September 24, 2017

November 2013-Life in the Astroblogosphere: Chasing the Saros

Eclipse-Sign! (Photos by Author).

It started with a tweet.

Towards the end of 2012, our thoughts turned, as they always do in the month of December, toward the top 100 astronomical events of the coming year. Eclipses always make this compilation, and we duly noted that totality for 2013 would only occur during the brief hybrid eclipse of Sunday, November 3rd.

But we also noticed that our current home state of Florida was just skulking around the edge of the partial eclipse footprint. A quick simulation check on Starry Night confirmed our suspicion— Florida would catch a rising partial eclipse.

But would it even clear the treeline as seen from Astroguyz HQ?

We noted that making tracks over to the Florida Space Coast in search of a flat Atlantic Ocean horizon would be key. Eclipse-Maps’ Michael Zeiler also suggested an intriguing possibility: catching the partially-eclipsed Sun rising behind the that icon of the Space Coast, the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center.

We’d seen some pretty spectacular sunrise and sunset eclipse pics taken during annular and solar eclipses over the past few years. The “DSLR-explosion” has also led to a revolution, bringing the capability to do outstanding astrophotography to the masses. As the date drew near, we hatched a plan to attempt to position ourselves to witness the event.

We discussed this idea with Jacksonville photographer Richard Hay (@WinObs) and KSC PR media liaison Andrea Farmer. We knew that it might be difficult to get onto KSC the morning of the eclipse. Plus, shooting up close would result in a HUGE VAB versus a tiny eclipsed Sun next to it. To get both objects at approximately the same size, we’d need to be some miles away.

But would the “sweet spot” on the map put us in dense jungle? Or perhaps deep into a “classified, KEEP OUT” zone, or in gator infested waters?

Luckily, we noted that the magic azimuth for sunrise the morning of November 3rd was around 107 degrees. The Parrish Park causeway in Titusville, to the northwest of the KSC fit the bill nicely.

The car was packed, and an eclipse expedition across the wilds of the Central Florida peninsula was mounted. Gear was checked, double-checked, and solar imaging techniques were tested. A 0.9 neutral density filter was ordered just for the occasion. We would have a scant 20 minutes from sunrise until the end of the eclipse.

We scouted out the location the day before. Once the eclipse was above the horizon and underway, we wouldn’t have another shot at relocating— we had to judge our location just right, or the VAB would be out of frame. We used tech both old-school and new to gauge our vantage point, from measuring Google Map angles with a printable paper protractor (!) to gauging our bearing using a compass app on our Android smart phone from proposed sites. In the end, though, what worked best was determining what bright object (in this case the star Spica) that would match the azimuth of the rising Sun 30 minutes prior to sunrise.

As you can see, said expedition was a success. There’s always a brief moment of slight disbelief when an astronomical event like an eclipse is first spotted, a skywatcher’s vision of “buck-fever” that hunters experience when finally confronted with their prey. Hey, American astronomer David Rittenhouse was said to have passed out at the start of a transit of Venus.   We shot as fast as we could, taking images with our Nikon D60 camera every few seconds. The combination that worked best was the 200mm zoom lens at ISO 100 and f/8 with the 0.9 ND filter at about 2,500th of a second. Note that this combination is NOT dark enough to stare at the Sun through the camera’s view finder. However, we were able to simply set the focus to infinity and lineup before sunrise.

We hope to take our eclipse chasing efforts abroad and to at last witness totality in 2015 and 2016 before the big ticket solar eclipse across the U.S. in August 2017.  To our knowledge, our capture is the first solar eclipse sunrise with the VAB in the foreground… hey YOU too can replicate the feat exactly one “Exeligmos” from now on December 6th, 2067!

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  1. [...] we told the tale of our adventures in eclipse-chasing along the Florida Space Coast. The morning of Sunday, November [...]

  2. [...] this month, we mounted a minor eclipse-chasing expedition of our own to catch the partially-eclipsed Sun rising over the Vehicle Assembly Building at the [...]

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