Category Archives: Astronomy

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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Five Days Out & Counting

There’s an important point that I would like to make about my first eclipse chase. I think some might think that I’ve forgotten it, or never learned it to begin with, but I want to assure you that I haven’t and I did.

This is going to be fun! This is going to be amazing! This is going to be an adventure!

And that’s true even if we run into some incredibly bad luck and despite all of the planning and odds we end up getting completely clouded out.

In addition, the fact that I’m taking along so much gear does not mean that I’m obsessed beyond everything else with getting pictures and video, leaving me after the fact having not actually seen it. That’s not going to happen.

So, to the first point, I understand that things could go wonky on us and we end up not seeing the eclipse in all of its glory. It’s conceivable (although unlikely) that we could end up in a spot where it’s raining so hard and in a thunderstorm so violent and dense that we don’t even see it get dark(er) during totality. It’s conceivable.

That will not make this trip a failure.

Yes, I’ve got a plan “A” and “B” and “C” and probably at least a plan “M” or “N.” That’s part of the adventure for me, part of the experience. But come next Monday, I’m not going to get pissed off if Plans “A,” “B,” and “C” all collapse and I end up “settling” for seeing only a few seconds of totality instead of 2:38. I’m not going to mope if I’m clouded out and end up getting to only see it get dark under the clouds.

That will not make this trip a failure.

What would make the trip a failure is not taking the trip. What would make the trip a failure would be being so afraid of failure that I didn’t bother to go.

As for all of that gear, about 90% of it is set up to have me hit a button about five minutes before totality and then sit back and enjoy the show. (Assuming I’m not sprinting through a corn field with 50 pounds of gear because our side of the corn field just got a cloud hovering over it but a quarter mile away it’s perfectly sunny. Let’s not be stupid about this, okay?) Once the show starts, yes, I’ll have a camera in my hands, and yes, I’ll check once or twice to make sure that the other stuff is still running, but a good chunk of my time will be spent just looking around, soaking it all in, making sure that on my death bed I’ll be able to remember it all and put myself right back there in that moment.

It’s going to be an adventure!

It’s going to be amazing!

It’s going to be FUN!

(Let the packing panic begin.)

Five days out and counting…


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Six Days Out & Counting

There are going to be a LOT of people “near” (for values of “near” up to 600 or 700 miles) the path of totality who are going to decide at the last minute (i.e., in the last day or two, or possibly next Monday morning) to head toward that black hole in the sky.

We’re not those people.

I’ve known about this eclipse for a couple of years and I’ve been actively planning for many months. We picked our target area (Missouri/Kansas) and got our hotel rooms, flights, and rental car months ago.

The joker will always be the weather. We’ll spend Sunday watching the forecasts. If we’re 100% sure it’s going to be “clear and million,” we’ll find something fun to do. In the much more likely event that things are more iffy, we’ll be looking at options. If the local weather absolutely is going to suck, we’ll pick a direction, northwest toward Nebraska or southeast toward Nashville, and make a run for it first thing on Monday morning.

Assuming the weather locally is acceptable, the plan is to get a close to the center line as possible, and thus get the longest duration of totality. Since we’re already in the area, an early run off into the hinterlands to find some small town with a school or shopping center or church parking lot will work. Then sit and wait for the glory.

Closer to the cities and closer to the interstates, it might turn into a circus. Some places will get flooded with over 100,000 people. (See first paragraph above.) They’re going to clog the roads, run out of gas, clean out every gas station and mini-mart in sight, overload and shut down the cell phone system, and generally cause a mess. This is why I want to be elsewhere, in position, sitting on my ass and enjoying a cold beverage as the eclipse starts.

If all else fails, especially if the weather is clear, our hotel near the airport is in the path of totality. It’s just not terribly close to the center line. If it’s clear, we can simply walk out into the parking lot or go down by the pool and see about 1:52 of totality. Maybe not the 2:38 that we’ll get fifteen miles away on the center line, but if that extra forty-six seconds of totality means eight hours of fighting traffic…

Six days out & counting…


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Seven Days Out & Counting

Making sure that all of the digital assistants and tools are current. Pull out the laptop and make sure the OS and programs have all done their updates. Make sure that it’s all synched up with Dropbox. My digital life travels with me.

Ditto for the iPhone and iPad. Do the iOS 10.3.3 upgrade on the phone. (Already running the beta version of iOS 11 on the iPad – living on the edge, but liking some of the new features.) Dump off onto the desktop any data I don’t necessarily need, free up space for video, pictures, and stuff I’ll need on the road.

Make sure I know where those solar eclipse glasses are.

Got a new, heavy-duty tripod and a self-timer/auto-trigger gadget for one of the good DSLRs. Ran into Woodland Hills Camera to get them – a fantastic place to get your camera gear and the best place in the country to get your telescope gear. Talk about a crowd up to their eyeballs in busy right now!

If anything goes according to plan, I’ll have one camera with the wide angle lens on that timer and a tripod, starting a couple minutes before totality, shooting constantly until a couple minutes after totality ends, while I’ll be shooting with the other camera and the telephoto lens. Plus the video cameras, which I’ll just have running, one looking at the sky, one zoomed in on the sun, and one at the surroundings and crowd. Plus my iPhone. Plus the forehead-mounted GoPro. (Super gluing it my head is easy – removing it is harder.)

Watching the weather, looking for trends. Still too far out to be too definite, we’ll wait for about Friday for that to start settling down. But today’s seven-day forecast for KC was much worse than yesterday’s eight-day forecast for KC. It will be what it will be – we’ll be mobile.

Seven days out and counting…


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Eight Days Out & Counting

Starting to get my gear ready to pack. Prepare cameras. Charge batteries. Clear off the memory cards.

Check the weather – looking okay so far for the KC area.

Spend a good chunk of last week making sure my extremely competent and capable staff at the office (I really am a lucky guy in that respect) has everything they need from me to cover while I’m gone. The next three days will be spend doing more of the same and wrapping up additional loose ends.

Spent almost all of the weekend making sure that my CAF duties are covered. The timing is unfortunate – our annual air show is next weekend in Camarillo and I’m normally working both days and busy as hell. Others will just have to cover for me – I’ve done everything I can to get things set up and make it as simple as possible. I’ll pick up the pieces and take care of all of the paperwork when I get back.

Eight days out & counting…

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