Saturday, August 19, 2017

Waiting Patiently for Eclipse

We arrived at base camp for Project Stratoclipse, a farm in Marshall, Missouri, on Thursday evening and have been busy preparing for Monday's big event ever since. I am still refining my technique for capturing the eclipse but in the mean time I'm taking a break from the sun and reviewing some of the other images I've captured in the past few days.

Most of these have very little editing, just some basic tweaks to brightness and color, so later on (i.e., after the eclipse) I'll go through all my shots in detail and post (or repost) the best once after I've had time to take a closer look at them and do some fine tuning.

What's amazing is how much less light pollution there is here than at home. Marshall's not a large town but it's also not that far from places like Kansas City, Springfield, etc. so I was a little surprised at how dark the skies are... it has a Bortle Scale of 4 compared to 8 for home (Mesquite, Texas). That's a huge difference!

Enjoy! We're less than 48 hours from the eclipse!

Sunset the first night. This is a high dynamic range (HDR) image
created by combining 3 images taken at different exposures.

Same tractor, this time with Milky Way instead of the Sun. 

Last night we got hit by a thunderstorm but it was pretty mild.
However, after it rolled by us it really exploded with activity.
We watched it carry on like this for a half-hour or more. 

The storm was still going on but had moved far enough to the
south-east for our skies to clear, allowing me to capture both the
distant storm and the Milky Way. 

A similar view of the storm in the distance with the Milky Way
rising above farm equipment. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

My Eclipse Adventure: Project Stratoclipse

On August 21st, 2017, I'll be staring up into the sky to experience the wonder of a total solar eclipse. Along with almost 20 million of the rest of you (based on stats from

In my case, the goal is to experience the eclipse but also to capture it. But more on that in a later post. As it turns out, I know someone else who has plans to capture the eclipse and they are literally "out of this world"!

This Thursday, I leave for Marshall, Missouri, with Beau Hartweg. We will be part of a group camping on a farm south of Marshall from then through Tuesday, all in the name of science. Beau is pursuing a doctoral degree with a focus on science education and is also a planetarium educator. He is also one of the principles, along with Jake Vaught, of a project called Project Stratoclipse. Rather than describe the project myself, here's how Jake and Beau describe it on the project Google Plus profile page:


Elevating the "Great American Eclipse" to the stratosphere and beyond.

Project Stratoclipse will send multiple HD video cameras on a weather balloon into the upper stratosphere to capture the Great American Total Solar Eclipse of Aug. 21st 2017. Launched from the eclipse path centerline in Marshall, Missouri, the launch vehicle will be timed to reach near-space altitudes as the eclipse passes overhead. The creators of Project Stratoclipse, Jake Vaught and Beau Hartweg, will provide the world with a truly unique look into a truly remarkable American event. Stay tuned!

If all goes according to plan, the video captured will be live-streamed over YouTube. Please go subscribe now so that you get notified when video is posted! Plus, we need your help! There have to be at least 100 people subscribed for YouTube to allow the project to stream the eclipse live. We're up to about 77 so you'll be helping make it happen when you add your subscription!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

West Texas Milky Way

When's the last time you saw the Milky Way? I mean really saw it in all its splendor under the night sky, not just a ghost of it from the suburbs or a picture of it?

Recently, my son Brian and I trekked from Dallas out to the near edge of West Texas to the Fort Griffin State Historical Site. We braved black widows, skunks, swarms of mosquitos, way-too-close pack of coyotes and other things lurking in the dark we're just as happy to have not known were there, all to capture the beauty of the summer night sky.

We are pretty happy with the results. They aren't great - we made plenty of mistakes - but I think it's a good start. We're looking forward to shooting some place like this again. Perhaps from the even darker skies of Big Bend next year.

One thing you may notice about the last shot is why, under pitch dark skies, are the ruins lit? We were practicing a technique called low level landscape lighting. It's similar to another night photography technique called light painting but we both think it makes for a more pleasing view, allowing us to add a foreground element without it dominating the shot.

Enjoy and clear skies!

A view of the site from visitor center while we wait for the sun to set. 

A daylight view of the ruins we shot. 

One of Brian's shots of the site with thunderheads rising far to the north over Wichita Falls.
Photo edits by Brian Eaton 

A silhouette of the ruins and the Milky Way Brian shot with our Nikon D7000.
Photo edits by Brian Eaton

One of my better shots of the ruins and Milky Way shot with our new Nikon D750.
Photo edits by Brian Eaton

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Seeking Artist for Blog Title Image

For awhile now, I have had an idea for a new image for this blog. The challenge is that although I have a little bit of artistic skill, this will be beyond what I can do on my own so I am seeking an artist interested in developing it.

I'm checking with friends for help in finding someone to work on this but to simplify sharing a description of the project, I am posting it here. Regardless of how you heard about it, if you have an interest in helping with this project, please post a reply.

Project Description

Title Image for Wind And Sky, a blog on my personal interests.

Primary theme: astronomy, science
Secondary theme: sailing, wind, weather
Across both themes: photography

  • Long run GIF (10-20 seconds)
  • Have end of animation transition into beginning, making the change seamless
  • Images:
    • Day time, water foreground, sailboat (heeling over) at left with Sun above
    • Day time image repeating with Sun and sailboat moving left to right
    • Evening twilight, sailboat disappearing off horizon as Sun sets and Moon rises
    • Night time with stars, Milky Way stretching across, Moon at left
    • Night time image repeating with Moon, stars and Milky Way moving left to right
    • Morning twilight, sailboat appearing over horizon with Sun rising and Moon setting
  • Image dimensions (alternative is in case necessary to make image layout, transitions fit smoothly):
    800px by 150px
    800px by 200px
  • Title text (to be layered over image, already included in blog design)
    WIND & SKY
  • Color formatting:
    • Should fit, not clash, with blog background color: #000033
    • Title text is white so shouldn’t disappear into the image
    • Image background transition from a dark sky blue in daytime through purplish twilight to black night and back
  • Image content and sequence should be reasonably scientifically accurate (no having Sun or Moon move wrong direction, Milky Way movement being unnatural, etc.)
  • If animation and transitions problematic:
    • Non-repeating GIF, i.e., start at middle of night image, run full animation back to that point and end without repeating
      - or -
    • Instead of GIF, do image where it’s daylight with sailboat on left transitioning through twilight to night with Milky Way on right
  • Optional:
    • Possibly revise blog layout theme, making text (and title image) wider
    • Meteor across night sky

Animation examples:

Sunday, June 25, 2017

2017 Total Solar Eclipse - First to Cross Mainland USA Since 1979

It may seem hard to believe but solar eclipses are technically fairly common, at least one a year, many times two in a year. What makes them seem rare though has to do with the relatively small portion of the Earth over which they pass; for any given spot on the globe, solar eclipses are rare. For example, there hasn't been a solar eclipse crossing America since 1991, hasn't been one crossing any part of the contiguous United States since 1979 and there hasn't been a solar eclipse cross the entire continent since 1918.

On August 21st of this year, all three of those dates reset: a solar eclipse will cross from Oregon to South Carolina. Anyone along the centerline of the track will get to observe (weather permitting) the glory of a total eclipse. Everyone else in the country will see a partial eclipse (less of one the further from the centerline you are).

The last time I saw a solar eclipse was an annular eclipse in 2012 viewed from Albuquerque, New Mexico. The image included here is from my post on that event. For the 2017 total eclipse, I'm planning to observe from the centerline. More on that in future posts. In the meantime, here are a few links for more information on the event.

NASA 2017 Eclipse Site Site
Alan Dyer's Tips for the Solar Eclipse