Eclipse Lessons Learned

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Eclipse Lessons Learned

Postby william-sager » Wed Aug 23, 2017 4:54 pm

Hi HAS,
I saw a lot of posts about the eclipse and figure that a lot of members tried to observe or photograph it. I did the same and had a lot of hard knocks learning experiences. I would be interested in hearing what and how you did and what you learned to get ready for next time (Chile 2019?). I bet others would like to see reports as well.

Here is my take.
I used an Explore Scientific 102 mm APO scope (700 mm FL, f/8) with my Nikon D7100 and an Orion field flattener. It was about the fifth scope I tried and gave up on the rest because the results just weren't sharp. My wife let me buy the APO and the results were fine. I used an old Vixen GP GEM mount with motor drives so I could track. I wanted to get contact 2 and 3 diamond rings and beads, so I figured out exposures for them (1/1000-1/4000) and then did a series of mid-eclipse exposures ranging from 1/500 to 2 sec (all at ISO 200), the idea being to stack the exposures. I had a second, older Nikon set up on a tripod with a super wide-angle to capture the sky at totality. I handed my wife a point and shoot and said point it and shoot at anything that looks interesting.

We had high cirrus clouds pass over Casper, so that probably messed up the stack, but I got some good exposures. I missed the diamond on contact 2, but my impression is that it wasn't strong. It was nice on contact 3 and I got it. I completely forgot about the second camera, so I didn't get the wide angle shot. My wife got engrossed in totality and forgot to take pictures. I also made a recording to keep time during totality and give prompts, but my wife was supposed to push the button on her iPhone to make it go, but got it messed up, so that it didn't work. Murphy's law is enhanced during totality.

I'm curious about what gear others used. It was a significant hassle to get my gear there. The APO is 22 inches long, so it would not fit in most carry-ons and I did not want to trust it to the baggage gorillas. I had to carry it and my cameras in a backpack, which was quite heavy with gear. I bought a used golf club case for the Vixen mount and other accessories. Despite my efforts to pad the gear, the RA worm gear got bent in transit. Fortunately, it still works, but needs to be unbent to work well. I had to carry the 3 kg counterweight and other items in my suitcase because the golf case was too heavy with everything. At the end of carting that stuff to and from, I feel like there has to be a better way. How are others getting their gear there and back?

What else was learned during the Great American Eclipse?
William W. Sager (Will)
Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
University of Houston
Houston, TX 77204
[email protected]
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Re: Eclipse Lessons Learned

Postby steve-fung » Wed Aug 23, 2017 11:42 pm

Lesson #1 - plan ahead at least 1 year in advance. We wanted to be at Grand Teton National Park for the big event, and planned to stay at Jenny Lake. Grand Teton Lodge Company only takes reservation within 365 days of stay. We called to make a reservation a week before August 21, 2016 since we wanted to reserve for a week stay with penultimate day August 21. On that day, we called all morning and cannot get through to reservation until close to noon because all the lines were busy. In the end, we were lucky to get a cabin at Colter Bay. Another family planning the same trip called on the same day and was not so lucky in getting anywhere to stay, but we decided that we could room together and split the bill.

Lesson #2 - get your rental car from a big city. Originally, we were thinking about flying direct to Jackson Hole Airport, but then thought that would be a bad idea since there would be no (reasonably-priced) rental car available. Instead, we flew into Salt Lake City, rented a car there, and then drove 4.5 hours into Grand Teton National Park. After the trip was over, we dropped the car off at the airport, so we were still able to save about 5 hours and fly directly out of Jackson Hole Airport. Also, like lesson #1, get your car early.

Lesson #3 - prepare for the worst. After hearing horror stories about western states declaring the event a state of emergency with shortages of water, food, and gas, we decided to pack an entire suitcase of nonperishable food, instant noodles, pots, eating/serving utensils, induction water heater and cooker, and collapsible family-sized cooler. When we arrived at Salt Lake City, we only needed to buy water, ice, cold-cut meat, loaves of sliced bread to make sandwiches, etc. We also made multiple stops to fill up on gas along the way, so the gas tank was never less than 1/4 empty. In the end, it was not as bad as everyone said it would be. Food and gas were plentiful at Jackson and in Colter Bay Village. Still, we decided to eat the stuff we brought from home, packing sandwiches for lunch when we hiked through the park, so we saved a lot of time and money on food.

Lesson #4 - get to your eclipse viewing site early. National park services issued a statement that everyone staying overnight in the park had to live in the village lodge/cabin or designated campground. No overnight parking on roads, turnouts, etc until 6 am, when the park would open, and it would be free for all to get to where you wanted to be. Well, we decided that we wanted to be near the eclipse center line next to the historical Mormon Row site for picturesque eclipse watching, so we decided to drive there starting at 4:45 am, which was 1.25 hours ahead of the 6 am start time, since it would take about 45 min just to drive there. The roads were already packed with people, and luckily we found a spot to park at Mormon Row since the parking lot was already full just little after 6 am, and the park ranger had to direct traffic elsewhere. On a side note, even though park services had installed designated restroom facilities, there were so many people there that wait times were 30-60 min long.

Lesson #5 - even when you did everything correctly, nature may not be so kind. In the morning of the eclipse, there was moderate amount of cloud cover such that we were afraid of not being able to see the eclipse. Luckily, the clouds all disappeared by around 9 am, so we had beautiful clear skies to watch the entire show.

Lesson #6 - for those wanting to photograph the eclipse, practice, practice, and practice. My equipment list for the show was my 90mm f/7 apo triplet refractor, large photographic field flattener, and Nikon D800. I originally planned to bring my Celestron AVX equatorial mount, thinking that I could roughly align the mount using a compass. However, after practicing several times to track the sun, I quickly found out that there was enough error that accurately tracking the sun was hard to do for the entire duration of the eclipse (1st through 4th contacts) without fussing with the equipment. In search of a solution through the internet, I quickly found that several people had recommended getting the iOptron AZ Mount Pro, which has an on-board 32-channel GPS receiver and built-in position and angular detection sensors. This leads to the next lesson.

Lesson #7 - don't wait to get all of your gear at the last moment. I decided to purchase the iOptron AZ Mount Pro and matching Tri-Pier and 10-lb counterweight about a month before the trip. Many sites including Adorama, one of the places where I get my photography equipment, were out of stock. I then contacted B&H, which had the AZ Mount Pro and counterweight but had to special order the Tri-Pier. Although shipping and handling was free, standard shipping was 5-7 business days, so I paid extra ~$150 to guarantee 3-day delivery for the special order item when it became available. I received the AZ Mount Pro and counterweight first, and within a week, the Tri-Pier came. After assembling the system, I realized that the Tri-Pier did not come with the required 3 star knobs and center post to attach the AZ Mount Pro. This time, B&H was out of the star knobs and center post, so I ordered from Adorama, which had them. Unfortunately, Adorama messed up on the order, sending only the star knobs without the center post. I called Adorama up about their mistake, but they were now out of stock on the item. With less than a week before the trip, I panicked. Fortunately, B&H now had the center post, but to get the item within the week, I paid more on shipping and handling than the actual item cost.

In the end everything worked out. The iOptron AZ Mount Pro with its GPS receiver, position and angular detection sensors is able to automatically identify its location, time, and orientation (within 15-degree error due to magnetic declination). After getting the mount, doing quick automated calibration and alignment with only the sun, and changing tracking to solar, I found that I was able to track the sun using my setup with the sun staying fairly center within the camera live-view screen for over 4 hours. This was the best decision I made for the trip. Using the telescope, mount, DSLR, and intervalometer setup, I was able to nearly automate the entire photographic process while enjoying the show visually hassle-free. To prove my point, I have loaded my pictures onto the HAS gallery (https://www.astronomyhouston.org/member ... 1503476223), and this was all done with me sitting on the grass enjoying surrounding picturesque scenery with only intermittent checks on the equipment to make sure the telescope-camera system was still tracking and taking pictures of the sun appropriately.
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Re: Eclipse Lessons Learned

Postby kdrake » Sat Aug 26, 2017 2:05 pm

We started our Eclipse Experience by meeting up with friends in Heber Springs, Ar. and stayed at the Stoneflower Fay Jones Cottage on Eden Isle, Greers Ferry Lake. Bats in the loft ran us to a motel after the first night. Next we made our way to Belle, Mo. where we met up with son and daughter-in-law at a Lakeside French Chateau on 25 acres overlooking some amazing Ozark scenery to the northwest all downhill. I was hoping to view the shadow onrush. The video does not show it.
The weather prospects did not looks good early Monday morning and we looked at moving to near Carbondale. Vote was to stay put. The nasty storms and clouds to our west and northwest appeared to be moving northeast and would most likely skirt away from us. That's what happened.
I was unable to acquire the right cable in time to use BYN and had to use the camera bracket & interval timer to get eclipse images. First timer errors caused focus issues and not being set on the right mid exposure to get what the camera was capable of doing itself. I did capture an amazing audio recording of all six of us reacting to the beginning of totality and the full experience. The images are with a 300mm Nikkor at f/8 near start, mid and end of totality. all automated by camera.

Time of Exposure in U.T.
1113 18:14:15
1245 18:15:27
1325 18:16:40

I watched the full total with 7x35 binoculars.

Tuesday morning the weather turned simply awesome. Clear and 53 degrees with fog hanging over the Gasconade River. A beautiful trip in so many ways.

Among our group:
Myself and my Wife Joy
Art & Carol Ciampi
My son Nick & his Wife Steony

Lessons learned:
Plan 6 months in advance on equipment fundamentals and operations
Get focusing down to a fine art


Kenneth Drake, Willis, Texas
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