The Eclipse, and All That

I really wanted to see the full solar eclipse, but I was stuck at home in Maryland, where we had a partial eclipse with 80 to 85 percent coverage of the sun. I knew that I wasn’t going to travel for the event, so I never got around to ordering sun viewing glasses. Instead, I put together a makeshift projector from a sturdy cardboard tube. I folded a piece of aluminum foil over one end and poked a small hole in the center of the foil with a frilly toothpick (class act, and all that!). Holding the tube with the foil-covered end toward the sun, I projected the image of the sun onto a piece of white cardboard. It’s nothing fancy; just a shipping box that contained pretzels, but the white coating on the box was perfect for this makeshift project. The timestamp on my camera was not set correctly, so I’m guessing this photo was taken between 2:30 and 2:45, or close to totality.

 

What was also interesting was finding little crescents everywhere. We don’t normally notice the shapes that are projected onto surfaces as sunlight filters through leaves, but during an eclipse the small gaps between leaves actually behaves like a lens and focuses the shape of the sun onto the ground and everywhere else. Usually it’s circular and we just aren’t aware of it, but here you can see the crescents scattered on the road surface. I also had crescents dancing on my living room floor where the sunlight was being filtered through the tree leaves and my Venetian blinds.

So, I’m hoping to catch the next solar eclipse. I want to experience the quality of light as well as the astronomical event itself. Perhaps by then I’ll be ready with a telescope and tracking mount for my camera, too. But in the meantime, there are some very interesting effects from the eclipse that are easy to photograph with basic equipment. I took both of these photos with a Nikon Coolpix, and these images could easily have been captured with my cell phone’s camera, too. I’d rather do some serious photography with my SLR, but my work schedule — and admittedly, my lack of preparation — meant that I had to grab things at the last minute and run out the door.

The worst part of the eclipse photography for me was that my yard is full of mosquitoes, and so now I am full of mosquito bites — and still scratching, one week later. Ugh.

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Ah, August. I’m melting.


I’m back from vacation and have almost managed to survive the first week back at work. It wasn’t even a full week, it was four days — but that didn’t stop it from feeling like forever. A week of vacation isn’t enough!

This was my second year going to the Maine Astronomy Retreat. I still haven’t reviewed all of my photos, but I do have some Moon shots and Milky Way shots that are nice. I was surprised at how relatively easy it is to get a photo of the galaxy or Moon, but how difficult it is to get them in focus. You’d think that taking pictures of stars you’d just set the camera to infinity, right? Yeah, it doesn’t work like that.

It’s become obvious that I need some kind of focusing aid for astrophotography. No matter if I look through the eyepiece or at the live view display on my camera (a Sony alpha 7), the stars are just so dark and tiny that I can’t see anything well enough to set the focus. I basically have to take a picture and review it and keep twiddling the focusing ring until I get something. But even that is difficult; I can’t see the focusing ring without a light, I can’t tell by touch how far I’m moving it, and it’s very hard to move the focusing ring in tiny increments. Plus, the Earth spins pretty darn quickly, and any exposure that’s too long results in streaks known as star trails (which in my case look like Good ‘n Plenty-shaped lozenges).

Since I’ve been approved as a Shutterstock contributor, I’ve uploaded about seven photos. If my star photos are good they might end up there, otherwise, I’ll post a few in the next blog post. And, on to the weekend. Seems like a good time to avoid the heat and humidity and hole up in the A/C and look at photos. Stay cool, readers!