Eclipse chat

I had fun sharing my eclipse experiences with a couple of good interviewers.

I was on the “Countdown to the 2017 Eclipse” show on Boss Radio 100.7 broadcast from the Oregon Coast—where residents will be the first people to stand in the shadow of the Great American Eclipse on August 21. Here’s a recording of that interview. (You can make a drinking game out of the number of times I say “spectacle”.)

Host of the weekly talk show, Kay Wyatt, is an astronomer who has her very own observatory north of Lincoln City in the coastal mountains. I was honored to be part of the 17-episode program that included interviews with several notable astronomy stars (pun intended)—among them, Fred Espenak (“Mr. Eclipse”) who was recently honored as the astrophotographer whose image was used to make the USPS Total Eclipse stamp.

I also spoke with bubbly Janine Pettit, host of the Girl Camper podcast —as Airstream trailering and eclipse chasing will soon overlap at the Oregon Blackout Rally in August—and with the Technology Reporter for the Bend Bulletin. “Eclipse Chaser Plans Life Around Solar Events” is actually a pretty accurate headline.

 

 

 

The total eclipse postage stamp!

In June the US Postal Service will release a commemorative stamp to celebrate TSE2017, and it will be a big, big first: a stamp that changes when you touch it.

The heat of your finger will react with the stamp’s thermochromic ink to reveal an image of the full moon over a solar corona. It will revert back to a totally-eclipsed sun when it cools.

The “Total Solar Eclipse Forever” stamp will be made available on June 20, 2017 after its First-Day-of-Issue ceremony at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. (Am I the only Oregonian disappointed that it’s not taking place in Madras?) Apparently there’s some kind of druid sculpture there that manifests its magical properties on that day, the summer solstice.

The image on the new stamp was selected from among Fred “Mr. Eclipse” Espenak’s fine collection of totality photographs, that was shot during the eclipse over Egypt/Libya in 2006.

On the back (each pane of 20) will be the path of totality on August 21, featuring the largest cities and towns in the shadow.

Learn more (and watch for preorder information) at the USPS website.

(Fellow philatelic umbraphiles, spread the word! Uncle Sam says use hashtag #EclipseStamps.)

 

 

Great Barrier Reef

Oh, the eclipse? *yawn* Just another breathtaking miracle of nature.

The sky was blue and the Orion steady on eclipse day, following two grueling days on choppy seas to return to the calm waters over the Great Barrier Reef near Port Douglas.

Jay Anderson—meteorologist, astrophotographer, and co-author of the NASA eclipse bulletins with Fred Espenak—commanded a microphone and walked us through the timeline of events. Meet Jay in this video and hear his play by play (“filters off!” “shadow bands behind you!”). Jay also consulted with the captain and special reef pilot who was brought on board to guide the Orion over the Reef and ensure the best viewing area.

Thanks to his coaching I got my goggles on and off in time to witness all the phenomena. Baily’s beads were meh but we saw the best. diamond. ring. EVER. The prominence flames were higher than I’ve ever seen them too.

At third contact many beers (Corona, natch) were consumed, followed by brunch on deck and a how-was-it-for-you debriefing session in the Leda Lounge for the relieved and excited chasers. Most of them were either first time virgins—virgins no longer!—or had just racked up their 10th or 15th TSE. Me?

Six for six, and counting.

The moments on deck are captured in this 5-minute video. If you’re hoping to see the eclipsed sun itself, lower your expectations: this captures the minutes leading up to totality on deck, and before and after reactions. (Here’s a 3-minute video of totality—again, no sun, but you’ll see the sky go dark and brighten at third contact.

Above: Diamond ring photo via Snapfish, taken from the Paul Gauguin, July 10, 2010

Below:

Scenes on board the Orion, November 13, 2012.

Variety of customized gadgetry, including scope “squint” aids and fancy pinhole projection art.

TravelQuest founder and president Aram Kaprielian. (Is there a bigger smile than the one on the tour director after a cloudless TSE?)

 

Eclipse 2006

On March 29 an estimated 8,000 tourists, astronomers, NASA scientists and Egyptian officials gathered in Sallum, a town on the Libyan border usually visited only by workers and truckers entering and exiting Egypt.

The hotel in Mersa Matruh was 2 1/2 hours from the eclipse site and we rose unspeakably early to the pre-dawn rumble of motorcoaches and diesel fumes outside the hotel. “This reminds me of the Marine Corps,” groaned Ralph as we staggered from bed to bus seats in the dark.

At half past noon the moon passed before the sun in a perfect and cloudless sky. I’m now five for five.

I noticed that the shape of the corona—which is different every TSE and has something to do with sunspots and the solar magnetic field—exactly and mysteriously mirrored the design of the winged sun carvings on the back of my chair in the Nile Hilton dining room. I kept this observation to myself.

Above: Shades

Below:

Path of totality, 2006

Back on the bus

Press tent

Observing at Sallum. (Ralph. Get UP.)

Mubarak

The official viewing site for the eclipse was in Sallum at what appeared to be an abandoned air force base under heavy checkpoint surveillance near the Libyan border.

The early waiting and partial phase hours in Egypt were more entertaining than at any other eclipse: an elaborate preparation was underway for the arrival of then-president Hosni Mubarak. Young soldiers in smart parade uniforms were arranged in rank, then in file, then re-aligned. Superior officers inspected and fussed and dusted: tunics were jerked, collars straightened, caps adjusted to the perfect angle. The soldiers finally stood in solemn formation in anticipation of their leader.

A large, multicolored seating area was assembled with gilt furniture, gold-potted plants, and a red carpet stairway leading to a massive portrait of the president’s big ol’ face.

Events took a turn in the minutes before his motorcade pulled up: a team of men in jumpsuits scrambled to dismantle the stage and hustle the red carpet and other decor to a low and modest tent adjacent to the showy grandstand—which I’m assuming was a decoy all along, presumably to deter an assassination attempt (!) Travelers to the site that day, was that your impression?

Mubarak, his wife, and several Ministers, Egyptian officials and various governmental hangers-on soon pulled up in their sleek motorcade and observed the eclipse from the lesser enclosure. Mubarek boarded a black sedan shortly after third contact and waved “wadaeaan” from the window.

Above: That’s him

Below:

Welcome to Salloum—however you spell it

Egyptian military at the ready

Mubarak’s viewing area—not Mubarak’s viewing area—Mubarak’s new viewing area

Bye now, gotta go stand trial

Close call

White puffy clouds filled the blue sky on eclipse day, and we eyed them nervously. The odds of the eclipse being obscured looked higher than 50-50, and prompted much discussion among the organizers.

Ashore, chances for good weather were fair—but if cumulus clouds formed, we were SOL unless it was sufficiently windy. Those on land would at least be ensured a fun day playing on the beach, or we could shop in the clean, touristy, Netherlandic town while we waited for totality.

Option 2: remain aboard the maneuverable ship that could be positioned under a cloudless patch in the sky at 2:09. The downside was a drag, though: no special area was reserved by the tour group—meaning jostling for position with the 2000 non-astronomers also on board—and there would be fewer diversions during the long hours of partiality.

I pitted out over this decision, and in the end Susan and I decided to roll the dice and accept the offer to stake out a section of beach in Oranjestad, Aruba, where we could snorkel DePalm Island. At 7:30 a.m. we waved goodbye to the Fascination, sailing south toward improved chances (and a longer TSE near the centerline).

It was definitely a nail-biter with clouds overhead all day, but the sky cleared beautifully for totality. There were happy smiles all around when the ship docked to pick us up; skies were clear at sea as well.

Above: Ominous clouds (cue the theme from Jaws)

Below:

Welcome to have fun at DePalm Island

Partial viewing

Three for three!

The Carnival Cruise eclipse

The “Millennium Eclipse” over the central Pacific and Atlantic oceans on Feb 26, 1998 promised to be a “tropical festival of science” (reported the AP). After the hardships of Bolivia an easy cruise sounded nice—and the Caribbean, in February? Escape rainy Portland? Heck yeah.

The 93-mile wide umbra was to pass over a string of Caribbean islands, including Aruba, Curacao, Guadeloupe and Antigua. I chose travel coordinator Gary Spears’ Astronomical League Eclipse Cruise on the Carnival ship Fascination for my next TSE, and conned my poor friend Susan to come along.

Hey, Carnival haters! I know you’re there. KMA. If you can’t have fun on a cruise, no matter the accommodations, you simply don’t know how to have a good time.

My second Astronomical League tour was again organized by Ken Willcox (may he rest in peace; Ken passed from cancer exactly one year after the Caribbean eclipse). Also in attendance was Mr. Eclipse himself, Fred Espenak of the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and Mark Littman, author of Totality, Eclipses of the Sun.

Susan, poised and pretty and definitely a non-nerd, was a good sport and a blast to travel with. She stuck out like a hothouse orchid during all the corny ship activities, though—and in the dining room, surrounded by astronomy geeks in polo shirts, patiently listening to their chatter about lens grinding.

The Fascination carried us from San Juan Puerto Rico to six ports of call. In St. Thomas we sunbathed on the beach with a three-foot iguana under our chairs. In Guadeloupe we tasted rum and bought spice necklaces; in Grenada we hiked in the rain forest. We were afraid to disembark in Caracas, Venezuela—and totality occurred over Aruba (where the group was scheduled to be deposited ashore for an eclipse viewing beach party).

You know the Caribbean drill: touring the rum factory, booze cruising, steel drum bands. Except for the eclipse, the most exhilarating event was renting a car on the island of Guadeloupe and driving it out to hike to a waterfall where Susan and I lost track of time and distance. Running critically late for re-embarkation with no time to return the car, we simply abandoned it at the dock, keys in the ignition, and ran laughing up the gangplank as the ship sounded its deafening horn. (Astonishingly, my credit card statement later showed a debit for the car rental, no extra charges, no penalty. Some benevolent Guadeloupian must have returned it.)

Above: Dames at Sea

Below:

Path of totality, 1998 (via NASA)

Billboards

Formal night. Are you in this photo? Drop me a line!