Sunday, August 13, 2017

Opportunists Charge 1800% Markup for Last Minute Solar Eclipse Supplies on Amazon

I thought this was newsworthy! A commenter on one of my most popular blog posts of all time "$10 DIY Solar Filter for DSLR Camera" pointed out that the solar filter I link to was being sold on Amazon for a huge markup! I noticed that just a few days ago the 4"x4" solar filter was out of stock, but it looks opportunist are swooping in to flip these unavailable items at astronomical rates as third party Amazon sellers. Eclipse glasses, only $3.54 on July 24, are offered at $69.95, that's an 1876% increase!!

huge price increase in solar eclipse glasses on amazon
Price trends from Honey plugin for Chrome

I use the Chrome plugin called Honey to get price graphs for the items on Amazon that show obvious trends upward as the Great American Eclipse approaches. 

Not just eclipse glasses, but the solar filter I recommend in my blog post is no longer $7.35, it's now being offered by a third party seller for $134.85 (that's a 1735% increase!). 

huge price increase in solar eclipse glasses on amazon
Price trends from Honey plugin for Chrome

This is making me a little worried. I have all my gear already, but it could be the early signs of what the BIG DAY is going to be like. I'm picturing myself out on the road trying to get food, water, bathrooms, all being at the mercy of supply and demand. If tens of thousands of eclipse viewers are going to be descending upon little towns, gas stations, and rest stops all across America - who could blame them for getting the most they can out of it, knowing it's unlikely these 1-day tourists become regular visitors. 

I guess all we can do is wait and see. As for the stuff on Amazon, there are plenty of alternatives - you don't need THAT pair of eclipse glasses, and I know that the black polymer filter comes in different sized sheets (that are also marked up, but not as bad). Stay safe out there, and remember to take in the full experience - possibly including the over priced goods along the way! It just adds to the story of the event that you can tell your friends and family years from now. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Celestron EclipSmart 10x25 Solar Eclipse Binoculars

I just received my Celestron 10x25 solar eclipse binoculars in the mail from Amazon. I must have ordered these last minute solar observing eclipse binoculars at just the right time, because now they are saying "usually ships within 1-2 months" on Amazon. I got mine in 2 days. Are they really out? No idea, I got mine, if you want to order some before the big day you might want to look around quickly! I ordered these because I knew in the time leading up to totality I would want to play with more than just some cardboard eclipse glasses.

testing out small eclipse binocularstesting out small eclipse binoculars

celestron objective lens solar binocular
They are listed as a best seller on Amazon, perfect size for under $40

I think these 10x25 binoculars will give me a good view. Hopefully there is something interesting like a sunspot on the sun that day, because you can indeed see large sunspots with these binoculars. I spotted one just yesterday that looked like a little black freckle on the sun. Here are some photos of my eclipse binoculars unboxing. It's a little weird at first, pointing binoculars toward the sun. I'm glad these solar filters on the ends are NOT removable, just in case!

eclipsmart or eclipsemart packageeclipsmart or eclipsemart package
celestron small binocular carrying pouch

The shiny black surface is cool and reflective. These will come in handy for more than just the eclipse, as I mentioned you can absolutely use them to see large sunspots too.

solar safe binoculars

The color of the sun through the binoculars is a pleasing yellow/orange, it looks very natural - not that I can really stare at the sun to compare.

under side of binoculars

size of 10x25 binoculars

Bigger isn't always better with binoculars. I like that these will fit in my pocket, or even (gasp) on my belt because of the handy belt-loop on the case. Oh my, I would be the most fashionable at the solar eclipse viewing party.

reflective black lenses

binocular eyepiece

The first number (10) in "10x25" means the magnification, or how many times closer an object will appear compared to the naked eye - so these are 10x meaning the sun will appear 10x closer. The second number (25) in "10x25" is the diameter of the objective lens (bigger lens on the front) so the lens is only 2.5 cm across. This would be no good for viewing the night sky, with such a small light-gathering diameter, but for the sun it's no big deal. Bigger objective lenses are bigger light-catching buckets, and images will appear brighter - since this isn't important for daytime viewing of the sun, I'll trade size for portability. These 10x binoculars actually provide more magnification than my 7x50 binoculars I got for observing the moon and stars, even though they are much smaller.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Huge Sunspot, Active Region 2665 on July 9, 2017

I don't have amazing solar imaging gear - just a DSLR and a home made solar filter - but when there is a sunspot or active region large enough, it's always worth taking a look to see if I can 'spot' it! 😂 But seriously, when I started seeing photos of active region ("AR") 2665 show up on my social media feeds, I had to grab my camera. 

Active Region 2665
Single frame with Canon T5i, black polymer solar filter, 300mm, f/7.1, 1/60 sec, ISO 100

My lens isn't quite sharp enough to really pull out all the detail, and who can compete with the Solar Dynamics Observatory with crystal clear live images of the sun. 

Active Region 2665
Image above compared to the SDO HMI Intensitygram

Nevertheless, I've found over the years that my best chances are to focus the camera while it's tethered to my laptop, rather than relying on the auto-focus or trying to focus by hand looking through the viewfinder. 

taking photos of the sun
If you stop and think for a second, it's pretty darn cool to be able to see a sunspot like this with very little equipment. Controlling my camera from my laptop makes me feel super cool, as if I have my own observatory at my disposal. 

tether control DSLR with laptop
Love being able to control my camera using the EOS Utility app

tether control DSLR with laptop
My laptop perched on a chair near the sliding door so the USB cable can reach the camera.

DSLR with solar filter
My camera slowly following the sun so I don't have to keep re-adjusting it.

DSLR with solar filter
DIY solar filter on DSLR on motorized mount

I don't think it's my best sunspot photo, but it definitely was an honest attempt. If you take a look at the weather conditions, they were just okay I guess. I've tried stacking solar photos before and it just doesn't boost the clarity as nicely as moon photos. I'll quit moaning and just enjoy this sunspot the size of Earth, captured on my DSLR in my backyard. 

summer sky
Weather conditions, Noblesville, IN July 9, 2017

Monday, June 26, 2017

Do Solar Eclipse Glasses Fit and Work Over Regular Glasses?

Yes, traditional cardboard solar eclipse glasses fit over regular prescription glasses. Yes, solar eclipse glasses work over prescription glasses, and allow you to see the sun as a crisp orange circle (or blue/green depending on the eclipse glasses). I wanted to post about this because I wear regular prescription glasses everyday and I want to assure people that they will have a comfortable and enjoyable view of the solar eclipse with the cardboard total solar eclipse shades directly on top of their regular eyewear. See photos!

I know this can be a concern for people, because you don't want to sacrifice the clarity of viewing with your prescription, but you also don't want to hurt your eyes duh! As someone who used to buy contact lenses just so I could go to 3D movies, I'm always worried about whether or not the additional eyewear will go over the top of what I'm already wearing!

looking up at the sun with eclipse glasses
Testing out my eclipse shades over my Rx glasses for the total solar eclipse
front view eclipse glasses over regular glasses
Front view eclipse glasses over regular
side view eclipse glasses over regular glasses
Side view solar shades over regular glasses
These particular eclipse glasses I ordered from the St. Joseph, MO Convention and Visitors Bureau online store on their event page for the 2017 eclipse. I got a 6-pack for $10+$4 shipping. St. Joseph is where I'm going to view the eclipse, so I figured it would be nice to have souvenir eclipse glasses to save in my memory box to mark the event.

You can also get eclipse glasses on Amazon for cheap, and you'll probably see more and more of the custom printed ones popping up closer to the event. These were actually printed by Rainbow Symphony, which is the exact same ones they sell on Amazon, and if you wanted to really wow your neighbors or co-workers you could order your own custom printed ones.

how sun looks through solar eclipse glasses
The sun appears as an orange dot through the glasses. It doesn't provide any magnification, but remember the sun is the same apparent size as the full moon during an eclipse, so you'll be able to see enough of the disc of the sun to notice a huge slice covered on its way to totality. 

6-pack of glasses came in the mail
6-pack arrived in the mail in a couple days

instructions inside eclipse glasses
Some safety instructions printed right on the inside of the glasses

souvenir eclipse glasses custom printed
These are branded for the specific event I'm attending so it will make a great souvenir!
I have my itinerary narrowed down with my sister. We have our hotels booked, and our driving route planned. If you're going to be in St. Joseph let me know in the comments, and if you have any tips for a first-time-total-solar-eclipse-viewer let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Cassini's Grand Finale Teaser Trailer Gave Me Chills

artist concept surface of saturn
Illustration from the Cassini Grand Finale trailer. I legit teared up a little at the end. 

After 20 years in space, Cassini deserves this cinema quality teaser trailer for its upcoming 'Grand Finale' death dive into the gas giant (oops, spoiler alert). Cassini is one of my favorite missions, especially because of the quality and abundance of images that are being sent back. I didn't really get into space or the night sky until after Cassini was well on it's way to the outer solar system, so I can't really remember a time when we didn't have Cassini images.

Illustration from the Cassini Grand Finale trailer
Illustration from the Cassini Grand Finale trailer

The images in the video are obviously computer generated, but they are easily recognizable and they feel very familiar because they are based on actual Cassini photos, so they are at least science-adjacent and seemingly real-ish. In fact, some of the images have direct connections to actual famous Cassini photos from the Hall of Fame.

Let's watch! Go HD and full screen!

As you can see, the trailer gives sort of a highlight tour of some famous Cassini moments. But the illustrations from these moments aren't completely fabricated, they're all based on available photos that you can see online. Check out the illustrations from the trailers vs. some actual Cassini photos...

saturn backlit artist vs actual
Illustration from the trailer vs. the actual backlit Saturn photo composite

enceladus illustration vs actual
Illustration from the trailer vs. a now rather famous photo titled Encroaching Shadow from July 28, 2014

saturn illustration vs actual
Illustration from the trailer vs. Saturn approaching northern summer in this Hall of Fame photo

haze of titan
Illustration from the trailer vs. an actual photo of Titan with it's iconic "smoggy, golden murk"

If you're wondering, here is my best photo of Saturn that I took with my iPhone through my Meade refractor telescope. I recorded a short video through the eyepiece and stacked it in Registax to clean up the image.

my best image of saturn

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Uncle Richard, Antarctica, and the Natural History Museum

I've been doing some online detective work this morning trying to see if any of the meteorites in the gem collection at the Natural History Museum in Washington DC were from my late uncle Richard's trip to Antarctica. I've been to the national gem collection in the Natural History Museum a few times (it's one of my favorite stops in DC).

I remember after my uncle Richard died, his expedition to Antarctica came up again and again in stories - and I knew he was really into meteorites, I saw his personal collection proudly displayed on the mantle in his study. I started to wonder if any of the meteorites in the national collection were from the same location he went to, or could even be from his expedition.

The next time I found myself in the museum, I took photos of meteorites labeled "Antarctica" so that I could go back and look them up later. There were quite a few! It turns out the stark climate, high contrast of ice to rock, and the flow of ice depositing meteorites up against rocky outcrops all make it the perfect location to find literally more meteorites than could be collected accurately, and that they would leave "hundreds" for future expeditions rather than hastily grabbing them without good records.

So here are my questions and how I found the answers:
  1. What expedition was my uncle Richard on in Antarctica?
  2. Which meteorites in the photos include dates that overlap with when my uncle was there?
  3. Can the specimen be tied to a his specific field season and location?
I found uncle Richard's field season easily enough with a good Google search, which led me to an excerpt from the book Meteorites, Ice, and Antarctica: A Personal Account by William A. Cassidy:

List of 1982-1983 ANSMET field season participants includes my uncle Richard

My next puzzle is the date on the museum placard, which simply says 1982, so does that mean the 1981-1982 field season or the 1982-1983 field season? I found a clue searching for "Pecora Escarpment 82506" the actual name of meteorite, and found a report that said the first time the Pecora Escarpment was searched for meteorites was the 1982-1983 season, meaning PCA 82506 couldn't have been found in the 1981-1982 season.

My photo of "PCA 82506" from the collection at the Natural History Museum in Washington DC

Antarctic Meteorite Location and Mapping Project (AMLAMP). Antarctic Meteorite Location Map Series Explanatory Text and User's Guide to AMLAMP Data. Edited by J. Schutt, B. Fessler and W. A. Cassidy. LPI Technical Report 93-07, published by Lunar and Planetary Institute, 3303 NASA Road 1, Houston, TX 77058, 1993, p.145
The next and extremely helpful source I came across is a lengthy document that talks all about the 1982-1983 expedition and mentions the PCA 82506 meteorite over and over again. A rock of some note I suspect, as over a dozen publications refer back to it.

Field and Laboratory Investigations of Meteorites from Victoria Land and the Thiel Mountains Region, Antarctica, 1982-1983 and 1983-1984 DOI: 
Finally, in an excerpt from the book 35 Seasons of U.S. Antarctic Meteorites (1976-2010): A Pictorial Guide To The Collection I found the actual date for the collection of PCA 82506 listed as December 28, 1982 placing it firmly in the 1982-1983 field season that included uncle Richard.

pca 82506 in book
Righter, K., Corrigan, C., McCoy, T., & Harvey, R. (Eds.). (2014). 35 seasons of US Antarctic meteorites (1976-2010): a pictorial guide to the collection. John Wiley & Sons.

Isn't the internet amazing?!? I was able to find all this from my home computer, linking my late uncle to Antarctica, and to my casual visit to the museum.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Best of Year 5: My Highlight Gallery from 2016

What an incredible hobby! After 5 years of learning first-hand just how painstaking it can be to get decent images of the night sky with novice equipment, I haven't given up. These are my best / favorite / most memorable photos of the year.

Last year I predicted that I had just about reached the upper limit of what I could do with my current setup, but this year I stuck it out and saved money by continuing to click away. I also tried out my first rental from BorrowLenses, and I finally picked out my next step dream scope and mount. Deciding is the first step toward buying after all!

Last year is hard to top with its two lunar eclipses, comets, and clear November nights. But, looking back, a few images definitely rise to the top and stand out as my favorites worth mentioning again in this yearly wrap up.

moon prime focus
If I had to summarize this year, I'd say it is the year of prime focus. I got some decent practice with my camera at prime focus, especially on the moon. This comparison is one of my favorites from the year, and quite possibly my best (highest resolution) moon photo to date. 

whirlpool galaxy
This images takes me back to my fuzzy gray blob days. I rented a lens during a time of the year when not many targets were within reach. It was my first image of the Whirlpool Galaxy and the fact that it's recognizable makes me smile. I gave it my best shot using the full treatment of techniques available to me. 

backyard milky way
This might not seem like much, but it's the Milky Way visible from my own back patio. The fact that I can see it at all from my own backyard is amazing. Facing south (toward the downtown) I would have thought it was impossible. Not the best image, but a great memory of the realization and excitement. 

winter hexagon composite
This composite was an extremely fun image to make. Using one of my favorite techniques from previous years, I took photos of all of the Winter Hexagon stars out of focus on purpose to spread the light out over a larger area on the image sensor in an attempt to get a true color representation of the light. I arranged them in their hexagon pattern, and kept the exposure settings constant to show true variation in color and brightness. 

milky way
Probably my best ever image of the Milky Way showing some color this time from a dark location in north central Indiana. I remember this night vividly, it was extremely humid and the lens kept fogging up in less than a minute. I had to wipe it off, focus and shoot quickly. Considering the atmosphere and the heat, not a bad image. Still learning. 

hunter's moon
The Hunter's Moon, nothing too special about this image, but one of my favorites of the year just because it captured the mood and the feel of the full(ish) moon hovering over the rooftops like a bright beacon. 

solar prime focus
Solar observing at prime focus, totally cool. I modified my solar filter to fit over my telescope and I think the results are actually a tiny bit better than just using the DSLR lens. A lot more work though! Once again, the year of prime focus. 

moon progress photos
Another one of my favorite comparisons of the year. This image reminded me of the excitement I felt the first time I stacked moon photos in Registax. It's like night and day (pun). It's these kinds of images that make me giddy. Just a simple trick, and the effect is dramatic. I never get tired of seeing these before and afters. 

orion nebula
I didn't do a lot of deep sky observing this year, but I took some time to work on my favorite target, the Orion Nebula. Adding subs to my stack from last time, I didn't see a whole lot of improvement. I'm probably rusty from hardly ever taking the time to give deep sky objects the full treatment. Still, pretty amazed what I can do with just a DSLR and basic zoom lens

flame nebula
Finally, one of the most unexpected surprises of the year was my first photo of the Flame Nebula and my long awaited first glimpse of the Horsehead Nebula. From my own backyard! Mind blown. I know it's just a blob, but this is one of my favorite iconic deep sky targets, and the fact that I can see it at all is just unreal. 

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