Thursday, October 30, 2014

Partial Solar Eclipse from Valparaiso University Observatory 10-23-2014

I remember that in the summer of 1994 there was a solar eclipse, and I watched parts of it with welder's glass. Since then, though, I have not seen any part of a solar eclipse. From Northwest Indiana, the partial solar eclipse we experienced on October 23 wasn't going to be a spectacular event, with only about half the Sun being eclipse at maximum, and the Sun setting shortly after maximum eclipse. Still, I was looking forward to it, and when the forecast was mostly cloudy, with a possibility of rain, I wasn't very optimistic.

When I got home from work Thursday morning, I needed to take a nap. I wanted to wake up early so I could check weather forecasts around the region, and check satellite images to see where the best chance of a clear sky might be. I set a couple of alarms on my phone, went to sleep, and then slept through nearly two hours of my phone going off every five minutes.

When I finally woke up, it was after 3:30 PM, and the eclipse was going to start in about an hour. I hurried to get ready, but with so little time, the only observation I could get to in time was at Valparaiso University. I arrived at the V.U. observatory around 4:20, with about 15 minutes to spare. Professors Dr. Bruce Hrivnak and Dr. Todd Hillwig were set up behind the observatory, and ready to host a public observation. There were some eager visitors already there, but the sky was still cloudy. Dr. Hrivnak's wife Lucy arrived a few minutes after me, and like me, she really wasn't expecting to see much either. Then the Sun started to peek through a clearing in the clouds that was opening up.

I hadn't bothered getting any equipment out of my car because of the cloudy conditions, so I hurried to get my 60mm refractor that I use for solar observing and Sun funnel screen. The funnel screen hadn't been used in a long time, and the black electrical tape holding the screen in place was worn, and needed to be replaced. At some point it had come undone, and left a black mark across the observing screen, but there was no time to properly clean it. I hastily re-taped the screen in place. There wasn't enough time to get it nice and tight across the top of the funnel, but would do for this observation, which might not last long.

Not ideal conditions, but I was able to observe the beginning of the eclipse through the clouds to the west.

Finally ready to observe, I found the Sun by using the shadow method, and was impressed by the massive sunspot A.R. 2192. Lucy Hrivnak gave me a pair of eclipse glasses, and I was surprised that sunspot 2192 could be seen even without magnification. A small crowd started to gather around my telescope for a look at our Sun. Then I saw a slight impression on the solar limb, and the eclipse had begun.

First eclipse image on the Sun funnel screen.

Like me, Dr. Hrivnak was using a small spotting scope to safely project an image of the eclipsed Sun, while Dr. Hillwig had a full aperture solar filter on a 6" SCT. Of course, they were also handing out eclipse glasses to anybody who wished to see the eclipse. But like I found out during the Transit of Venus, people really seemed to enjoy the funnel projection screen. The fairly large image on the screen and being able to observe in a group makes this a popular method for observing any solar event. It also attracted the attention of Heather Augustyn of the Times of Northwest Indiana. Heather interviewed me, and Times photographer John Luke got a shot of me demonstrating the funnel projection system. Both the image and interview were included in the online article, and in Friday's newspaper.

Photo credit: John Luke- The Times of Northwest Indiana.

Small crowd observing the partial solar eclipse behind Valpo University's campus observatory.

I watched as a small sunspot near the solar limb was eclipsed by the Moon, but didn't time the moment of occultation. I was just trying to enjoy whatever time remained of the Sun peeking through the clouds. Right around 5:00 PM CDST, the Sun started to disappear behind clouds again, and it looked like the end of the observation. I left my telescope set up just in case, but took a few moments to document the crowd, the sky conditions, and posed for a picture with professors Hrivnak and Hillwig. From that point all telescopic observing was over. The Sun did show through the clouds briefly around 5:30, but it was very low in the sky, and the sunlight wasn't strong enough to cast shadows for aligning my telescope. I could sort of make out the outline of the Moon through eclipse glasses, but clouds were also obscuring the solar disk, making it hard to tell just how much of the Sun was eclipsed by our Moon.

Final eclipse image on the Sun funnel. Giant sunspot 2192 is clearly visible.

Professor Todd  Hillwig oversees observing through a filtered telescope, while behind him, professor Bruce Hrivnak is projecting an image of the eclipse through a spotting scope.

Though still in progress, clouds cut short serious eclipse observing.

Selfie behind the dome.

Posing with professors Hillwig and Hrivnak, and their friend.

Do these eclipse glasses make me look cool?

Even before the Sun had set, I packed my gear, signed the observatory's guest book, and said goodbye to the Hrivnaks and Dr. Hilllwig. As I left the campus, and turned west onto U.S. 30, the Sun was just above the horizon, and just below the clouds gathered in that direction. I could easily see the eclipse still in progress, and pulled over to try to get a picture. The settings on my cell phone just aren't up to getting images of the Sun, even while almost half eclipsed.

Trying to get final images of the eclipse Sun, but my phone couldn't capture what I saw naked eye.

Even though it turned out mostly cloudy, and I almost missed the eclipse by oversleeping, I seem to have seen more total minutes of eclipse than others in the region. I enjoyed it while I could, and look forward to a trip south in 2017 to stand in Luna's shadow.

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