Eclipse 2017

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Total solar eclipse from Gallatin, Tenn., August 2017

Like millions of other people, I braved the crowds and traffic jams to catch the Great American Eclipse on Monday. I didn’t quite get the shots I wanted, since I don’t have the kind of long lens necessary to magnify the sun and moon’s discs, which have only a half-degree of angular diameter. (That’s the width of a pencil held at arm’s length.) At the wide end of the scale, when I upgraded to my new Canon, I gave away my T-5 Rebel and my 10-22mm wide angle lens, which would have allowed me to get more of a landscape view with people and structures in the foreground. My new lens—which in other ways is orders of magnitude better—couldn’t do what I wanted. Worse, we were viewing the eclipse in the South, which means the sun was high up and at 24mm I didn’t have the span to get anything but leaves and branches. But that’s where I started, bracketing down from 1/4000th down to the mutli-second exposures. I’m happy that I live-view focused properly. Everything was sharp.

After getting ten or so wide-angle shots, I took a break to just enjoy what I was seeing. My son was with me, and we had endured a long drive and many misadventures to find ourselves in this little park in eastern Tennessee. Given all of that, fiddling with a camera the entire time felt wrong. But I only had two and a half minutes to work with, so it was time to get a few more exposures in. I zoomed in to 105mm, but the whole thing was still pretty small. I might have had a shot at getting something interesting along the limb of the sun—Bailey’s Beads, prominences, etc.—but by the time I was shooting zoomed in, my exposures were still too long. I was at 1/100th or something when the moon slid out of the way. There was an unbelievably bright flare in my eyes and on my last image, then a cheer from everyone in the park. The big event was over.

I have taught astronomy, written about it, read about it, obsessed about it. I know how an eclipse works. In fact, it’s rather boring: one thing blocks the light from another thing, coincidentally the first thing is small but the bigger thing is far away, etc. But I was not prepared for how it would feel to see a total solar eclipse with my own eyes. For two and a half minutes, I stood at the toe of some benevolent giant, one who could have stepped on me and everyone at that park and kept on walking. Instead, he looked down at us, gave a friendly wink, and wandered off.

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Pulpit Falls

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Pulpit Falls, Winchester, N.H., August 2017

I took a couple of chances with my safety to reach this waterfall, which is tucked away in southwest New Hampshire just over the Massachusetts border. The sun was almost down, and it was about a half mile hike up a path that hadn’t been used in a while. All I could think about was the sun going down and not being able to find my way back to the car. About ten seconds into the hike, I lost the signal from my phone’s map program, and I was hiking blind. Fortunately, there are blue ribbons hanging from the trees marking the trail. Without those, I’d have been screwed. But I’m glad I took the risk.

Boston and The Whales

Now that I’m living closer to civilization, I can do stuff like “heading to the beach,” and “whale watching” and “going to Boston without it taking six damn hours.”

I’m still editing much of the stuff I took with the new camera yesterday. Lightroom is really strange about taking up all of your hard drive space, so I need to clear out my laptop.

Seriously, the new Canon is super sharp. I don’t have as much reach as I thought I’d have with the 24-105mm, but even with the whales a quarter mile away, I could crop heavily and still have a nice image or two.

Confidential to the really wonderful couple I met on the boat: 1) I’m still really, really sorry for Americans who have no manners or common decency; 2) I hope you’re feeling better; 3) email me at mrcpblair “at” gmail, and I’ll get you your photos.

Seacoast

Portsmouth, N.H., and all along the seacoast

 

 

Maine

 

Maine seacoast and west toward New Hampshire.

Saturn


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My adorable telescope, plus the camera adapter minus the camera, but including a bottle of A&W Cream Soda. So I am now a diabetic.

 

A few years ago, I spent about $100 to be able to mount my Canon DSLR to my telescope. I’ve since discovered that shooting anything other than the moon is pretty much impossible. Focusing on something that small (though bright) through a cheap telescope and 100 km of turbulent atmosphere is not something my camera likes to do. The object is never sharp enough to see in a photo. My telescope doesn’t track, either, so there goes photographing any deep sky stuff.

So, yeah, I’m pretty much stuck with the moon.1

Fortunately, the Canon comes with a video camera option. With Saturn lurking just over the southern horizon, I made this little clip:


 

1. Yeah, taking pictures of the moon is cool through a telescope, I guess. But the photos aren’t that great. They’re dark and grimy looking no matter what, and even if you’re live-view focusing, they’re never very sharp. You can do just as well with any decent zoom lens and some cropping. If you want to look at the moon, you’re better off just peeking through the eyepiece, where the view is much prettier for some reason—tack sharp and well lit.

Catching Up

It’s certainly been a while. Here are some photos ranging from mid April to just this week.

Special Guest ‘Star’

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Constellation Leo, late March, Gorham, NH, with Jupiter a few degrees south. 30 second exposure, ISO 3200.

Leo is “my” constellation. Even though astrology is a bunch hooey and applesauce,  I’m glad to have Leo as “my”sign. The crouching lion is one of the few constellations that actually looks like the thing it represents.

I like Jupiter being there, too. The high clouds smeared its light a bit, making it actually look like the giant planet’s disk is visible. It’ll be interesting to track Jupiter over the next few weeks to see how it moves against the background stars.

 

 

The Hunter Retires

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Orion, late March, Gorham, NH, 30 second exposure, ISO 3200.

Orion sets a little earlier every night and by April he’ll be gone until the fall. The seeing tonight wasn’t great, with a high, thin layer of clouds. The good news is, the slight smear gave objects a bit more size. Betelgeuse’s reddish hue is easily visible.

My favorite thing about Orion is that most of the bright stars in this photo will someday blow up. The one on the upper right, Bellatrix, won’t, but Betelgeuse, Saiph (lower left), and Rigel (lower right) will definitely go boom within a few million years. The three bright stars in Orion’s belt are all Class O stars, super hot and massive. They definitely aren’t long for this universe.

Dusky

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Total lunar eclipse of Sept. 27, 2015, seen from Gorham, NH

I invited some kids from my school out to see the eclipse with me, which put me in teacher mode and not so much in photographer mode. I didn’t get the shots I could have gotten had I been a bit more focused on getting them. That’s probably fine. The world needs more teachers and fewer photographers, anyway.

On my Facebook page, I made a borderline snarky post about the “Supermoon” hype, which I’m thoroughly sick of. There have been at least 10 of these super-close full moons since I first heard of them. The moon doesn’t appear any larger to the naked eye, at least unless someone points it out. Now we had the “Supermoon eclipse.”

But I have to admit, the moon did look bigger, especially when it was low on the horizon. It had the horizon effect—which is an illusion—plus the supermoon thing, which isn’t. Both conspired to create a memorable moonrise this weekend.

Aglow

Bee in flower, Pinkham Notch, NH
Bee in flower, Pinkham Notch, NH

Great Glen Trails has a lot of flowers planted around their visitors center. With winter coming, most of them are starting to look a little beat up. Most of them had some kind of insect crawling in our around them. But the bugs were glued to the blossoms. They weren’t flying at all. The ones that moved at all did so with a smooth, eerie slowness that didn’t necessary seem sad. It didn’t seem like anything.

It’s not looking good, but I’m rooting for the bugs just the same.

Albedo

Schoolyard basketball court, Gorham, NH
Schoolyard basketball court, Gorham, NH

Albedo is a term I learned from astronomy. It refers to the percentage of light reflected off a surface. A theoretical perfect mirror would have an albedo of 1, as it would reflect 100 percent of the light that hits it. (There’s no perfect mirror; you always get a dimmer image in the reflection.) Conversely, I  would have figured this blacktop would have an albedo close to zero.

Apparently not: It turns out the albedo for “worn asphalt” is 0.12, or 12 percent. That’s much higher than I would have expected. Once I learned that, I began noticing that headlights reflect off of roads quite brightly, even during the day.

I guess the light is winning.

Labor Day

Photos from a Labor Day hike along Snyder Brook in Randolph.

Distance

Milky Way (Sagittarius) and path of Boeing 777-300 airliner behind elementary school, Gorham, NH.
Milky Way (Sagittarius) and path of Boeing 777-300 airliner behind elementary school, Gorham, NH.

I tried this shot last fall, my first at this school. My focusing then was terrible (and didn’t get much better for this one), but the biggest problem was the pair of lights in the vestibule. I just couldn’t find the switches to turn them off. For the 30 second exposure necessary to get the stars in the background, the lights overwhelmed just about everything.

With the beautiful weather of the past few weeks, I wanted this shot again. I asked one of the custodians where the light switch was, and he informed me that there aren’t any. He said I could unscrew the little jars covering the bulbs, then unscrew the bulbs themselves as long as I put them back when I was done. I asked, “Can I do that?” He shrugged and said, “Sure, you’re the principal.”

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.

Anyway, the red streak is the exposed lights on a Qatar Airways flight from JFK (about 300 miles south west of us) to Doha. The plane had taken off in the past hour and was just settling in for a 10-hour voyage to the Middle East. So we have the school, 30 feet away; the plane, 30,000 feet away; and a little farther back, the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, 1.4×1017 feet away.

Give or take.