Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Small Place in Celestron Eclipse Highlights Video

I received an email today that said "Congratulations! Your footage was chosen to be featured in our Eclipse video."


Well, sort of...

Yes, part of the time lapse video I shot while at Camp Drake in Marshall, MO, as a member of the Project Stratoclipse team is included. It's even the background for the main title of the film! But it's just the clouds that obscured our view of the eclipse racing overhead. Not the umbra racing over the clouds. Or the Sun's corona shining through the clouds.

Not complaining... how could I when I have my name in the credits?!? Seriously though, check out the Celestron video. Apart from my footage, there is a lot of other great scenes from the eclipse. I really like how they focused not just on views of the eclipse through telescopes and cameras but also on people and their reactions.

After all, it really was AWESOME!!!

Celestron Video Page

Mission Success!!!

Just a little over a month ago I trekked to Marshall, MO, to be a part of something HUGE!

Yeah, there was the total solar eclipse but I'm talking about PROJECT STRATOCLIPSE! Two guys from North Texas decided sending a weather balloon over 20 miles up into the atmosphere to take video during the eclipse would be a great adventure, a way to capture a rare astronomical event and use the results for science education.


If you hadn't seen my previous posts on this, didn't follow along as we shared parts of the adventure live on YouTube and Facebook, didn't subscribe to the project YouTube channel, then CHECK OUT THIS VIDEO!!!

It's of the shadow of the Moon, the umbra, moving across the face of the Earth as the Moon eclipsed the Sun. Shot from near-space. Nothing above but the black of night and, far below, all those clouds that spoiled our view from the ground. Did I mention the umbra?!?

Beau Hartweg, Jake Vaught... thanks for allowing me to be a part of your adventure. Ron Drake, Leah Townsend and the rest of Jake's friends and family in Marshall, thanks for hosting us, for making us feel at home while there. I went expecting to make new friends but I had no idea how many! Timothy Kimsey and your friends at Outpost Worldwide including Michael Wunsch and Kelcie Matousek, it was great getting to know you and I'm looking forward to seeing the film-to-come.

Thanks to Dr. J, Rosalie and everyone at the Frontiers of Flight Museum for helping support Project Stratoclipse.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Partial Phase Eclipse with Sunspots

With the adrenaline rush of racing 11 miles south at the last minute with Beau Hartweg to see totality through relatively clear skies, after we returned to Camp Drake, base of operations for Project Stratoclipse, I almost didn't have the presence of mind to take advantage of the fact that the clouds had finally cleared and take any shots of the partial phase of the eclipse. I guess it felt like since I'd missed the first half and totality to clouds, shooting any close-up shots was anti-climatic.

And then I remembered the sunspots. The show was almost over by the time I was set up again but I did manage to get a few decent shots before the end. The first shot is from about 6 minutes before the end of the eclipse and the second one is from less than a minute before the end (4th contact or C4). Note that in the second one there is another group of sunspots visible that were covered by the moon in the first one.

Pretty cool! Can't wait for 2024!

For anyone interested, these were shot with a Nikon D7000 and a Nikon 80-400mm lens on a (roughly) polar-aligned equatorial mount. The shots were taken through a home-made Baader film solar filter.

About 6 minutes before end of eclipse (C4), one sunspot group. 

Less than a minute left before C4, second set of sunspots now visible.

Total Eclipse Time Lapse

This is a first pass attempt at creating a time lapse video of the eclipse using wide-angle shots taken in Marshall, Missouri.

The entire first half of the eclipse was obscured by clouds with the sun just peeking through at totality. Ironically, for most of the end of the eclipse (starting about 15 minutes after totality ended) the Sun was shining against a clear, blue sky.

Notice the umbra moving in from the right and then moving off to the left. In mid-totality, notice how distinctive the Sun's corona is, even as small as the Sun is in the overall image.

Not entirely satisfied with this, yet, but sharing while I continue to work on a "final" version. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Cloudy Totality

Cloudy Totality

Due to the clouds, I didn't get the close-up shots of the sun that I'd prepared for, instead making a last minute dash 10 miles south for a spot with clear enough skies that we could at least see totality. While I'm disappointed in not capturing that view of the eclipse,  the experience of seeing totality with my own eyes was pretty incredible!

However, I did get a sequence of wide-angle shots for a time lapse. The first half is nothing but clouds and from about 15 minutes after totality until the end of the eclipse the sun was sitting in clear skies but the sequence still shows the movement of the umbra across the field of view and, as you can see in this shot from roughly the middle of totality, there is enough detail to be able to see the corona around the sun.

Still working on completing the time lapse... will post when it's complete.

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