Tag Archives: eclipse

Achievement Unlocked: Total Solar Eclipse!

I’ve always wanted to see a total solar eclipse, but until now I never had the opportunity. I’ve caught a number of partial solar eclipses over the years, and quite a few lunar eclipses. This year’s “Great American Eclipse” was perfect: it passed close to Portland, where we have family, and we could visit friends on the way up.

By the time I reserved our hotel there was nothing left inside the path of totality, but we could still get an expensive room in Portland. I reserved that immediately for the nights before and after, then a motel for a few nights before so we would have time to visit, then we planned out the trip up and back.

Driving Into the Path

The morning of August 21, we got up at 5:30 to drive south into the path of the eclipse. We didn’t actually make it out the door until at least 6:30, and the parking attendant had lost our key (fortunately we had two, and they did eventually find it that afternoon), and then we got lost trying to find an ATM in case we had to pay a ton to park in someone’s field (one way streets and bridges and driving into the early morning sun), but we got on the road toward Salem by around 7:15/7:30, with our eclipse glasses, water, snacks/emergency food, and a very sleepy 6½ year old.

The threatened traffic jam carpocalypse didn’t materialize. There were slowdowns, sure, but nothing we hadn’t experienced on the way out of LA. Our nav system (which J. calls the “map lady”) sent us onto a side road at one point, and we drove through the countryside a while before getting back onto the interstate.

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Eclipse on the Hill

Clouds and timing squashed the “supermoon” and “blood moon” effects here, but it was still the most unusual lunar eclipse I’ve experienced.

Usually I’ll stay up late or get up early and go outside to watch the eclipse by myself. Last year I took my then-three-year-old son out to watch an eclipse around midnight.

Tonight’s eclipse got underway before local moonrise, and I wanted to see it as soon as possible. So J. (now four and a half) and I went out to an intersection in a residential neighborhood near the top of a hill with a clear view of the eastern horizon. We arrived at sunset, and two other people were looking eastward: a woman with a camera and full tripod, and a man with binoculars. The four of us all set up on a triangular traffic island on the northern side of the intersection.

Flat layers of clouds streaked the sky, and we worried that there might not be much to see at all, but it was only a few minutes before a slightly-off crescent moon rose due east of us, right in line with the street. Continue reading

Working Around a Solar Eclipse (Oct 2014)

I literally found out yesterday about today’s partial solar eclipse. Unlike the last one visible from Southern California in 2012, which was conveniently on a weekend, this ended up being right in the middle of the work day. Add in a lot of other stuff going on, and I didn’t have time to do anything like go out to a prime viewing spot or make a giant pinhole camera.

My original plan was to take a late lunch, see what I could see, then try to head back outside at the point of greatest eclipse. I sat on a bench in the courtyard, surrounded by trees, checking a tiny pinhole camera I’d made from a tea box at the last minute and also looking for a good spot with images projected through the tree leaves.

After about half an hour I started to wonder why I wasn’t seeing any signs of eclipse, and looked up the times again. Apparently the calculator I used didn’t account for daylight saving time. The good thing about that: I was early, not late. The bad thing: Greatest eclipse was actually going to be during/shortly after a production switchover at work that I needed to be on hand for.

So I headed back outside around 2:50 to look at the clusters of eclipsed suns projected by the leaves in the shady courtyard.

Solar eclipse projected through tree leaves.

A post shared by Kelson Vibber (@kelsonv) on

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Lunar Eclipse = Front-Yard Astronomy (Photos)

One of the nice things about a lunar eclipse is how accessible it is. You don’t need binoculars or a telescope (though it helps). You don’t need protective gear. You can see it from a city street with lights on. You don’t need to be in exactly the right spot to see it, since the viewing area is measured in multiple continents rather than a narrow track. And since it lasts longer than a solar eclipse, if the clouds roll in moments before totality (which they did), you can wait a few minutes and you might still be able to see something!

The last time a lunar eclipse was visible in our area, I woke up at ridiculous-o’clock in the morning and went out to watch, first across the street, then trying to find a clear view in the west before sunrise and moonset drowned everything out.

This time I just walked out into the front yard.

Lunar eclipse mosaic
Four stages of the eclipse. I’m not sure what the star next to the moon is. As Sam points out, the star is Spica. The phone line bisecting the second view looked interesting, so I went with that rather than an unobstructed shot. In retrospect, I should have tried to frame it to look like the Death Star trench.

My son is almost 3 1/2 now, just old enough to appreciate this sort of thing, so I spent the last few days talking it up. We went out to look at the full moon early in the evening. We read a kids’ book on stargazing that he likes. I showed him pictures of what to expect, and diagrams showing how an eclipse happens. He’s been wanting to play with a tent ever since I mentioned the phrase “camping stuff” a few days ago, so we found the tent in the garage and set it up in the front yard. He had as much fun playing in the tent as he did watching the earth’s shadow move across the moon.

Katie stayed inside most of the time and came out a few times to check on progress.

At one point, an airplane flew across the sky leaving a sharp, bright contrail just next to Mars.

Moon Mars Power Lines and Contrail

We were all out just before totality around midnight…when a cloud started forming right in front of the moon. Mars, not too far away in the sky, was perfectly clear, but the moon got blurrier, and blurrier, until the razor-sharp sliver of a few minutes before was a blob of white. It reminded me of the time we saw about that much of an eclipse in San Simeon on the way up to (coincidentally) WonderCon when it was in San Francisco.

Fortunately the cloud started breaking up again after a few minutes, and all we had to do was hold up our hands to block the streetlight across the street and we had a clear view of the fully eclipsed moon. (We could see it without blocking the light, but it was a lot clearer without the competition.)

I should probably mention that while the pictures here look red, it looked brown to the naked eye. Maybe it was because the streetlight kept our eyes from adapting to the dark. Maybe the camera is more sensitive to red light. Katie remarked that without the sunlight shining on it, it really does look like what it is: a big ball of rock.

Eclipse Lineup

After a few minutes we went back inside. Neither of us wanted to stay up until two to watch the same thing in reverse…or manage an increasingly tired and distracted three-year-old while doing so.

Photos: Solar Eclipse from Los Angeles (May 2012)

I had several plans for viewing today’s solar eclipse, depending on the weather. As the hour approached and clouds loomed in the west, I decided that my best bet would be to get above the cloud cover, and drove up into the hills to Del Cerro Park at the top of the Palos Verdes peninsula.

I’m glad I did, because a lot of other people had the same idea.

Individuals, couples, families, groups of friends, groups from schools — and everyone had a different way to see the eclipse: pinhole cameras, binoculars projecting on cardboard, welding helmets, “eclipse glasses” and more. There were also people who were just out for a day at the park, and wanted to know what was going on.

If J had been a few years older it would have been a family event for us too, but at a year and a half, I don’t think I would have been able to explain anything beyond “don’t look at the sun.” A partial eclipse is easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.

Eclipse Watchers

I’d cobbled together a pinhole camera the day before from two Amazon boxes, a sheet of paper, a sheet of aluminum foil, and lots and lots of packing tape. I actually started with just one box and I decided the image wasn’t big enough, so I grafted on a second. Even then it was only about 3/8″ across, but when testing it I could see the edges of clouds drifting across the sun, so I figured it would work. It did. Continue reading