Friday, April 26, 2024


Issue 603: My Eclipse...

Eclipse morning at Chaos Manor South.
The eclipse it came, and the eclipse it went, muchachos. This is your Old Uncle's short account of what Miss Dorothy and I saw eclipse Monday. This was, by the way, also published in The Mobile Amateur Radio Club Weekly Newsletter in slightly different form. Thus, the ham radio references...

Ah, yes, THE GREAT AMERICAN ECLIPSE How did it play out down here in the Swamp? The night before as I sat on the couch with the felines watching a rerun of a (Bob Heil) Ham Nation episode on the YouTube, I wasn’t feeling overly excited. The weather forecast for Possum Swamp did not look good. No, not good at all:  Clouds, unrelenting clouds. Maybe rain. 

In fact, eclipse day forecasts had sounded lousy for weeks. Not much hope for usnor for more than a few points west into the path of totality. That was OK; I’d long ago decided to sit this one out. In these latter days, I’m just not up for long drives and trying to find a $250-a-night room at the freaking Motel 6. Anyhoo, I planned to go to bed when I got tired, wake up when I felt like it Monday morning, prepare to teach my afternoon and evening classes at the university, and not spend much time worrying about eclipses.  

Not that I wouldn’t try to see SOMETHING. I had a secret weapon. A special sort of telescope, a ZWO SeeStar S50 smart telescope. Despite the somewhat corny name, this little device is making waves amongst those interested in such things for its ability to take pictures of things in the sky—Sun, Moon, galaxies, nebulae, star clusters—with amazing clarity and to do that cheaply and easily. That, a couple pairs of eclipse glasses for me and Miss Dorothy, and that would be it for our eclipse expedition to the backyard. 

As 11 came and went Monday a.m., I set the SeeStar up out back on a camera tripod, went into the radio shack, and fired up the IC-7610 transceiver. Alas, the bands were lousy. I may have worked a POTA park or two, but that was it. By the time I gave up and hit the big switch, it was after 12pm (the eclipse would begin at 12:34) and time to think about Mr. Sun, finally. Maybe. A glance out the shack door revealed good and bad. Still overcast, yeah. But… for the moment, mostly thin clouds. Shadows were being cast, and the cats were enjoying a little Sun in the sunroom. Worth a shot, I figgered.

What’s involved in taking pictures of the Sun with the SeeStar S50? Not much. Level the camera tripod. Put the scope on it. Push the power button. When the scope says, “Power on! Ready to connect!” Open the SeeStar app on your smartphone, click “connect,” click “Solar,” and the scope will unfold itself and tell you to attach the (included) solar filter. It then finds, centers, and tracks the Sun on its own. 

You don’t have to stay outside with the SeeStar; once you turn on the scope, you can retire inside with your smartphone. In the SeeStar’s normal “station” mode, it communicates with your smartphone through your home network. It also has considerable built-in memory and is, yeah, a smart little telescope.

Inside, sitting on the couch with Miss D, the scope was delivering a live view of the Sun on my phone. You can just watch that. Or you can take still photos the scope will send to your phone. Or you can take videos and time-lapse sequences that are stored in the telescope’s onboard memory for later retrieval. I had intended to do a time-lapse of the whole eclipse, but it looked like the clouds would make that futile. 

Just before eclipse time, though, there was a little more clearing. Oh, it was obvious we were still looking through a layer of clouds, but the Sun was brighter and suddenly I could see a missing chunk that signaled the Great American Eclipse had begun.

I went outside occasionally and looked up at Sol with eclipse glasses but could definitely see more on the iPhone. Not that we were seeing much. A little here, a little there. Just enough to tempt and tantalize. I did take some stills and a short video (posted on the W4IAX Facebook page), but they were really not much. Better than nothing? Sure. More than I’d expected to get? Definitely.

The national eclipse QSO party? The local eclipse net conducted by WX4MOB?  Just never got around to either in the process of constantly staring at clouds on my phone and hoping for brief clearing so I could get an image at the maximum of this deep partial (for us) eclipse. Dorothy and I didn’t get to see that, though. 25 minutes before eclipse maximum, it wasn’t just cloudy, it was CLOUDY. I popped outside to see what I could see:  NUTTIN’ HONEY. Wait. Was that a drop of rain? Yes. I shut down the SeeStar, hauled her inside, and…  THE END. Time to get ready to go to work at the university. 

The denouement? As I said, “better than nothing.” And at least I got to hear all about totality. Bro-in-law, Alan, KE0RA, at almost the last minute decided he was gonna see the eclipse and lit out for Shreveport where he’d been able to make reservations at, yeah, a suddenly expensive Motel 6.  On eclipse morning, he headed to Clarksville, TX just to the west, which appeared to have the best chance for clear skies. RA was rewarded with a view of almost all of totality.

And there you have it, muchachos. That, I would say, is case closed, game over, zip up your fly for solar eclipses for W4NNF, Rod. Oh, there’ll be another good one in the U.S. of A. in just over 20 years. But. If I haven’t yet made Silent Key, I suspect I’ll be more interested in what that pretty young nurse is gonna bring me for lunch (mebbe PUDDING?!) than the path of totality!

Bill Burgess (Burgess Optical)

I've occasionally been out of the amateur astronomy loop the last few years, but I don't know how I missed the passing of Bill in 2022 (way too young at 59), which I just learned of. I have many a fond memory of talking with and observing with him and wife Tammy at star parties of yore. I do know every time I use my beloved Burgess 15x70s I shall think of old Bill... 

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