Neat Eclipse Day Activity

Neat Eclipse Day Activity

Even if you have eclipse glasses, here is an activity that will make memories for you and those with you during the eclipse. This works for the partial phases.

Get a sheet of cardboard and write a message in big letters. Take a pin and poke holes along the letters. You can test this out ahead of eclipse day. Go outside, if the sun is shining. Take the cardboard and a white sheet. Lay the white sheet on the ground. Hold the lettered cardboard up and let the sun shine through the holes onto the sheet on the ground. Each hole will project the image of the sun. Today, this is round but during the eclipse, it will be crescent shaped. Have kids write their names and poke holes. You can use anything with holes to do this as well, like a colander. There are downloadable eclipse messages like below on my website, and the download tab. I also have them with the state names.

The clarity of the projected image will change if you hold the image further from the sheet or if you make the hole larger. Experiment and see what you come up with.

LIBYA 2006


 The March 29, 2006 Total Solar Eclipse traveled through northwest Africa, turned slightly east emerging from the Libyan coast, crossing the Mediterranean into Turkey. I had read that traveling in Africa is usually more difficult than in Turkey, so began researching trips there.

I had settled on a coastal location as a viewing site, when I came across a brochure for an eclipse cruise that piqued my interest. It advertised viewing the eclipse from the Sahara Desert in Libya. Now 2005-2006 was a brief window when the U.S. State Department allowed Americans to travel to Libya and since the duration of totality was greater there than Turkey, I figured I should try it. (My wife and I thoroughly enjoy cruising.) A group consisting of my wife and I, my brother and his wife, a friend of theirs, a former student, and three teachers arrived at Genoa, Italy to board the MSC Sinfonia for a 12 day Mediterranean cruise, including stops at places I had only read about: Naples, Syracuse, Alexandria, Tobruk (I had actually never read about, indeed, never heard of Tobruk,) Tripoli, Malta, and Salerno. It was over my school’s spring break so I only missed a week of school. Man was it worth it.

On this trip, I was not in charge. I did not have to arrange anything for the group. I was a participant only and it felt good. There were over 3000 passengers on board, all there for the same reason as I, to see the eclipse. Once again I was in astronomy nerd heaven. There were daily seminars on eclipses with several big name astronomers sharing their expertise. The ship was equipped with stabilizers so even at sea solar telescopes were set up on the deck for people to peer through.

This was my brother’s first eclipse and I recall him making a point of telling me of his discussions with people on the ship who knew how many total minutes they had been in the moon’s umbra, the full shadow, in the many eclipses they had viewed. I thought, “Yeah, I know that. No big deal.” (It’s 14 minutes, 28 seconds)

The weather was great for the entire trip. Spring in the Mediterranean was delightful. I did many firsts (and lasts) like ride a camel, see the pyramids, travel on a funiculare and enjoy the view of Mare Nostrum (the Roman name for the Mediterranean Sea) from a remarkably well preserved ruin in Libya, Leptis Magna.

The day before E-day we pulled in to Tobruk. The Sinfonia had never called on that port before. In fact no ship in the MSC line had ever called on Tobruk, so this was a big deal. We watched from the railing as dignitaries arrived at the gangway and a ceremony marking the arrival and new relationship unfolded below us. Flowers were brought by children and a great show of welcome and hospitality was made. I should mention that, in a somewhat ironic turn of events, shortly before our arrival at this port, all the passengers were informed by the ship’s officers that Libya had added a $100 per person entry fee into the country, and as a courtesy that charge would be added to our room bill.

Early the next morning we looked out on the pier and saw 50 or more buses there to drive us two hours into the Sahara Desert to a site that had been set up for viewing the eclipse. One problem: there was fog in every direction. We boarded the buses in fog and drove through the city and into the country in the fog. We spent the next hour trying to convince ourselves that the fog would not last and the sun would shortly burn it off. Well, it took longer than I had hoped but it did, in fact, clear up.

The morning fog on our way to the Sahara viewing site.

The string of buses turned off the highway and trekked up a slight incline to a plateau. There was a tent city set up with vendors with all kinds of goods along with dozens of port-a-potties. We each grabbed a chair and a table for our group of 9 and picked a spot from among the several acres where people were spreading out. We were in the company of thousands but literally in the middle of nowhere. The horizon was clear in all directions. No sand dunes here. Nothing but the flat, pebbly, hard packed soil as far as the eye could see.

This was a big event for Libya. Seldom had so many foreigners been allowed to enter the country.  A news crew with a camera on a cherry picker documented the throng. Libyan Boy Scouts entertained with dances and songs. Merchants hawked their wares as the passengers filled the booths.

We set up our gear and then walked around inspecting other setups. To say that there was an interesting juxtaposition of raw nature and high tech telescopes and cameras is an understatement. But all that faded into the background with first contact. The sky was totally devoid of clouds. Only the sun and the silhouetted moon existed. As the moon advanced across the sun, the color of the sky became as rich and varied as I have ever seen it. As the moon’s shadow raced across the ground from the southwest and engulfed our temporary town, the rich colors of dusk washed over the entire horizon. Beautiful yellows and oranges and reds no matter where you turned. And the crowd roared its approval and cheered encouragement for the moon to cover the last bit of the photosphere. For a few, precious seconds a clear, crisp diamond ring adorned the sky. More cheers went up as the last bit was covered.

The eclipsed sun in this photo is from another photo taken that day.

And then there was the corona. That awesome black circle, hole in the sky, surrounded by gorgeous streamers of pearly light. Some of those extended three, four and more solar diameters away from the black hole! Man, what an amazing sight. jaw-dropping, mind-blowing, breath-taking sight. Nearby, the planets and bright stars appeared. In the middle of the day! There were no animals or birds to go to roost, but a hush fell over the spectators of this grandest of celestial events. Cameras snapped and videos rolled as time seemed to stand still and we soaked up the rare ambiance of this syzygy. This was a moment worth savoring. But time moves on and while this eclipse lasted for 4 minutes, all too soon, with the crowd roaring its encouragement, the moon began the lengthy reveal of the sun and allowed its return to its normal, dazzling self.

As the moon receded from the sun, a box lunch was provided by the cruise line staff. Munching on a sandwich and fruit the reality of viewing the eclipse from such a grand but desolate location began to sink in. It was doubtful that these circumstances would ever be repeated, so if I have said it before I will say it again, this was a once in a lifetime experience.

(Excerpt from Go See The Eclipse And Take A Kid With You by Chap Percival.)

To purchase a copy of the book, click here.

This Has My Stamp Of Approval

This Post Has My Stamp of Approval

Among my interests is a wee bit of philately (stamp collecting). I have managed to gather a few eclipse related stamps over the years and herewith proudly display them.

The Cook Islands in the Pacific Ocean had a total solar eclipse (TSE) in 1965.

Senegal experienced a TSE in 1973.

This is a cover of eclipse day in Aruba, 1998.

This is a mini-postal sheet commemorative of the 1999 TSE in Hungary.

The US Postal Service has no plans for a stamp to commemorate the August 21, 2017 eclipse. I wish they did.

If you want to see more of these, Front Page Science has a page devoted to eclipse-related stamps.

Eclipse History – Eclipse 1919

Eclipse History – Eclipse 1919

Perhaps the most famous eclipse of modern times is the one of May 29, 1919. Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity described the effect mass had on space as producing a curvature of space. The moon’s gravitational field is too weak for our technology to measure the curvature of space in its vicinity. The sun, on the other hand, does have enough mass to produce a measurable effect on the space near it. However, the sun is so bright that detecting stars near it is effectively impossible. EXCEPT during a total solar eclipse. Einstein published his paper in 1915. The next eclipse where a successful expedition was mounted was 1919. On an island of the coast of north Africa (Principe), Arthur Eddington’s team took this photograph. (Another part of his team was in Brazil.) The rest, as they say, is history. Detailed information is available here:

This black and white negative might not look like much but there is a terrific story associated with it.

Eclipse Traffic Jam – How Likely A Real Problem?

Eclipse Traffic Jam – How Likely A Real Problem?

The website,, has a interesting post about the likelihood of and issues surrounding travel to and within the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse path. It is difficult to accurately estimate the number of people who will try to see this event, since no ticket must be purchased. That being said, lots of hotels/motels/campgrounds are already fully booked with more people expressing interest in the eclipse. Read the post here: and if you haven’t started making your plans to see this eclipse, please get started. It will be amazing. – A Great Resource for Your Eclipse Plans

RECREATION.GOV – A GREAT RESOURCE FOR ECLIPSE PLANNING may not be familiar to you, unless you like to camp. But if you want to see the total solar on eclipse August 21, 2017 and have not yet made plans, this site could help. They have published a story here about the eclipse and the resources that they have available to help people who want to go see it. And, let’s be clear; the pace is picking up, interest in the eclipse is rising and it will only go up from here.

This is the logo for NASA’s Eclipse Website. It is clickable.

The Convenient Eclipse

The Convenient Eclipse (at least for Americans)

Every total solar eclipse has a path defined by the full umbra(shadow) of the moon as it moves across the earth. Depending on the variations in the earth-moon distance, the moon-sun distance and the height of the sun above the horizon at each location on the path, the umbra can be as little as zero miles across and, out side of the polar regions, as much as one or two hundred miles across. The duration of totality changes as the shadow moves, reaching a maximum somewhere near the middle of the path. There is one and only one point on the path of an eclipse that is the point of greatest eclipse(GE). Every eclipse has just one.



I have made much of the fact that the August 21, 2017 eclipse is a rare event for America. I have tried to come up with a way to quantify that, to measure it, give it some basis for comparison. This is what I came up with. I live in Sarasota, Florida. The point of GE for the August 21, 2017 eclipse is near Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Using Google Earth, I measured the straight line distance from my home to the GE is about 730 miles. I can, in fact, drive to Hopkinsville along excellent highway in one, long day.


Above is a map showing the paths of the total (in blue) and annular (red) eclipses for the years 2001-2020. For my purposes, ignore the red and focus on the blue lines. Each one has an asterisk (*) which the marks the point of GE for that eclipse. Using the same method to measure the distance from Sarasota to Hopkinsville, I measured the distance from Sarasota to the GE point for every total eclipse back to 1997. Here are the distances.

Year  Distance (in miles)
2016 8,200
2015 4,100
2013 5,000
2012 6,900
2010 4,100
2009 7,800
2008 5,800
2006 6,000
2003 9,300
2002 10,000
2001 6,200
1999 5,600
1998 1,500
1997 6,500

The average of all those is 6,200 miles (10,300 km), nearly 9 times further from Sarasota than Hopkinsville, KY. My point is that, for Americans, the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse provides a rare opportunity to see, no, experience one of the grandest events in nature. And it is only a day trip distance for 65 million people. I live further than over 100 million people and I am going to see it. You should to. If you haven’t started making plans, now is the time to start.

Ignore The Hype – Please

Ignore The Hype – Please


Here Are The Facts About The November 14, 2016 Supermoon!

“We’re about to see a record-breaking supermoon – the biggest in nearly 70 years.
The closest full moon in the 21st century.” says one site.

Okay. That is a factually correct statement, but it exaggerates the truth to the point where the truth loses its luster. Here are the facts of the situation, plain, simple and unembellished.

  1. The moon’s orbit around the earth is elliptical. By definition, that means the moon is closer the earth than at other times. It is no big deal. The point of closest approach in the orbit is called the apogee.
  2. The earth’s orbit varies slightly over time (years) so that the distance of the moon at apogee is not constant.
  3. Three or four times a year, apogee of the moon occurs very near full moon. When objects are closer to us, appear look larger, so a full moon at apogee looks larger than a full moon at any other point it its orbit around the earth.

Here is a list of the closest full moon apogees for the current decade.

Perigee Moons This Decade

Date                Distance from Earth to Moon (km)
2010 Jan 30    356607
2011 Mar 19    356580
2012 May 06    356954
2013 Jun 23    356991
2014 Aug 10    356898
2015 Sep 28    356878
2016 Nov 14    356523
2018 Jan 02    356604
2019 Feb 19    356846

The one receiving all the hype is in bold face, 2016 Nov 14. Look at the distance during that full moon and compare it to 2011 Mar 19. The difference is 57 kilometers (34 miles). So, yes the November 14, 2016 full moon slightly bigger than others, but only slightly. The difference in brightness between all the full moons in the table could not be perceived by the human eye. The exaggeration/hype of the media sets the viewer up for disappointment.

I would say that all full moons are worth looking at. So go out, weather permitting, and enjoy the full moon November 14. I know I will.

Looking for a Unique Eclipse Experience?

Looking for a Unique Eclipse Experience?

The town of Alliance, Nebraska is not a destination for many people. That is likely to change for the eclipse 2017 weekend. One of the primary reasons is a structure/attraction about 5 miles north of town called Carhenge. This was constructed in the 1980s as an art project that has turned into a landmark. The comparison to Britain’s Stonehenge is intentional. And if you know anything about Stonehenge, there are astronomical alignments, one of which draws hundreds and thousands of people there for sunrise on the summer solstice. I’m not sure about the alignment of Carhenge, but the design relationship is clear. I am sure that viewing the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse from there would be a memorable and crowd-filled experience.