Category Archives: Astronomy

For Cassini

Tough night. As they say, let’s not be sad because she’s leaving us, let’s be joyful because of all she showed us and taught us.

And when you’ve sworn that you’re going to put on your big boy pants and make it through the vigil, you get this thread:

Then of course you have to watch the Cassini “Grand Finale” video:

Tomorrow, maybe it would be a good thing to start working a little harder to try to figure out how to get the powers that be in Washington to fund the next mission to Saturn. Maybe a Titan explorer, a boat to sail those methane seas or a balloon to soar over those petrocarbon pinnacles. Or an Enceladus orbiter to taste the plumes coming out of the polar tiger stripes.

Or both.

But for tonight, hail and farewell Cassini. You will always be Queen of the ringed planet in our hearts.


Filed under Astronomy, Music, Space

Home Again, Home Again

Long, long day, lots of (uneventful) travel. Up late, late last night packing and being CLOBBERED by some freakishly HUGE thunderstorms in the KC area. Up early, early this morning to get everyone off to the airport. Then home, unpacking, and trying to get a grip on where I’m at with all of that work and hangar stuff that I have to dive back into.

I’ve had just enough time to glance at the first of the photos from the DSLR with the big lens on it. Needless to say, compared to the stunning and gorgeous pictures that you can see online from a zillion people who had clear skies, mine don’t compare. On the other hand, pulling them up on the desktop, it’s surprising what I did manage to capture, even through the clouds. I’m seeing some of the corona, as well as some pink and reds from prominences around the limb. It’s blurry, but it’s there.

I think the best representation that I captured of what we saw will be in the videos, which I haven’t touched yet. I may have to start my own YouTube channel in order to upload the full resolution versions.

Meanwhile, it turns out that NASA had a pro film crew just a couple of miles away from where we were. This footage was shot by them in Beatrice, Nebraska. We were about five miles outside of Beatrice and this is pretty much what we saw with our eyes. They say they had 10,000 people there – we had maybe 200 to 250 at the gas station and country store where we made our stand. But the excitement and joy and noise from the crowd was the same, as was the movement of the clouds that you see in front of the eclipsed sun, preventing us from getting a super clear view, yet allowing us to see what we came to see and be awestruck by it.




Process video.

Still flashing back to the experience and still in awe.

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Much more, of course, after I get home and have a chance to download the pictures from the DSLRs and the video from four different cameras. But for now, let’s say that it was an exciting and wonderful day with a fair amount of adrenaline expended.

We woke up to clouds.

By the time we hit the road, there were thunderheads starting to build.

We were heading to NE Kansas (the Sabetha area) or SE Nebraska (Humboldt or Pawnee City).

By the time we got to St. Joseph, it was raining. At times raining hard. Once out of St. Joseph and across the river into Kansas, we saw a bit of a rainbow. The good news is that a rainbow is a hopeful sign? The bad news is that in practical terms, you only get rainbows with rain, which means clouds.

We stopped in Hiawatha, Kansas to look at the maps and search for guidance. It basically looked bad and/or worse with a wide line of storms and clouds stretching from Tulsa to Minneapolis. Our only hope was to try to get to the far side of it to the west. We had about three hours before totality and decided to go for it, heading toward Beatrice, Nebraska.

A few miles shy of Beatrice, it was looking worse ahead of us, but maybe clearing just a touch behind us. We looked for a way to head south and ended up between Beatrice and Filley, Nebraska. With time running short, only a bit over an hour to totality, we made our stand.

Note the video cameras on the liftgate and on the luggage rack, as well as the two cameras on tripods. This was about thirty minutes before totality and we could all clearly see the partial phases. Everyone had our eclipse glasses and it was just amazing to see the moon moving across in front of the sun. Astonishing.

And in the last five minutes, the clouds got thicker again.


We got lucky in that the clouds stayed thin enough to see all of totality. We couldn’t see all of the corona and there was no way to see any other stars or planets, which we would expect to see easily with a clear sky.

But we all did see totality, the full 2:38.4. We ended up less than a mile off of the center line.

How lucky were we? Less than ten minutes after totality ended, the sun was totally obscured. We saw almost nothing of the partial phases following totality.

Some days it’s better to be lucky than good. Today we were both.

How is totality? Almost beyond description. It truly is an astonishing, bizarre, beautiful, and moving experience.

I was wearing a head-mounted GoPro – it will be interesting to see how much actual squeeing and burbling I did.

A quick glance at the photos on the cameras shows that, while there aren’t THOUSANDS of pictures that will just awe and amaze you, there are probably one or two that don’t completely suck.

I’ll get back to you when I get home and have a bit of time to process, both my thoughts and my photos.

Final thought – if you EVER have an opportunity to see a total solar eclipse live and in person, TAKE IT! Find a way to make it happen, accept no excuses.




Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Travel, Weather

One Day Out & Counting

Actually, about fifteen hours. Totality hits this area about 13:08 CDT.

Forecast for everything along the path of totality from Nebraska to Nashville is summer so-so, filled with convective activity & clouds popping up as the humid summer air heats up. There’s another significant thunderstorm event in the Kansas City area forecast for late tomorrow night and Tuesday morning, but for tomorrow afternoon it’s hit & miss, 30% to 50%+ cloud cover. The best clear spots are in central Tennessee and up in Idaho, both a dozen hours away by car even if there weren’t going to be 10,000,000 people trying to cram into those spots.

It should be a bit better than here if we travel toward NE Kansas and SE Nebraska, so we’ll be headed that way and hoping for the best. We’ll stay off the interstate highways and within the path of totality. (“It’s an adventure!”)

My makeshift solar filter for the big lens is set.

This is more or less the same setup I used a few years back for the Transit of Venus.

I took this picture at about 13:15 this afternoon, the same time that I’ll be taking them tomorrow.  That little solar filter is not optically flat by any means, but I was pleased to see that even with a simple rig like this the photo actually has enough detail to see the large row of sunspots along the equator, right in the middle of the image.

To check and make sure it’s not just a flaw in the cheesy $1 solar filter, I checked to see what the pros saw on the sun at the same time.

Photo: NASA Solar & Heliospheric Observatory

They have more detail – I have more day-glo orange duct tape.

So, off adventuring we go, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed tomorrow morning. Wish us luck!

Tonight, the sunset from here was definitely above average. I hope it’s a good sign.

One day out and counting…



Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Travel

Two Days Out & Counting

Tomorrow we attempt to divine the future from weather maps and scientific models of cloud cover.

Today we enjoyed Kansas City, with a visit to the wonderful World War I Museum…

…and a Royals game at Kauffman Stadium.

Look at that “clear and a million” sky! All day long!

Tomorrow it starts to go to hell (i.e., return to normal, partially to mostly cloudy, muggy, hot, convective, pop-up thunderstorms and fronts) and stays that way for the next several days.

As we knew going into this, Monday’s results are going to need a little bit of luck.

Two days out and counting…

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Three Days Out & Counting

This would be fantastic weather on Monday:

This, not so much, although very pretty:

This was a very cool place to visit, even worth the 3.5 hour drive each way from Kansas City:

Much more about it, of course, when I’ve got a few minutes to breathe. Which won’t be this weekend, I expect.

Interesting to note that even in Hutchison, KS, over 200 miles from Monday’s path of totality, and every ten to fifteen miles all the way there and back on the interstate highways, were electronic signs (the kind used in LA to warn of a freeway accident, closure, or Amber Alert) flashing, “Solar eclipse August 21st – Expect additional traffic.”

I’m not surprised to see that here, in or near the path of totality. But 200 miles away??!

Three days out and counting…

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Four Days Out & Counting

Today we traveled, tonight we’re in Kansas City. It’s been a long day, despite the fact that the flights went as smoothly as any we’ve had in years. Even the baby we sat next to on the Las Vegas to Kansas City route was quiet and well-behaved.

On the one hand I was surprised to see that the eclipse doesn’t seem to be a huge deal here at first glance. The woman who checked us into the hotel barely seemed to know what we were talking about when she asked the obligatory, “So, what brings you to town?” question. The manager at the restaurant knew about it and was thinking of maybe going outside to watch it (they’re in the path of totality, but only for about twenty seconds) but maybe not.


On the other hand, I could hear other people on the plane talking about it and trying to get people interested and give them some good advice about watching it. So there are signs that my people are starting to invade the region.

Four days out and counting…

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