Observing Report: Total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017

August 28, 2017

My parents, Norma and John (seated), and me with London and Vicki (standing), with the projected eclipse.

Long Range Planning

Since the August, 2017, eclipse first came on my radar, my plan was to see it from somewhere on the Great Plains. I had two reasons for this. One, most of my family lives in Oklahoma, and it would be simpler for them to drive up to the eclipse path than to fly to somewhere more remote. Also, on the plains you can usually see weather coming from a long way out, and fronts move in predictable ways. I figured that if clouds did spring up on eclipse day, I’d have a better chance of driving to get around them on the plains than anywhere else.

Originally I’d been thinking Kansas or Missouri, both of which border Oklahoma and would have made short drives for my relatives. But a closer look at the eclipse map this spring dissuaded me. The eclipse would only barely clip the northeastern corner of Kansas, in the relatively densely populated area around Kansas City. The path of totality painted a broad stripe across Missouri, but mostly along a line connecting Kansas City and St. Louis. I figured that area would get hammered by visitors, and the cloud forecast wasn’t as favorable as it was for points west, either.

Map by Xavier Jubier/Eclipse2017.org

Nebraska, on the other hand, looked pretty good. My maternal grandparents used to live in Imperial, in the southwest corner, and they retired just a few miles down the road to Enders. Imperial would make a convenient rendezvous point, both for any family driving up from Oklahoma, and for me, Vicki, and London flying in from California.

In one sense Imperial was not convenient: it’s a long way from any major airport. Two hundred miles from Denver, and three hundred from Lincoln. But I like long drives in the country (really, I do!), and I was happy to trade some driving at either end of the trip if it would save me traffic in the middle.

I guess now is a good time to mention that I did not want to stay on the path of totality. I figured – correctly, as it turned out – that competition for rooms would be fierce, that at least some places would be gouging visitors, and that traffic would be a problem in at least some areas. Instead, I wanted to stay an hour or two off the path of totality, preferably somewhere out of the way, where crowds would not be a problem, but I’d still have a range of possible observing spots within easy driving range. Again, Imperial was a promising choice, and in early February, I called and reserved rooms for my parents and for Vicki, London, and me at the Balcony House Bed & Breakfast (which was outstanding, by the way – it’s worth going to southwestern Nebraska just to stay there).

By now, plans were firming up. I knew that the fall gross anatomy course at WesternU would be rolling by eclipse time, and Vicki and I would need to arrange things so we’d miss as few days of lab as possible (many thanks to our department chair for the time off!). But we also wanted some time in Imperial to unwind, and to visit places important to our family history. That meant leaving on Saturday, August 19, and coming back on Tuesday, August 22. The Balcony House didn’t have any rooms on Saturday night, and in fact, nobody else in Imperial did, either. So we decided to make Saturday an easy day and only drive as far as Holyoke, Colorado. Holyoke is another old family stomping ground – Grandpa and Grandma had lived there for several years, too, and it’s where my mom grew up.

Sun funnel testing in Claremont

The Sun Funnel Rides Again

Gear! I didn’t settle on exactly what I’d be rolling with until Thursday, August 17, just two days before we were to fly. My old Sun Funnel – veteran of the annular eclipse and Venus transit of 2012 and the partial eclipse of 2014 – was in storage in the garage. There was never really any question but what it would be going along; it’s just too darned useful for showing solar events to even small groups of people. I did have to decide which scope to use with it. We’d sold London’s AstroScan, but my flock of airline-portable scopes had grown in the meantime. Strong contenders included the GalileoScope, Tasco-Vixen 9VR, and SkyScanner 100. I set up and tested the 9VR and the SkyScanner, and I ended up going with the latter scope, for several reasons:

  1. It has the most aperture of any scope I was seriously considering.
  2. It’s at least somewhat collimatable.
  3. With its open design, I wasn’t worried about it overheating.
  4. It balanced the best with the Sun Funnel mounted.

For the flights, I put the SkyScanner in the padded bag that my Apex 127 came in, and packed t-shirts and socks around it. The Sun Funnel I broke down – I put the screen material in a folder between sheets of clean paper, and I stuffed more socks in the funnel itself. I also brought along four pairs of eclipse glasses, a piece of #14 welder’s glass (previously seen here), and 10×42 Bushnell binoculars to look for solar prominences during totality.

London with his grandparents in front of the Balcony House in Imperial, Nebraska

One more piece of gear came to me on the road. Sunday morning we woke up in Holyoke, Colorado, had lunch at The Skillet (which had excellent country cooking), and then popped across the street to the Family Dollar for a few odds and ends. I’d been thinking of making a little sun-finder, like the one David DeLano detailed in this post. My SkyScanner has a DIY wooden bracket that is square to the tube, so I just needed something round that I could use to project a spot of sunlight. I ended up going with a $1 empty condiment bottle, which I already blogged about here. When we rolled into Imperial that afternoon, I unpacked all of the gear and did a test run on the sidewalk in front of the Balcony House. Everything was ready – now we just needed clear skies.

Targeting on the Fly

My initial targets for possible eclipse observing spots were the towns of Tryon and Stapleton, Nebraska, both about a half an hour north of North Platte. I picked up a Nebraska road map and highlighted possible routes from Imperial to either Tryon or Stapleton, going either north to the path of totality and then east, or vice versa. Either town would have required about 2.5 hours of driving on a regular day, and I figured it would be smart to budget for eclipse traffic. The east-then-north route to Stapleton had the following problem: it went through North Platte, and if traffic was apocalyptically bad, we might get stuck on the edge of the path of totality, or even outside of it. The north-then-east route to Tryon would get us close to the centerline first, with fewer opportunities to get stuck off the path.

Ah, but then. A few days out, and the weather apps were predicting partial clouds and possibly even rainfall for west-central Nebraska. Right up until Monday morning, North Platte, Tryon, and Stapleton all looked they might get clouded out. So Sunday the five of us – Mom, Dad, Vicki, London, and me – had a council of war. To the level of detail possible in weather prediction, the area around North Platte looked lousy, but Scottsbluff, in far western Nebraska, was supposed to have sunny skies. Between North Platte and Scottsbluff, the weather looked progressively better to the west, and worse to the east. So we changed things up: instead of turning east to Tryon or Stapleton, we’d stay on Highway 61 north out of Ogallala and shoot up to Hyannis, then turn west on Highway 2 and go as far as we needed to find clear skies. This was basically the Tryon plan with the directions reversed: go straight north to the eclipse path first, then drive east or west along the path to a promising destination.

The Drive Up

I wish I had had the time and opportunity to take pictures during the drive up from Imperial. It was beautiful. We left Imperial right after dawn, and the rising sun turned the fields to gold. Within a few miles, we could see banks of fog lying in the low spots on the landscape. And then a few miles further, the fog was lying everywhere. We started driving through fogbanks that congealed into an unbroken blanket by the time we reached Ogallala. The weather apps were still projecting clear skies to the west and, well, unclear skies to the east, so we kept going.

The fog had cleared by the time we saw our first eclipse-watchers, at the fairgrounds in Arthur. There were hundreds of people in RVs, tents, cars, and trucks, looking worriedly up at a sky that was completely socked in with clouds. We kept going, and saw a few hundred more scattered along the side of the road as we approached the center line. About this point we hit what I can barely bring myself to describe as ‘traffic’. At its worst, we were the 9th and 10th vehicles in a convoy of 13, but the convoy was rolling along at a steady 62 or 63 miles per hour, which was fine and certainly not worth the risk of trying to pass someone on a two-lane road in the Nebraska sandhills. The hills themselves were liberally spangled with wild sunflowers. From a distance, they looked like they’d been dusted with pollen. Everywhere we went the landscape was green.


From a purely eclipse-viewing perspective, I would have been happy with any of the towns on Highway 2 west of Hyannis. Sure, they were a few miles off of centerline, but the difference in the duration of totality would have been trivial. And I figured we’d miss the big crowds expected at Alliance. But this plan had one fatal flaw, which I did not anticipate: a complete absence of public restrooms west of Hyannis. If I’d been by myself, I might have just pulled over anywhere and, er, recharged the water table as needed, but that’s a less attractive option to a group that includes two women and two senior citizens. Actually, there may have been a public restroom in Lakeside, but we had no chance to find out, as there was a big train blocking the road into town when we came by. So we headed on into Alliance and braced for the worst.

Our setup at the Western Nebraska Community College shindig. The forest of telephone poles in the background is where line repair people train.

The worst turned out to be not that bad, actually. We drove past a big group assembled on a grassy field on the east edge of town, and on to the first gas station that looked like it might have restrooms. By the time we’d all had a biology break, it was almost time for the eclipse to start. We decided to head back out to the east edge of town and see if the group on the grass still had some parking spots. This turned out to be an excellent choice. The parking was organized by the Western Nebraska Community College, which had free porta-potties and eclipse gear for sale. We ended up next to a family from Denver that we had met in line at the gas station. They all had eclipse glasses but no other optics, so I set up the Sun Funnel so they could watch with us, and they returned the favor by taking pictures of our party.

The Eclipse

As soon as we had the cars parked, I was busy setting up the Sun Funnel, while everyone else got folding chairs set up and got their eclipse glasses on. I got the photo above, my first shot of the eclipse, at 10:45 AM.

There was a wind out of the north that kept threatening to snatch our hats away, and it was flirting with blowing the scope over. I can’t remember ever setting up the Manfrotto tripod for low use, with the legs spread almost straight sideways, but I remembered from the documentation that doing so was possible. That fixed the stability issues with the scope, and from that point on, all we had to do was re-aim it every few minutes (I’d already made this switch in the family shot above – that shot is out of order in terms of eclipse phases). As I mentioned in a previous post, not only was the dollar store mustard bottle sun finder cheap and effective, but I could see the projected dot through the translucent walls of the bottle so I didn’t have to get my head behind or underneath it to aim the scope – handy when the sun was almost directly overhead.

A labeled shot from the end of the eclipse, when all six of the big sunspots were visible, with the Earth added for scale. All of the other crud on the image is dirt and bits of grass – that’s what happens when gear is left out in the wind in a grassy field for three hours.

There were half a dozen nice sunspots, and it was fun to watch the moon overtake them. A lot of the people who stopped by to look at the sun funnel weren’t familiar with sunspots, so I gave them the quick spiel: giant magnetic storms on the sun, with the biggest that we could see then being about the same size as planet Earth.

About halfway between first contact and totality, the north wind started pushing clouds across the sky, which you can see in the above video. This added some definite suspense to the proceedings, especially when, about 5 minutes before the start of totality, a huge “dreadnought class” cloud came over. I think everyone on the field was on pins and needles – we could still see the sun, as the next photo demonstrates, but it wasn’t what you’d call a great view.

Fortunately the cloud moved out of the way right at the start of totality. And I mean precisely then. Below is a shot from just a couple of seconds before, with the diamond ring effect haloed by the tail-end wisps of cloud. Those wisps moved out just as the moon covered the last light of the sun, and our view of totality was perfectly clear.

That photo above is my best eclipse shot. Vicki has a DSLR but I didn’t take it along. I did waste a few seconds, but only a few, trying to get a couple of HDR shots with my iPhone, but they didn’t really come out. I had read plenty of horror stories of people who basically missed their first eclipse messing around with cameras, so I resolved long ago that if I was lucky enough to have clear skies for totality, I’d try to spend them looking, not shooting.

For the most part, the partial phases of the eclipse were familiar to me from the 2012 and 2014 eclipses. Totality was a whole ‘nuther beast. This was my first total eclipse, and even though I had read a lot of eyewitness reports and seen some videos of other total eclipses, several things surprised me:

  1. Neither of my previous eclipses had been close enough to total to produce the weirdly sharp shadows that you get on either side of totality, when the thin crescent sun acts more like a point source than a bright extended object. So I’d never seen that effect before, and neither had anyone that I was with. We had fun marveling at our shadows, but I didn’t think to get any pictures or video of them. You can see the sharp shadows starting at 1:25 in this video.
  2. It got a lot darker a lot earlier than I expected. This was especially true in the last 10 minutes before totality. It was extremely weird – before the dreadnought cloud moved in, we were all aware of standing in direct sunlight, just not much of it. It wasn’t like diffuse sunlight coming through clouds, and it wasn’t like sunset light, either. I’ve never seen anything else quite like it – which I guess is part of the reason people chase eclipses, to see things you can’t see any other way.
  3. The inner corona was a lot brighter than I expected. I couldn’t really see any of the outer corona, just a thin bright ring around the moon. It was bright white. The contrast between the blazing white of the corona and the absolute blackness of the moon made the latter even more unearthly. In Seeing in the Dark, Timothy Ferris described the moon during totality as an “awful black ball” and I can now vouch for the accuracy of that description. It doesn’t look right.
  4. Even at the midpoint of totality, the sky was brighter than I had thought it would be, and the ground was darker. We all did look up, and saw Venus, Mars, Mercury, and Regulus, but I didn’t see any other stars; the stars didn’t ‘come out’ as I had expected. In contrast, right where we were, looking around at family members and other eclipse chasers, it was dark, like being outside half an hour after sunset. And the 360-degree twilight lit the horizon all the way around in shades of orange, salmon, pink, and violet. In general, the terrestrial effects of the eclipse were more pronounced and arresting that what was going on in the sky – with the undeniable exception of that awful black ball.
  5. I assume that the atmospheric effects on either side of totality are symmetrical – that the weird light I mentioned above in point 2 extends just as far after totality as before, and that the 360-degree twilight extends just as far before totality as after. But that’s not how I perceived them. I noticed the oddly thin light before totality, and after totality had ended I was surprised at how long the sunset effect persisted. The above photo is from a minute and a half after the end of totality, looking north-northeast, about 90 degrees off the path of the shadow, and the twilight effect is still visible in the distance.

After Totality

Totality was a rush. In the aftermath we sat around talking happily about how amazing it had been, and watching on the sun funnel as the moon gradually uncovered the sun. London and I made pinhole projections – his is above, mine below.

We also wandered around until we found a cottonwood that was projecting crescent suns on the street. Here’s a photo:

And a video – this worked out better than expected, because the wind was blowing the leaves and branches around and making the crescent suns flicker, like sunlight glinting off moving water. Shame I didn’t think to turn the phone sideways, but I’d just had my mind blown, so I’m giving myself a pass.

All too soon it was winding down. The telescope and sun funnel had been the first things set up when we rolled in, and they were the last things put away when we left. Here’s my last shot, from 1:16 PM:

Ironically, after all the gloomy predictions, traffic was worse getting away from the eclipse than it had been getting to it. I’d hoped that maybe we could head south out of Alliance and fast-track it back to Ogallala on Highway 26, but that way was jammed up. So we went back the way we came. On the drive home we were the 5th and 6th vehicles in a train of 17, and we had to settle for a bit under 60 mph, but we still made it back in good time. There was another train blocking the access into Lakeside, so I still don’t know if the town has a public restroom.

The trip had one neat little coda. On the flight home, London had the window seat, and he spotted the young crescent moon, back in the evening sky after its big adventure. I passed him my phone, and he got some great shots. Here’s the best:

What now?

There will be other solar eclipses between now and the next “Great American Eclipse” of 2024, but most of them will happen in other parts of the world, and the chances that I’ll have the opportunity to go see them are slim. Here are the upcoming eclipses and transits that I am hoping to observe in the next decade – as always, assuming the skies cooperate:

  • January 31, 2018 – total lunar eclipse
  • January 21, 2019 – total lunar eclipse
  • November 11, 2019 – transit of Mercury
  • May 26, 2021 – total lunar eclipse
  • May 16, 2022 – total lunar eclipse
  • November 8, 2022 – total lunar eclipse
  • October 14, 2023 – annular solar eclipse
  • April 8, 2024 – total solar eclipse
  • March 14, 2025 – total lunar eclipse
  • March 3, 2026 – total lunar eclipse

That’s a pretty good lineup, I think. For more details on all of these events, see MrEclipse.com.

In sum, the eclipse was awesome, in every sense of the word. I get now why people become eclipse chasers. I’m not quite to the point where I can afford to go jetting around the world to catch every single one, but I will make it to every future eclipse that I can. If you ever get a chance to stand in the path of totality, go.

UPDATE 29 August: Mike’s comment below about Cthulhu reminded me that I needed to post another picture. After I put the diamond ring photo on Facebook, my friend Jarrod posted this modified version, which I can’t unsee. Cower before Ecl, the Dragon of Totality:

Eclipse dragon


The Rule of Twos

August 26, 2017

I still have an eclipse observing report to get posted, but I wanted to pop in and memorialize a nice little quick-peek session last night. London and I decided to pop out into the driveway and see the young crescent moon and Jupiter. At first we were just going to use his little 60mm Meade refractor, but then we decided it would be nice to have two scopes going, so we brought out his XT4.5 as well. Both the moon and Jupiter were low over LA and the seeing was not good, so we stayed at low power. Although we did a bit of switching back and forth, I mostly used his refractor and the 28mm RKE, and he mostly used the XT4.5 and the 25mm Plossl that came with it. We traced the lunar terminator and marveled at craters whose rims were just poking up into the sunlight.

I only realized after we packed up that we’d followed The Rule of Ones, but doubled: two people, two scopes, two eyepieces, and two targets. After all the eclipse mania, it was nice to have a simple, relaxing grab-n-go session. We both agreed that we should do that more often – but then, we say that about almost every one of the million or so things we do.


Dollar store mustard bottle sun finder

August 20, 2017


Probably self-explanatory from the picture, but just in case: tape it to the scope, parallel to the tube, and when the spot of light coming through the nozzle is centered on the bottom of the bottle, you’re on target. Some nice sunspots today.


Update August 23 – Another nice thing I discovered at the eclipse: because the condiment bottle is translucent (at least this model), you don’t have to get behind it to see if it’s working. Peering through the side of the bottle is good enough. Handy when the sun is high in the sky.


Safely (and cheaply) observe the eclipse

August 17, 2017

A quick note for all eclipse observers, but especially those who haven’t been able to find eclipse glasses: here’s the #1 best eclipse activity for kids, and not bad for adults, either. Each person needs a stack of index cards and a push-pin or thumbtack. They can pick out their names or make little drawings by punching holes in one index card, then use that to project little crescent suns on the other index card. Safe, foolproof, can easily eat up an hour or more. Everyone should do this, and take pictures and post them. Pics attached here are from the 2014 partial eclipse (observing report here).

I wrote up an observing guide (link) for people on the Western University of Health Sciences campuses in Lebanon, Oregon, and Pomona, California, but really this stuff applies for everyone on the path of totality (Lebanon) or off (Pomona). Except for the timings, and you can get local eclipse timings here. My more complete page on safely observing the sun is on the sidebar (link).

Good luck, and clear skies!


The Lego Ideas Saturn V

August 2, 2017

Oh man, I have been longing for one of these since the project was first announced on the Lego Ideas site. The set – officially the Lego 21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V – was released on June 1 this year and almost immediately sold out everywhere, with lots of the sets apparently nabbed by scalpers who turned around and started selling them for double or more the list price. A-holes. Aaanyway, I set an in-stock alert using Zoolert.com, and when the set was back in stock at the Lego.com store, I pounced. The Lego piggy bank was a limited-time promo freebie they threw in. Atop the piggy bank box you’ll see Lego Jyn Erso, who came over from London’s U-Wing set to help out by serving as a scale indicator. You’ll see her all through this post.

Here’s the scale diagram from the front of the box. The fully assembled rocket is 1 meter tall, almost to the millimeter.

The back of the box, showing the full stack, the mission steps from launch to lunar landing, and splashdown.

Inside the box: 12 numbered bags of parts, and a big fat book. The instruction manual is 200-page softcover book, with a capsule history of the Apollo program on the first few pages. Of the parts bags, 1 through 6 are for the first stage, 7 through 9 have the parts for the second stage, 10 and 11 build the third stage, and 12 has the capsules and the little moon landing and splashdown dioramas.

The completed first stage. I should have taken some in-progress shots. I was worried that this would be an unexciting build. Boy, was I wrong. The stages have fantastically complicated endoskeletons, with some of the most intricate, creative, and surprising building techniques I’ve ever seen. There are some good process shots here, and more at Late Night Astronomy, which you should be reading anyway.

Here’s the second stage in progress. The endoskeleton is the multicolored box at the upper right of the photo, ready to receive the body panels which are laid out but not yet built here. I spread out all of the bits to confirm for myself that this stage alone uses 88 curved ramp pieces to contour the exterior of the second stage.

The interstage connections at the top of the first stage (left) and second stage (right). The engines at the bottom of each stage are very realistic. I think these guts are less realistic, but those red clips do a pretty good job of grabbing onto the next stage up, so the assembled model is reassuringly solid. And the stages themselves are very sturdy. This thing begs to be played with.

Way back in August, 2009, in the very first month of this blog’s existence, I posted about the Space Toys Ultimate Saturn V Rocket, which for many years has reigned supreme as “greatest space toy ever” in my estimation. Now there’s a new sheriff in town. That’s the Space Toys Saturn V on the right, and the Lego Saturn V on the left.

This photo does highlight one niggling inaccuracy in the Lego rocket: the first stage fins are far too swept back. Seems inevitable that someone will release a DIY hack for more realistic fins, if it hasn’t happened already. If you see one, let me know in the comments.

Here’s the Lego Saturn V broken down into some of its constituent bits. I could have separated the command and service modules from the third stage, but I was lazy. The LEM will fit inside the third stage fairing so you can re-enact the whole moon mission. Note the realistic J2 engines on the bottom of the second and third stages. All of the first, second, and third stage engines have translucent orange bits up inside the engine bells to simulate fire. I dig it.

A close-up of the lunar landing and splashdown dioramas. London and I built the set by going through the bags in order, saving the capsules and astronauts as a payoff at the end of the process. That was good because it gave us something nifty to look forward to as we worked. However, in retrospect it would have been nice to have some of the astronauts and maybe one of the dioramas in the first bag, so as we built the rest of the rocket we’d have a ready scale comparison to drive home the kind of insane size of the Saturn V. Hmm, guess I’ll just have to get another one – for the office, of course – and build it in a different order.

Here’s a scale comparison of, from left to right, the Jyn Erso minifigure, a microfigure from one of the Lego board games, and one of the astronaut nanofigures from the Saturn V set. The set actually includes four of these, I guess on the assumption that one may get lost. As always, the set included a few extra bits and bobs, duplicates of the smallest and most easily lost pieces.

One more scale comparo, this time with the LEM and astronauts next to the gigantic F1 engines that powered the Saturn V’s first stage. There are F1s on display in weird places, including one here in LA that I haven’t seen (list here). The one I’ve seen the most recently is at the Science Museum Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. It’s a mind-bogglingly impressive piece of equipment.

One more comparo – up until now, the Lego Star Wars 9515 Malevolence space dreadnought was London’s and my longest Lego vessel, at something like 76 studs. As you can see here, the Saturn V makes it look downright cute.

That’s it. As far as I’m concerned, this is the apotheosis of Lego sets. If you are remotely interested in Lego, the Apollo program, rockets, or just cool things in general, set up an in-stock alert and get one. You won’t regret it.

UPDATE on 6 August 2017

Four things:

  1. Since posting this, I’ve seen a lot of hand-wringing about the set being out of stock “forever”. The Lego Group has said that the set will remain in production through the end of 2017 at least. So they will come back. Set an in-stock alert and be patient.
  2. The box that the Saturn V comes in is just big enough to store the assembled model if you separate the stages and snap the fins off the first stage. I put some bubble wrap between the stages and used a little box for the dioramas and blue pipe stands. This will come in handy – I want to take the model to the next PVAA meeting for show-and-tell, and I also want to be able to store the thing without taking it all the way apart.
  3. The same team that created the original Lego Ideas Saturn V now has a scale umbilical tower to go with it. As of this writing, the umbilical tower has accumulated 7648 of the 10,000 supporters it needs to be considered for official release as a set. Personally I’m skeptical that Lego will produce a whole set that only works with a previous set, but stranger things have happened. Anyway, it definitely won’t happen if the fan set doesn’t get to 10,000 supporters, so if you ever want to see this made, get on over to Lego Ideas and do the right thing.
  4. Finally, on the same page, go to the Updates to find photos and instructions for building a robust support stand for vertical display of the Saturn V. Looks like something worth doing. Will post when and if I get around to it.

Brick-built stand for Lego Saturn V

UPDATE again later that day

And now two more:

  1. Adam Savage and team build the Saturn V at Tested.com.
  2. Advice on taking the Saturn V apart: disconnect the third stage first. Why? Because the connection between the first and second stages is really solid, and when I pulled them apart last night, they disconnected with such a violent *POP* that the third stage/CSM/escape rocket stack popped off the second stage at the same time, executed a perfect ballistic trajectory to the dining room floor, and experienced rapid unscheduled disassembly. It only took about 10 minutes to get everything back together, and now you know the correct way to separate everything without breaking yours: third stage off first, then second stage, the reverse of the actual staging during flight. Trust me on this.

Binocular double stars in Draco: my article in the August 2017 Sky & Telescope

July 6, 2017

This one came about by accident. In February, 2016, I went down to Borrego Springs, California, to give a talk at the Western Association of Vertebrate Paleontologists annual meeting. After the conference, I went up to camp for the night at Culp Valley Campground in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Anza-Borrego is a dark place to start with, and Culp Valley is up around 3500 feet and even farther from any towns or buildings, so it is stupid dark up there.

I got almost all the way around the sky with my binos that night, both in the early evening and then again before dawn. I was struck by how many nice binocular double stars there were in Draco. At first I was thinking I might use 3 or 4 of the best as the basis for a Binocular Highlight column, but pretty soon I was up to a dozen and I realized that I had enough ammo for an observing feature. I went back out this spring with a whole range of binoculars, up to and including mounted 15x70s, to re-observe and take notes. There are 20 doubles listed in the article, and although a few of them will require big binos to split cleanly, most can be split with 10×50 or even 7×35 binoculars, and a couple can probably be split with naked eyes if your vision is good.

If you want even more, or if you want to get a taste before you spring for a copy of the magazine, I also wrote an online feature with several more doubles that didn’t make the cut for the printed article. You can find that online feature here.

I’ve written for Sky & Tel on the Milky Way (twice), galaxies, and look-back time, and I’ve included individual double stars in Bino Highlight columns, but this is my first feature on double stars. What worked, what didn’t, what would you like to see in the future? The comment thread is open – I’ll look forward to hearing from you.


Anyone tried the AstroBox yet?

June 5, 2017


Just learned about this. Am seriously considering springing for the eclipse box. If I do, I’ll post a review when it comes in. If you or someone you know has gotten one of these, lemme know how it worked out.