the way the Navajo Prayer says.

A decade prior, I had been hiking on the South Rim Trail in Big Bend National Park up to the overlook over the Chihuahua Desert.  I was alone, and as I hiked on the rim, I saw an area that looked like smoke, then steam, a quarter mile ahead of me.  I arrived at the area and saw water vapor condensing to form a cloud, right in front of me.  I was on top of a cliff, and the humid southerly wind from deep down in Mexico, had slammed against the cliff, forcing the air upward, where it cooled, since in summer the inversions are usually shallow and break.  Cool air condensed once it reached the dew point, which is higher in summer, and a cloud formed right in front of me.  This is orographic lift, and I was absolutely enthralled at the example I was seeing. 

Condensing water vapor, Big Bend NP, June 2007.

I was naive enough to think that The Weather Channel might be interested in a picture, so I sent one to them.  I didn’t hear anything, not surprisingly, but I was disappointed.

I get great pleasure out of seeing things in nature that are not only beautiful but enhanced because I’ve been fortunate enough to be brought up curious about the world.  A total solar eclipse is beautiful not only because of the color of the chromosphere or the thin strands of the corona, but because it is the resonance of three separate lunar cycles—the synodic, the anomalistic, and the draconic—which every 18 years and 10 1/3 days are almost exactly the same, so that the eclipses repeat every 18 years and change plus 1/3 of the way west around the world. I find that fact fascinating.  

On the Libyan cruise to the 2006 eclipse, an editor of Astronomy magazine discussed eclipses to the audience.  He didn’t mention the cycles, and I suggested afterward that perhaps people might like to know that.  “Nah,” he saiid, “that’s too nerdy.”  

That came from an astronomer.  

Just after the eclipse, Libyan desert 29 March 2006. The next eclipse in this family will occur in Mexico-US-Canada 8 April 2024

Normally, I don’t write about this sort of stuff, because most people aren’t interested.  I would simply say that 

In beauty I walk…

In beauty all day long may I walk.

Through the returning seasons, may I walk.

On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.

With dew about my feet, may I walk.

With beauty before me may I walk.

With beauty behind me may I walk.

With beauty below me may I walk.

With beauty above me may I walk.

With beauty all around me may I walk.

In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.

In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.

My words will be beautiful…

Rim of Four in One Cone, near McKenzie Pass, 6400′ elevation. There were many views of the major northern Oregon Cascade peaks that day, but the rim of snow all along the cone was my biggest memory. In photography, especially in relationships, and likely in life, the little things are often the big things.


February 4, 2018

The recent lunar eclipse made me wonder what has happened to sensibility. I’m all for people learning about the night sky, but the comments I saw on social media were disheartening. Worse, many in the astronomical community were guilty of overhyping what shouldn’t need to be hyped in the first place.

The recent total lunar eclipse was one of eighteen occurring in the 20 year period 2001-20, so while these aren’t common, they aren’t rare, either.  The total minutes of all these eclipses is nearly 1300, so if one happens to see a total eclipse, one will see it for a period of many minutes, sometimes more than an hour, unlike total solar eclipses which last fewer than 7 1/2 minutes, and in all of our lifetimes under six minutes, assuming one is in exactly the right place, and I mean exactly.  For a lunar eclipse, being in the right place is on the night side of the Earth, which has a probability about one half.  For a total solar eclipse, the probability is 0.5% just to be on the track, let alone in the right place.  The Europeans and Asians will see a total lunar eclipse in July, and all of North America next January.

What bothered me was the blue, super, and blood appellation, along with “the first in 150 years.”

Some background: back on June 5, 2012, when there was a transit of Venus across the Sun, I showed it to a small group of people at the Pima County Medical Society’s office in Tucson.  One individual commented that it was not very interesting, seeing the small dot of Venus against the background of the Sun, 30 times the diameter of Venus, viewed from the Earth.  To me, this was an exceptionally rare event, which last occurred in 2004, and before then in 1882. The next will be in 2117.  The rarity,  the history of those who traveled great distances to see one, the fact that I was following in their footsteps were all important to me.  Others don’t see the world (or other worlds) the way I do, however, and I accept that.  The total solar eclipse last summer was a yawner for a few of my friends, although I actually convinced my brother to take the effort to see it, and he was not at all disappointed.  The next solar eclipse to touch Oregon will be October 5, 2108, and barely reaches the Pacific coast. This past lunar eclipse lasted 76 minutes, which was worth mentioning; I’ve spent fewer than fifty minutes under the Moon’s shadow during the 17 total solar eclipses I have seen.

A blue Moon is when a full Moon occurs twice in one month.  It’s a calendar phenomenon only. Between 2001 and 2020, nine occur.  The exact dates differ, because of time zones, where the full Moon may occur a calendar day later in the eastern hemisphere.  We have two blue moons this year, which is unusual, and yes, it is interesting, but it isn’t the stuff of which “I have to see this or I am missing out on something special and not likely to happen again.”

Supermoons are when the full Moon is relatively close to the Earth.  Because of the shape of the Moon’s orbit and the behavior of the Moon, our satellite can be full and be within 360,000 km of us, one definition of a supermoon, at least twice and maybe three times a year.  That’s like giving an gold star for attending class.  The full Moon of New Years’ Day was actually 2500 km closer to us than this one.  “Supermoon” is a recent term, dating only about three decades.  Before then, we just admired full moons and did just fine.  In part, the “horizon effect,” where seeing a full Moon rise against the horizon, something to compare it with, makes the moon appear large.  It actually appears larger six hours later, when highest in the sky, because we are no longer looking at the Moon across the radius of the Earth but directly at it, 6500 km closer, give or take. I have had almost no success, either as an astronomy columnist or as an amateur astronomer, convincing people that rising full Moons are not unusually bright.

Then again, once I failed to convince a couple that the large red object that was a lunar eclipse wasn’t Mars.  And when I was a kid, I called the crescent Moon “Venus,” because I had recently learned Venus can show phases.  But unlike the couple I learned to change my mind in the face of convincing evidence–and appropriate public shaming.

A supermoon is about 0.28 magnitude brighter than a regular full Moon.  Magnitudes are listed where negative means brighter; every 5 magnitudes is 100-fold difference in brightness.  This translates into a supermoon being  a quarter brighter than average, but brightness is relative.  We don’t compare full moons that we see with other full moons unless we use a light meter.  We usually compare them to what we have recently seen, like how the Moon appeared the night or two before full, also bright.

Still, full moons are special, 11 times brighter than a half moon and 10% brighter than the Moon the day before or day after.  The apparent size of the Moon is larger, but again, without comparison to other full moons, such as photographically or in an eyepiece of a telescope in which one can calibrate size, is not appreciably different.  One way to prove this is to look at a rising full Moon through a cardboard tube and then look at it high overhead.  The size is the same to one’s eye.

The blood moon is a reference to the red color of the eclipsed Moon, because the only light that can reach the eclipsed Moon is from the red sunrises and sunsets around the eclipsing Earth.  As Fred Espenak, “Mr. Eclipse,” put it, “people have been calling these lunar eclipses for two thousand years.”  Of the three terms, replacing blood moon with “eclipse” would have been the most helpful.

There are many astronomical events every year.  In my opinion, they don’t need to be hyped.  There are many beautiful things above, on, and below the Earth, and they are there for those who want to look.

Next time around, my self-improvement goal will be to discuss the phenomenon without raising my voice.  THAT would be a rare event.


Total lunar eclipse 27 September 2015, White Bear Lake, MN. The darkest part is the Moon that is deepest in the Earth’s shadow; the lighter is in the outer shadow.


Transit of Venus beginning, 5 June 2012, Tucson, AZ



March 5, 2014

13 February 1988, West Anklam Road, Tucson, 6 a.m. I’m standing with an ICU nurse looking at Saturn and Uranus in conjunction, the same longitude in the sky, near the hospital where we worked.  “They’re in Sagittarius,” I pointed to the “handle of the teapot,” noting the bright star Nunki, guide star for the Voyager 2 spacecraft, to pass near Neptune a year later.

“No,” J. replied. “They’re in Capricorn (sic).”

“No, there are the two, and they are in the constellation Sagittarius.”

“But astrologically, they are in Capricorn (sic).” (It’s “Capricornus”)

“Well,” I sighed, “you can say they are in the Big Dipper, if you want.”  This was the last conjunction I would see of the two planets, unless I live to 83.

The Dartmouth Alumni Magazine recently profiled a man, a professional astrologer.  The astrologer  stated  his beliefs; the first thing I do in these “last page” articles is to check the “fine print.”  He left Dartmouth before completing his studies; no reason was given.  That colored my opinion.  Yes, Robert Frost left Dartmouth without finishing, but to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen in his 1988 debate with Dan Quayle, “You’re no Robert Frost.”

7  December 1972 shot of the Earth.

I’ve posted the above picture before, and it’s worth re-posting.

What month is this?

What constellation is the Sun in?

What are constellations, anyway?

What can you learn from this picture?

Notice Antarctica illuminated by the Sun, so it must be near the Austral summer solstice.    The actual date was 7 December.  The Sun is in the constellation Ophiuchus on this date, meaning that if one could see the Sun from space, where the light isn’t scattered by air molecules, it would appear against the background stars in that constellation, an arbitrary grouping of stars with arbitrary boundaries, not in Scorpius (the proper spelling) or Sagittarius, the astrological constellation for this date.

Notice the white comma, a major anticyclone, or storm, off the southeastern coast of Africa, and the large clusters of thunderstorms in the southern equatorial region of Africa, consistent with migration of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) this time of year.

What predictions did the astrologer make?  In 1986, Bank of America was going to have problems.  He claimed he knew by looking at the rocks in the foundation; I would have looked at the internal books as a better foundation.  He said that the 50th degree of longitude, “that bisects the Persian Gulf,” would become a major factor in the world, and that the 35th parallel through the southern US would become very important.

Wow. The 51st meridian (or 27th parallel, another bisector, which was omitted) bisects the Persian Gulf better than the 50th.  Given the Gulf’s importance (he didn’t mention the Gulf of Oman and Somalian coastal waters), this prediction is not surprising.  All degrees of latitude in the US may be important; he omitted Kirtland and Edwards AFBs, near 35 N., but important Los Angeles is not.  What does “important” mean?  A chemical explosion, a nuclear weapon, or a great discovery?

50 E. longitude.  This might be considered important in the coming years.

50 E. longitude. This might be considered important in the coming years. This goes through oil-rich Baku, near Dagestan, through Iran, the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman,  the Horn of Africa, and Somali waters.

I limit my issues about Astrology to four:  first, my “sign” of Sagittarius is defined by my birthday, not the Sun’s location when I was born. There are fourteen (not 12) constellations through the Sun may “travel.”  While it was in Sagittarius on my birthday 3000 years ago, it is now in Ophiuchus, north of Scorpius (the correct spelling).  I have no classical astrological sign.  Astrologers use celestial longitudes to try to deal with this fact, but they haven’t factored in precession; the Sun passes through 14 constellations during a 26,000 year cycle.  In 1991, $10,000 was offered to anybody’s showing the July 11 eclipse of the Sun against the background stars of then astrological Cancer, not the actual Gemini.  No takers.

Ophiuchus.  Scorpius is in the lower right; the curved red line with 255 on it is the Sun's path, 255 being the number of days after the vernal equinox.

Ophiuchus. Scorpius is in the lower right; the curved red line with 255 on it is the Sun’s path, 255 being the number of days after the vernal equinox.

Second, there is no proof why astrology works.  What happened before 1781, when Uranus was discovered?  How can a planet’s position affect us? It can’t be gravity, because I have more gravitational attraction with my car than I do with Saturn.  Gravitational force decreases with the square of distance.  I would like to know the reason using terms that a layman can understand. I practiced neurology, and it was my job to explain what I knew to people, not hide it to make money.

Third, lines of latitude and longitude are dimensionless, so there must be some “wiggle room,” or error.  How much?  Why?  We are 95% confident global warming is occurring.  If we ran 100 simulations, 95 of them would not contain zero.  Where is astrological uncertainty, required for any prediction?

Just after 3rd contact or totality, Uganda, 3 November 2013. We had to be in a path 18 km wide to view 19 seconds of totality.  This path was known decades in advance, because we understand orbital mechanics.

Just after 3rd contact or totality, Uganda, 3 November 2013. We had to be in a path 18 km wide to view 19 seconds of totality. This path was known decades in advance, because we understand orbital mechanics.

Finally, too many never learn the actual sky, far more beautiful and fascinating.  I can tell time, date, and latitude by looking at the sky, and I can teach it.  Why seasons? The poles point in the same direction as the Earth’s orbits the Sun; sometimes they point towards the Sun (summer, more direct Sun); sometimes they point away (winter, less direct Sun).  I can predict full Moons and eclipses of the Sun and Moon; so can anybody, should they wish to learn.  It is science, not vague words.  Science has allowed me to see 20 central eclipses from all over the world.

Contrast that to my horoscope today, “You may want to let go of plans and let your spontaneous personality take over.”   “May”?  Why?  What is “spontaneous personality”?  All “plans” or some?

I once showed a minister the sky.  I scuffed my feet in the desert that night, explaining where the silicon in the sand came from–a star.  The iron in our blood came from a large star that accumulated iron in its core, which cannot be fused.  The star first implodes, gravity taking over when fusion ceases.  The ensuing explosion, equal to the Sun’s energy output during its whole existence, produces heavier elements.  The gold in a ring came from a star.  The magnesium in the pyrrole ring of chlorophyll came from a star, the carbon, nitrogen and sulfur in our bodies came from a star. The calcium in our skull came from a star.

Now, if the contents of that skull could appreciate this beauty, direct efforts towards improving the world, rather than making a buck through magical thinking, our life would be improved on this once-part-of-a-star world.


November 13, 2013

Saros 143, the name given to this particular eclipse family, was seen by my wife and me  on 24 October 1995, in Mandawa, India.  We saw it as a morning eclipse, with a brilliant purple chromosphere, the Sun’s inner atmosphere, and 42 seconds of totality.  It was short but exceedingly beautiful.

Total solar eclipses require 3 simultaneous occurrences: New Moon, the Moon’s passing directly in front of the Sun, and the Moon’s size viewed from Earth being larger than the Sun’s apparent size.  The Moon’s orbit is not coplanar with the Earth’s, and about every 13.6 days it crosses the plane of the Earth’s orbit.  This must occur with New Moon, for a Total Solar Eclipse to occur.  Finally, the Moon must be close enough to the Earth and the Sun further away, so the Moon will cover the Sun.  It is a remarkable cosmic coincidence that the Moon is about 1/400 th diameter of the Sun and the Sun is about 400 times further away.  Without going into the mathematics in great detail, these 3 events come into line every 18 years 10 or 11 days (depending upon a leap year) and a third of a day, which shifts each eclipse in the family about 1/3 of the way around the world and either northerly or southerly (in this case southerly).  This eclipse was 18 years and 10 days after the Indian eclipse and was shifted 1/3 of the way around the world.

This time around, the eclipse was further west, beginning near Bermuda and ending in Ethiopia.  We saw it in Uganda in late afternoon.

There are often problems getting to the eclipse track, and for me, it involved four flights, two of them 7 hours or longer, and arrival the following night after I left early in the morning.  The transatlantic flight was badly delayed, but I eventually got to Entebbe.

The next morning, three of us toured the Botanical gardens

Lake Victoria from the Botanical Gardens

Lake Victoria from the Botanical Gardens

and in the afternoon the sanctuary where Ugandans are trying to bring back endangered species.  We had our first meeting about the eclipse that evening.  I was one of only two non or partial German speakers, and the other was married to a fluent speaker.  Most of the group spoke good English.  The difficulty with my German and the softness and accent of the Ugandan English would make this a more difficult trip than I had expected.

We drove northwest to Murchison Falls the day before the eclipse.  We did not, however, scout for eclipse sites.  This would prove to be unfortunate on eclipse day, when the primary site, north of Pakwach, was scouted by us with nobody having their eclipse gear–cameras, telescopes, computers, and quite complex instruments that many take to an eclipse.  Had the site been optimal, we would have had to return to get the gear and tell others.

We returned to the hotel and left for a site east of where we were, where the road curved into the track, and set up in a field nearby.  The southeasterly flow brought cumulus clouds, and afternoon convection occurred, although it was capped at about 2500 meters.  We missed first contact by about five minutes, then had clear skies through about 60% partial phases.   Unfortunately, cirrus outflow from a distant thunderstorm had a northerly flow, and we had progressively thickening clouds as time passed.  At 10 minutes before totality, I lost the view in binoculars, because of clouds and dimming sunlight.

Approach of the Moon’s shadow.

Just after third contact, with the Moon’s moving away from the Sun.



The shadow appeared in the western sky as a huge black conical wall.  We were able to see the diamond ring, Bailey’s beads, the inner corona (not the outer) and a lovely eclipse through clouds.  I think while some were disappointed, they were only a few.  We were extremely lucky to see this eclipse.  The climatological predictions were against us, but we got to a good spot and had a good view.  I’ve seen better; I’ve seen a lot worse, and there are few things more depressing than being totally clouded out for a total eclipse.  

The next day, we toured the nearby national park and took an afternoon boat ride up to Albert Falls.

Albert Falls, Nile River

Albert Falls, Nile River

What struck me most was the beautiful green of the African bush.  The wildlife was good, especially from the Nile; the green was something I had not seen on my trips and safaris to Kenya, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Namibia.

The following day we drove south to Kibale Primate Park, This turned out to be about a 12 hour slog along dirt roads that were so bumpy that my stomach hurt, a first.  Lunch was late, at Fort Portal, and we pulled in about 6.  Darkness comes early after sunset in the tropics; it comes relatively early in Tucson, at 32 degrees N., and it comes much later in the northern US (45-49 N).

Mousebird, Kibale National Park.

Mousebird, Kibale National Park.

Water Lilies, Kibale

Chimpanzee, Kibale

Chimpanzee, Kibale

After the primate tours, we went to Queen Elizabeth National Park, crossing the equator, and took game drives and a boat ride along the channel of Lake Edward.

The drive back to Entebbe took a day.

I don’t go into detail here about safaris, except to show pictures.  This was an eclipse trip with safaris being a big part of it.  Such a concept is foreign to many people, including the eclipse leader in this instance.  The primary purpose of the trip is to see the eclipse, and that has priority over everything else, including sanctuary visits, seeing wildlife, buying trinkets and newspapers.  Admittedly, that is my opinion, but had we avoided those mistakes, more options would have opened to us on eclipse day.  We were lucky; we saw the eclipse.  We could have easily had missed it.

Next total eclipse is 20 March 2015.  We will fly this eclipse, since ground viewing is low probability in difficult to reach places.  I do have concerns about the flight and frosted windows, which severely degraded the view my wife and I had on the 1 August 2008 eclipse.  The plane must have clean, dry windows.  Water gets in only through the doors and from cleaning; it does not affect the windows from the outside, only the inside of the outside window.  This concept has yet to be fully understood by tour operators, although one will use isopropyl alcohol to clean the windows, which has a lower vaporization temperature.

Interestingly, although my comments have not been completely believed, those who fly eclipses are now carrying hair dryers and long extension cords, suggesting that perhaps some of my rather heated past words are hitting home.

The other concern I have is the ability of some eclipse chasers to feel they are better than others and take views from windows to which they were not originally assigned.  This probably will not be changed.

In 2015, I hope to speak German much better.  I plan on commenting in both languages at the pre-flight briefing.  Those who disagree with me were not present during the time of the eclipse.  They had clear views through clear windows.

All of us who pay for one of the great experiences in the world deserve an equally good experience, assuming the weather cooperates on eclipse day.


November 22, 2012

This eclipse was not going to be a high probability one to see on the continent.  Saros 133, which is the name of this family member, last seen in South America 3 November 1994, would again visit the Earth 18 years and 11 1/3 days later, this time a third of the way around the world, beginning east of Darwin, crossing the Gulf of Carpentaria, then Queensland, near Cairns and Port Douglas, before heading out into the South Pacific Ocean north of New Zealand.  One per cent of the Earth would be covered by totality, but only a small part of that one per cent would be visible over land.

Cairns, on the northeast coast, is in the tropics, about 17 degrees South latitude.  The tropics have a good deal of convective rain showers, and Cairns had about a 50% probability of one’s seeing the eclipse.

We wanted to see Australia, and if I saw the eclipse, it would be the seventh continent I had seen an eclipse on and over.  But more importantly, it would be another chance–my thirteenth–to see one of the most spectacular shows in the world.  We eclipse chasers are addicted to the sight.

We flew to Melbourne, stayed there for 2 days, getting to know the city, and meeting up with two friends from Germany, one of whom I had met before at the last eclipse, over Patagonia, Argentina, 28 months earlier.  Every eclipse, I meet people from prior eclipses, and this one was no exception.

We then flew to Ayers Rock (Uluru) by way of Alice Springs, and visited the monolith at sunrise and sunset, along with a walking tour, so we could see the caves, the petroglyphs, the sandstone, appreciating that for 60,000 of the 350 million years, people have marveled at this place, making it a sacred spot.

We then left, and flew to Cairns by way of Alice Springs again, this time having time for a tour of the town that is virtually in the center of the continent.

The following morning, Cairns was cloudy, except for a nice hole in the sky, that would have been 15 minutes late, had the eclipse occurred that day.  We went out to Green Island, noting that it seemed to be clearer, although the locals said that it had a similar climate to Cairns.  But it didn’t.  Cairns is deeply recessed from the Coral Sea, with an eastern peninsula that was catching moisture from storms to the south and spilling over those of us in town.

We had decided not to get up at 1 a.m. to go out to Green Island for the eclipse, figuring we wouldn’t have mobility.  The problem was we didn’t have mobility in Cairns, either, to go inland or to Port Douglas, both of which might have been better spots to view the spectacle.

My wife suggested I e-mail meteorologist Jay Anderson, who has achieved fame as an eclipse climatologist and meteorologist.  I have been on several eclipses with Jay, knew he was on a cruise ship for this eclipse, but figured he wouldn’t have time to write me back.  Still, what did I have to lose?

As it turned out, it was the best decision I made during the trip.  Jay gave me a weather synopsis and said succinctly at the end of his e-mail:  “If you can, get offshore.”

In the meantime, I met two Russian friends.  Sergey and Tatiana were at the annular eclipse in Kenya in January 2010.  Sergey works for an oil company in Luanda, Angola, and Tatiana is a travel agent in Slovenia.  Sergey was also at the annular eclipse in the US last May, and we saw it together in Page, Arizona.  Sergey was doing automatic eclipse filming, using programs that were far beyond my comprehension.  He was going to stay on land and hope.  Tatiana would do the same, and she had to fly out of Cairns about 2 hours after totality.  Cairns was flooded with eclipse chasers for several days.

So, at 1 a.m. on 14 November, eclipse day, we awoke and caught the 2:30 a.m. boat to Green Island, setting up on the northeast beach at 3:30.  The sky above us was clear, and darker clouds were behind us, back towards Cairns.  It was easiest the clearest skies we had seen so far on the tirp.  We had great views of the Southern Cross, the Magallenic Clouds, alpha and beta-Centauri, and upside down Orion.

There were clouds on the horizon, but we could see sunrise, and first contact, where the Moon begins to cover the Sun.  As the Sun rose, the clouds increased, and so did the tide, which was due to rise 3 meters 2 hours after totality, at 6:38.  We figured we were safe from the tide, but it rapidly appeared that this would not be the case, so we moved well up on shore.

As the Sun rose further, the clouds began to become a little larger and darker–typical convection in the tropics.  We saw several clouds–one in particular–that were worrisome, when we were only 7 minutes from totality.  But then convection shut down due to atmospheric cooling of 3.5 C from the eclipse itself.

This eclipse had a wonderful diamond ring at both ends (do any not?), with a very delicate corona extending about two solar diameters to the east of the Sun.  It was not a dark eclipse, and there was little red along the horizon, but like the family member I saw in Bolivia, the shadow was visible in the morning sky.  Trees on Green Island prevented us from seeing the shadow arrive, but I had no difficulty seeing it depart.  And two minutes later, the eclipse was over, just like that.

Easily three hundred people saw this from the end of Green Island.  There were experienced chasers and many first timers.

Every eclipse is different, but it is difficult to say whether one is more special than another.  Each person sees something a little different, and each person who is fortunate enough to have seen more than one sees something different.  I try to go through a checklist of things to see with each eclipse, but like my camera and video plans, it usually is forgotten at the critical moment, which lasts on average of 2 minutes, but feels like 8 seconds.  We are left asking….”When is the next one?”  It will be 3 November 2013 in the South Atlantic, ending in Ethiopia.  Getting to that one will be difficult….but not impossible.  We have a connection in Africa–Sergey–who has been to Kampala three times and thinks Uganda is a decent possibility to see 24 seconds of totality–yes, 24 seconds–next year.  We discussed the trip, and several other eclipses coming up, including the long-awaited 2017 eclipse in the US, when we met at Sydney a few days later.

Fifteen seconds of fame:  I was interviewed by Australian TV after the eclipse, while on the boat back from Green Island.  I have no idea if anything appeared on TV.  And while lying in bed that night, I got a call on my cell phone beginning with “44” .  A journalist from CNN in London wanted to interview me about my experience, that I published on CNN iReport.  What is interesting–and discouraging to me–about iReport is that most of the featured pictures were of the crescent Sun.  Few showed the total eclipse itself, which is far more beautiful.  Indeed, the difference between totality and a partial eclipse (even 99%), is the difference between day and night.

Eclipse families:

Currently, there are 13 total eclipses in every 18 years 10 or 11 1/3 days, depending upon leap years and time zones.  Each one of the 13 total eclipses is a member of a family that begins at either the north or south poles and moves the opposite direction over nearly 1300 years or 70-75 eclipses.  Some of these start off as total; most begin as partial, become total or annular for many “visits” and then end as partial.

The reason for this repetition is the 3 requirements for a total eclipse:

Synodic period–New Moon–every 29.530589 days.  The Moon has to be in line with the Earth and Sun.                                                    223 New Moons = 6585.3213 days.

Draconic Period–every 27.21222 days.  The Moon’s orbit is inclined 5.1 degrees to the plane of the Earth’s orbit, and the nodes, where it crosses the Earth’s orbit, are constantly moving.  The Moon has to be near a node when it is new.  This particular eclipse was near the ascending node, where the Moon was near crossing the plane of the Earth’s orbit.                                                  242 Draconic periods=6585.3572 days.

Anomalistic period–every 27.554550 days.  The Moon and Sun are nearly the same angular size in the size, but the Moon’s size can change 12% from our view depending upon whether it is near the Earth or far from it.  The Sun-Earth distance changes about 3% every year.  The Moon has to be close enough to the Earth to appear larger than the Sun.                                                                    239 Draconic periods=6585.5376 days.

The first two determine a central eclipse, where the long axis of the Moon’s conic shadow reaches the Earth.  They occur every 6585.3213 days.  Eighteen years are 6570 days, and 4 leap years, or 5, make the period between successive eclipses in a family 18 years and 10.32 or 11.32 days.  The third of a day is important, because it shifts the path of the eclipse about a third of the way west around the world. This eclipse was seen in South America in 1994 and Australia in 2012.  It will be seen in the South Atlantic and Africa in 2030.

While the periods are almost alike, they are not exact.  There is a 0.03 day difference.  This seems minor, but over time, the Moon arrives at the node 2 hours later each cycle.  The Moon doesn’t have to be exactly at the node for a total eclipse to take place, but eventually, the Moon will arrive too late and the eclipse will not happen.

This particular Saros, 133, is an ascending node eclipse that began in 1219 and had its first total eclipse near Prague in 1544.  In the 19th century, it generated eclipses greater than 6 minutes, long for an eclipse.  In 1850, an eclipse was 6m50s, the longest this particular Saros would generate, and it occurred in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, north of the equator.  The last total eclipse of this family will be in 2373, and the last eclipse of the Saros will be in 2499.    Because these cycles are not perfect in their lining up, eventually the Moon will miss the node when new, and the eclipse family will die.  But at the same time, one new one will reach the node at the right time, and a new Saros will be born.  I find the workings of the Saros cycle as beautiful as the sight I saw from the Great Barrier Reef last 14 November.


November 19, 2012

From 20 km, I finally saw the monolith, Uluru (Ayers Rock), that for years had been at the top of “The List,” of things I have wanted to see or do ever since I saw a wolf on Isle Royale, six and a half years previously.


The day after we flew in, we took a sunrise tour, where we saw the low rays of the Sun, in a few days to be briefly eclipsed by the Moon, strike the sandstone.  Then we approached it.


Uluru has been around for 350 million years.  What we see is the tip of a large uplifting, with rock extending about 2 km below the surface.  I didn’t know that, and that was only the beginning of discovering what I did not know.


For example, we visited numerous caves and inlets to the rock.  Uluru is not simply a rock with vertical faces; there are many places where water can collect, places where people can–and have–hidden, lived, and practiced their faith.  The aborigines, who were once shot on sight by the first white men on the continent, have been present in this area for 60,000 years.  That is roughly thirty times the existence of any other major religion on the Earth.  To them, Uluru is sacred.  There are places along the trail where one is not allowed to photograph, just as it is considered insulting and wrong to photograph an aborigine without their permission.  The visitor’s center is off limits to photography as well.

As one leaves the visitor’s center, there is a request–not a requirement, since there are no requirements at Uluru, only requests–not to climb what is considered sacred to the aborigine people, who never climb the rock.  There is a chain that allows people to climb the monolith, but the day I was there, the rock was closed because of high winds.  It didn’t matter to me, since I had not planned to climb it anyway, knowing it was sacred and ought not to be climbed.


Thirty-six people have died on Uluru from climbing, and for each the natives have required a ceremony to help those who died into the afterlife.  There are several memorial plaques that were placed on Uluru as well, although there are no new ones, because that affects the monolith, too.


Frankly, I found it good to go to a place where there were no extreme sports allowed.  There were no races up Uluru, no helicopter rides or hot air balloon rides to the top.  Indeed, the airspace over Uluru is also off limits.  There were no people BASE jumping, or using other conveniences to fly off the mountain.  Other than the chain fence, and the worn path into the Sandstone, there were no marks on Uluru other than a few paintings in the lower caves.

I can only imagine what Uluru would be if left to the white people.  There would be multiple routes to the top, the sandstone would be pockmarked with pitons, there would be ropes hanging off it, old campfires, tents, mountain biking, tours to the top, marathons ending at the top, races around the monolith, human waste and other litter.


I don’t have a problem with any of the above races, so long as they take place where it is appropriate, not one sacred to people who have existed in an incredibly harsh environment for sixty thousand years and have not destroyed it.

Theodore Roosevelt once said about the Grand Canyon, “You cannot improve on it.  Leave it as it is.”  We have not done that.  South Rim Village is large, although it is a relatively small area on the Rim.  There are trails, although they are limited as well, and they require a great deal of effort to walk.  We have, however, filled the airspace with fixed and rotary wing aircraft, creating a great deal of unnecessary noise.  By Uluru, one hears the wind, the birds, and very little else.

That evening, we took a sunset tour, again watching the change of colors that were a function of the Sun, the sandstone, the caves, and the black stripes where water drained off the monolith with each rain.  It was spectacular.  A group of Austrian tourists were nearby, and I practiced my German with them.  I lent them my binoculars so they could see parts of the monolith that I now knew something about.  It was the first time I had taught about nature while speaking only German.  I explained the pools along the rock that collected water and then overflowed to pools below.  I found words that I knew as I needed them.  It wasn’t great, but they understood what I was saying.  In two roles that I was comfortable in, teaching and nature, I was able to relax and speak.  It made the view even more magical.  How many different languages had been spoken at this site during the past six hundred centuries, I cannot imagine.  But one man spoke two that night, and for him, and that was special.


It’s nice for once to see something truly unique, virtually unspoiled, and will stay that way, except for the path to the top, which may some day be closed.  I hope it will be.


I went to Uluru to see the largest monolith in the world.  I came away thinking how nice it was that Australians, most specifically the most maligned ones–the aborigines–have not allowed the large numbers of people who have to show they are the best at whatever sport they decide they must do.  World class is to me an overused term, but at Uluru, the term is deeply appropriate.

What a blessing.



June 6, 2012

I took my telescope, camcorder, and camera to the Pima County Medical Society, where I hosted about 100 people, maybe 30 or 40 at one time.  The first part was hectic, because ingress is what I really wanted to see, and that required getting the video camera set up and running on its own.  I filtered the lens with a solar filter from a pair of eclipse glasses.  That worked reasonably well. Then I had to use a solar filter over my camera and increase the optical to 35x.  I did a little push with the digital, and the camera focused on the Sun, not the Mylar, which happens if the Mylar is not taught.

In the meantime, I wanted to see ingress under high power in the telescope.

While all of this was going on, I was trying to answer questions, deal with people, make sure nobody looked at the Sun unfiltered, and showed them how to look at the Sun with binoculars filtered, since it is a new experience to see nothing through binoculars unless they are pointed at the Sun.

Just inside the Sun!

What was special was that many office workers stopped by, which is exactly what I hoped would happen.  A baby, probably about 9 months old, had his head put to the eyepiece.  I loved that.  His children will never see a transit, and his grandchildren will, only if they live to a very old age!!  This isn’t as spectacular as a total solar eclipse, but the rarity, and the chance to be alive when one of these occurred made it a very special experience.

I have about eight minutes of the ingress video, with comments of all sorts in the background.  I end the video with Venus in mid-transit.  This is also on CNN iReports (the picture, anyway).


May 29, 2012

Here are the central eclipses (total and annular, where the axis of the Moon’s shadow touches the Earth) through 2025.

2013:  9-10 May:  Annular from northern Australia through the Solomons crossing the Equator well south of Hawaii.

2013: 3 November:  Total (hyrbid, actually, with annular at both ends) from western Atlantic south of the Azores, into Africa.  While the eclipse is not far from the East Coast of the US, it is a few seconds of totality and an extremely narrow (<5 km wide) path.  Ships will be seeing this one; I hope somebody decides to fly it from the Azores, where it is fewer than 700 km and 1m20s total.

2014:  29 April:  Annular touching the southern tips of both ends of the Australian continent.

(2014:  23 October:  Partial eclipse of US and Canada, about 40-65%, more to the north.)

2015:  20 March.  Total beginning SW of Iceland, passing south of the island, passing north of England and west of Scandinavia, over Svalbard, and ending at the North Pole.

2016:   9 March:  Total beginning over Sumatra, Borneo, misses New Guinea, ends about 700 km NW of Oahu, 2m15s, nearly a two minute penalty from the maximum over the open ocean.

2016:  1 September:  Annular crossing Africa north of Kinshasha, northern Mozambique, and Madagascar.

2017:  26 February.  Annular, extremely narrow, from Patagonia to Angola.

2017:  21 August.  Total, long-awaited, in US, from Oregon to South Carolina.  It is maximum (2m40s) in the Evansville, Indiana region (bordering states), still 2m38s in Nebraska, 2m8s in Oregon, and 2m35s as it exits the US.

2019:  2 July:  Total, Open ocean eclipse ending in northern Chile and Buenos Aires at sunset.

2019:  26 December.  Annular from Saudi Arabia, southern India, Sumatra, and Borneo.

2020:  21 June:  Annular from Congo, Saudi Arabia, Kashmir, China, and Taiwan.

2020:  14 December:  Total, crossing southern Chile and south central Argentina, well north of where the 2010 eclipse occurred.  This will have its maximum of 2m9s over land.

2021:  10 June.  Annular, from Canada to Siberia.  The Canadian portion begins at the northern tip of Lake Superior on a line to about Winnipeg and then heads due north.

2021:  4 December.  Total, over Argentina, but unlike the previous one in the series, the path will be within about 2000 km from Buenos Aires, rather than 4000 km from Punta Arenas during the last visit of  this Saros.

2023:  20 April.  Hybrid, touching the northwestern tip of Australia and going through the neck of Irian Jaya.  The Australian portion is about 1 minute in length.

2023:  14 October.  Annular, from Oregon to South America, passing through Texas, the Yucatan, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Brazil.

2024:  8 April.  Total, from south Texas (Del Rio area, Dallas, Little Rock, through Indianapolis, Cleveland, Rochester NY and Maine).  Toronto and Montreal are also included.

2024:  2 October:  Annular from open ocean south of Hawaii to Patagonia.

Honorable Mention:

2026:  12 August.  Total, with Reykjavik and northern Spain and Mallorca on the path.

2027:  2  August:  Total, Saros 136, at 6m22s maximum, from Gibraltar (both sides of the strait, through northern Libya, central Egypt, and Djibouti.

2033:  Total in northern Alaska.

2034:  Total crossing Honshu.


May 21, 2012

Finally!  An eclipse we could drive to, for the first time since the previous member of this family of eclipses 10 May 1994!  Saros 128, the member of this family, returns to the Earth every 18 years 10.3 days.  Last time around, it was a morning eclipse.  This time, it was a late afternoon eclipse, further north.

We spent 2 days at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and then drove north to Page on eclipse day.  The distance is about 230 km (140 miles).  We found a place at the back of a motel which had a perfect view of the western horizon, including the Kaibab Plateau, the Vermillion Cliffs, and Lake Powell.  This time, I set up the C* telescope I was able to bring, attached the solar filter, and used that for views.  The sunspots were striking!

I then set up a video camera at about 25 x and a filter, so it would run during annularity with minimal effort on my part to adjust it.  I had a camera with 35x optical, and I put a solar filter over the lens and took pictures periodically.  Annular solar eclipses do darken the sky a little, there is an “eclipse wind,” and the temperature cooled 5.8 C, or about 10.5 F.  The sun was starting to set, but obviously the eclipse had an effect on the temperature, since 5 p.m to 6:30 p.m.temperature drops are usually less than half that.

We had a nice group with us, with two men from the UK next to us, many German tourists, so I could practice my German, a motel, where they did not mind our using their cold water and toilet facilities, and a place to park right next to our gear!  My wife helped rescue two Swiss women who were on the balcony of their room and were locked out.  For that, she got some Swiss chocolate!!

We left page at 7:30 p.m.,, drove past the unbelievable crowd of cars at the site overlooking Horseshoe Bend in the Colorado River, and returned to the South Rim at 2200!  Video of the eclipse is here.  All pictures of the eclipse and the Grand Canyon are here.


Just after “First Contact”



November 13, 2011

I never knew Jamalee Fenimore or Stephne Staples.  Nobody who reads this knew them, either.  Both of them loved the Sandhill Cranes, as do I.  Both have a viewing blind named for them at Rowe Sanctuary in Gibbon, Nebraska, at the southern bend of the Platte River.

Every spring, the Sandhill and the Whooping Cranes, the most and least common of the 15 worldwide crane species, begin their 5000-7000 mile migration to the subarctic in North America and Siberia.  Their final staging area is on the Platte River.  They go to the Platte because there is food nearby–formerly small animals, but now mostly corn–and because of the safety that one of the largest braided rivers in North America affords.  They feed in the adjacent fields by day and roost in the river at night, where the shallow water allows them to hear predators approach.  Before the Platte was dammed and water used for irrigation, recreation and drinking, it was a mile wide and an inch deep, “too thick to drink, too thin to plow.”

Now, the Platte in many areas contains less water, has invasive species and many trees nearby, limiting the suitable habitat to 50 miles from the former 200.  Rowe Sanctuary manages 4 miles of river and owns 1900 adjacent acres, preserved as habitat.  Every night, for 6 weeks in March and April, up to 600,000 Sandhill cranes, 90% of the world’s population, roost in the river.  Every morning, they leave.  It is a spectacle that Jane Goodall has called one of the world’s best.  I’ve been fortunate to have seen many great sights in nature.  This one is in my top three; seeing a solar eclipse and a wolf in the wild are the other two.  I love the cranes so much that I volunteer at the Sanctuary, along with dozens of others, helping the full time staff of four–that’s right, four–show visitors the cranes from viewing blinds, for cranes are shy birds and will not let people near them.

Many talk about the cranes that migrate to Arizona.  I simply reply, “You don’t understand.”  And you can’t, until you witness the a flock of fifty thousand cranes, darkening the sky.

Stevie Staples mentored one of the Rowe Staff and lived 74 years, dying in 2006 from cancer.  She was a former canoe racer and a real character.  I once raced canoes, and I would have loved to have discussed racing with her.  She touched the staff at Rowe.  She knew it, for she did live to see a beautiful picture of a Sandhill Crane in flight with her volunteer tag with “9 years of service” on it.  The picture hangs on the wall in the hallway of Rowe.  A picture of Stevie’s receiving the picture from the Rowe staff hangs in Keanna Leonard’s office.  Keanna is the dynamic educational director at Rowe.

Jamalee Fenimore grew up in Nebraska and practiced veterinary surgery in Washington State.  She died of cancer far too young at 49, donating her estate to Rowe.  Nobody at Rowe knew or remembered her being there.  But obviously, she was touched by the river, the cranes and the sanctuary.  We volunteers learn that we may touch visitors in ways we never know at the time.

When I volunteer at Rowe, I work 17 hour days, sleeping on the floor in the sanctuary so I can hear the cranes on the river in the middle of the night.  I guide people to the viewing blinds, and I teach them everything I know about cranes.  Mostly, however, I let people look at the sight, staying silent, so they can hear the birds.  I clean toilets, paint, greet people, make a noonmark, build a sundial, do whatever needs to be done.

On one tour, I took a disabled person to Stevie’s blind in an electric golf cart.  Had he been able to walk, all of the group would have gone to Strawbale blind, which had better views at that time.  But we still saw many cranes, American white pelicans, and unusual crane behavior.  My rider loved the view and tried to tip me, which I of course refused, asking him to put the money in the container at the sanctuary.  I planned to talk to other clients, because as the lead guide, I hadn’t spent time with them.  But I spent time with this man.  He was originally from Singapore; when I told him I had been there twice, his first comment was “Thank you for saving my country.”  I’ve never heard that before, and it did me good.  I hope I and Rowe did him good.

We touch each other in ways we may never know.  Good people spread kindness throughout their world.  The lucky ones receive that kindness or are those who live long enough to discover that their kindness was deeply appreciated and honored.  But all who spread kindness are fortunate that they have the ability to do so.  Stevie knew in her final days that her kindness was appreciated.  I hope Jamalee Fenimore did, too.  But if not, I know she knew she was doing the right thing.  I deeply appreciate what she did.  And every time I guide people to either of the two blinds, I tell them the story. Both women deserve to be remembered.  To have a viewing blind named for you on a river where a half million cranes visit every March is a wonderful honor.  I really can’t imagine a better one, frankly.