Thoughts from Totality or Seeing the Only Star We Can Truly ‘See’

The Solar Eclipse of 21 August 2017

Starting at 5:00 a.m. we drove South: 415 miles in 8 hours. Two days before Google Maps had said it could have been done in 6 ½ hrs. (without the Eclipse traffic).  We used Google Maps to tell us how bad the traffic jams were, and to watch the developing Infra-Red and visible satellite view of the sky so we could attempt to avoid clouds at our destination.

– there was disturbed weather (colored areas on the map above) to the West of our path but we found a lovely little public park in Bowling Green KY, just 6 miles inside the totality path and just short of the Tennessee border (a white X marks the spot in the map above). They were having a very friendly eclipse party there and happily had room for us on the grass and under the trees.  That was fortunate because the highway police were making great efforts to prevent people from stopping on the hard shoulders of the interstates.

The eclipsing moon was just starting its path across the sun when we arrived under clear blue skies.  As during the annular eclipse I’d seen decades ago in Toledo, I once again felt slightly uneasy as an ever increasing greyness of the sunlight became more apparent.  It was like someone very slowly sliding a dimmer switch to our prime source of light (and life), but with a steadily increasing speed.  The change in light quality is very different from that in our daily sunsets.  The typical evening setting sun has a warmth to its reducing light.  During the eclipse there was a coldness to the illumination as it dimmed – I tried rubbing my eyes to fix it.

The easiest watching tool was my bird spotting scope on a tripod.  A science school teacher from Illinois took over focusing and tracking the moving image on a white screen, while I worked on mirrors and cameras:

My straw hat made more pinhole images on my collar and on the telescope screen when I looked down on it:

The ‘pinhole mirror’ was a 3 inch (75 mm) square sample of one quarter inch (6 mm) thick front surface mirror: 80% reflection Pilkington Mirropane™. It has incredible float glass optical flatness.  Taping over half the sample provided a bright reflection light to allow easy steering of the mirror, while the exposed 1/16 inch (1.5 mm) top left corner of the taped half, provided a ‘pinhole mirror’ image alongside – all it needed was a screen.

The smaller the pinhole – the sharper the image, but also the fainter.  The further back the mirror is from a white projection screen – the larger the image, but the harder it is to hold the mirror steady.
(Next time I should put the mirror on a pan/tilt head on a tripod, and incorporate an operating iris diaphragm, if I can find one).

Both images attracted lots of attention as the light inexorably dimmed.

Meanwhile John Muggenborg in Brooklyn (see Muggphoto on Instagram) had amazing results with his similar front surface mirror, just under one inch square.  He had the great idea of fixing the mirror 200 feet (50 meters) away and shifting his screen to track the moving image.  His screen was a beautifully effective open box, dark on 4 sides and white at the back:

Susan spotted Venus brightly shining even though the sun was only about 90% covered at the time (near the top right corner in the photo below):

And in the lobby of his Vancouver apartment, Keith projected an image from his small front surface mirror sample, with a hole in a piece of paper over it to reduce the aperture, onto a screen to delight the residents and guests.

Then with an alarming suddenness, and no sound from the sky (apart from people’s cries in the park), the sun went out!

The Corona was too dim to see through the very dark eclipse glasses, and yet it felt too bright to try my binoculars to search for corona details.  Rushing with camera and iPhone camera in manual overdrive to try to get an appropriate exposure at full 20 x zoom using new add-on lenses, while dripping sweat on the equipment, I did get the following with full zoom on a Canon G-10.

The corona was too bright to see details.  It looks much better in digitally enhanced images as in the APOD site:

In the excitement I forgot to look through polaroid filters but doubt they would have shown anything.

One minute, 10 seconds later into the darkness, a diamond ring burst into view with a startling brilliance – it was the way kids might think that diamonds should appear if all the advertisements were true – the ‘stone’ in the ring was bright as an arc welders spot.  You could not look at it even if you tried.

My iPhone could only get:

I don’t seem to have burnt out any receptors in the iPhone but it must have been close!

Then 90 minutes of slow and steady return to the sky we once knew.


So we clearly saw that the overhead sun, and the moon, are truly circular and most probably spherical.  Our sun is the only star we can truly ‘see’, meaning whose shape we can ‘discern’ or ‘discriminate’.  All the other stars in the sky are so far away that their images, even through the best telescope, do not even cover ONE pixel in a camera.

The popular images of star fields seem to show big, medium and small size stars, but those images are ‘false news’.

The big, bright white circles are simply relatively close stars (more than 30,000,000,000,000 miles (5 light years) away).  The reason we see them ‘big’ in the camera is that their light is so incredibly bright that even though it is only shining on part of one pixel receptor, it reflects off it and overexposes many pixels around it.  (And, of course, the horizontal and vertical ‘spikes’ coming off the brighter stars are telescope reflections/refraction side effects and don’t really exist!)

So we cannot say for sure, from observation at least, that stars (other than our sun) are not square ﬦ , triangular Δ, or even star shaped   ҉ . . But now we have seen our overhead sun to be circular ⃝    and from some elementary astrophysics we can now safely assume that most stars really are spherical!


Spare a thought for the exoplanet hunters. They use this eclipsing method we just saw, along with others, to find planets around distant stars.  But the geometry never allows for ‘totality’ to be seen from distant earth, so those astronomers must work with only a very faint effect of partial eclipsing.

Perhaps my biggest surprise was that before the occulting moon had fully moved out of alignment with the sun, the very friendly eclipse watchers in the park packed up and drifted off – like leaving a great movie before the credits have even played.

We waited for the credits to roll, or the bloopers to play (none did), ate the strangest BLT ever for dinner and then joined the crowd for the drive home.

Well, if the traffic was heavy as people converged over 2 days on the 100 mile or so band of totality across the country, when the show was over, they ALL went home at once.  Google Maps traffic showed a wonderful screen of a network of red lines (choked roads) heading North and South away from the East-West path of totality.  Sadly we were too emotional to think of taking a screen-shot but Leslie and Glen, watching their syzgy just a little South of us in Tennessee did get one of the ‘eclipcalyptic’ traffic (Thank you):The drive home took 9 hours, but we’ve already started making plans to watch the next one!




Predators and Prey, Hatteras, NC and Perrysburg, Ohio, October 2013

This fall the Ocean-side waves were too threatening for sailing or swimming all week long. Hatteras is aptly called “The Graveyard of the Atlantic”.

Hatteras Ocean Wave

Hatteras Ocean Wave

Even the skies seem appropriately threatening.

Cirrus Clouds

Cirrus Clouds

When the sun shone it all looked much more inviting.

Ocean Side Sun and Waves

Ocean Side Sun and Waves

A small shark washed up on the beach.

Beached Shark

Beached Shark

Marcus found that it had died from a fish lure lodged deep in its throat.



By day, you see many small holes in the sand.



By night the crab occupants come out, but they are still not easy to catch.

Night time crab

Night time crab

Caught Crab

Caught Crab

I wonder who eats them?

In the sand dunes this moth has evolved great camouflage to blend with the colors to avoid being eaten.

Butterfly needing ID?

Butterfly needing ID?

While this wild flower needs all the color it can muster to attract scarce pollinators.

Red Flower in Dunes - Needs ID?

Red Flower in Dunes – Needs ID?

On the sound side of the dunes (where we windsurf) the scene seems more peaceful,

Sound-Side Sunset

Sound-Side Sunset

This luminous green fly is a good contender for the Best Dressed Bug contest.

Green Fly

Green Fly

I don’t know if it is eaten by this magnificent large spider we found living in the reeds.

Black and Yellow Argiope

Black and Yellow Argiope

The female “Black and Yellow Argiope” (thanks Carol for ID) is 1 ½” (35 mm) long. She (not Carol!) eats her web (plus contents I presume) every night, and next morning spins a new one.

This one cormorant stopped for preening and was close enough for a photo.



Many, many thousands of these birds stream by every day, low over the water, sometimes diving en masse for fish, while flying south to some unknown destination which must be unimaginably crowded if they all congregate there together. (I now read that deep diving cormorants, mergansers and loons are dying in Lakes Michigan and Huron from a Type E botulism which they may be eating from the lake bottom)

On the water were kite boards and windsurfers.  Jim’s amazing GoPro waterproof, high resolution cameras attached to the end of my windsurf boom reveal some of the tensions and subtleties involved when you try to connect with foot straps and harness, while riding the wind and the waves.  At first it seems the foot straps are never where my feet are, but then later I find the straps actually are perfectly located.  The harness is another matter: hooking in and out should be effortless, provided it’s properly adjusted – and you must always avoid accidentally hooking in when you should be out!

Footstraps and Harness (not stabilized).

The road back to Ohio goes past Kitty Hawk, where you can appropriately pay homage to the Wright brothers by taking hang glide lessons – very tempting. It would be good to try it one day with a GoPro.

Hang Glide_8696

Back home in Perrysburg this bug landed on my Prodigy board and showed me it has evolved a pretty good helmet to protect at least its shoulders from being eaten.  I see now it is called a “Wheel bug” (Arilus cristatus). Very good to have in your garden as it devours aphids and others who’d eat your flowers and vegetables. But beware, while not easily provoked, it does have a very nasty bite. It injects digestive enzymes into its prey so it can more easily suck out the nutritious innards. Perhaps that’s what makes it so painful for humans.

Buzz Saw Head Bug

Wheel Bug

And in the honey bees’ hive I found some of these tiny ants on the comb. Presumably their giant stinger gives them some protection from the much larger bees.

Small Ant with Big Stinger

Small Ant with Big Stinger

It’Snow Fun – Cross-Country Skiing in Perrysburg

Three to four inches (75 to 100 mm) of the lightest, coldest (around 10 F (-12 C))  powder snow was just an illusion in Perrysburg last weekend (Feb 2, 2013).


The geese are too cold to shake the snow from their backs


The oldest of the beehives, with its 3 year old queen, gave up the ghost, along with about 4,000 worker bees, in the deepest cold of winter, despite having honey to spare.


There was a strange crystaline material in open honeycomb cells in the middle of the dead cluster. Some said it is crystalized honey.  Has anybody seen this before?


The new hive is very healthy and energetic.

I set the  Black Diamond trail and the Green cross-country ski trails and did nasty damage to the ski bottoms as the powder just blows away when you ski through it, revealing grass which wipes off all the ski wax and nasty little stones which do worse damage.


The trail has been reset to start at the Constitution Cannons at the East end, and circle old Fort Meigs at the West end. (The Green trail starts below the Cannons and runs flat and level along Water Street for complete beginners). The new asphalt path under the Maumee bridge is very helpful. It is very clean so a little snow covers it well.

Best verified times for the full loop are now being recorded:

Black Diamond Trail, ungroomed, 70 yr+ age category:   58 mins

Green Trail  52 mins

The trouble with powder snow and no base is that it offers no tracking direction to the skiis. When they touch a tree root they wander at will, often invoking the laws of unitended consequences.

Three heavy bruises were detected by the Detroit airport full body scanner (see previous ski blog) on Tuesday morning at 5:30 on my way to New Orleans to complete my farewell to IGMA friends and the glass industry I knew so well, having now happily retired.

In Nawlins (New Orleans, LA) Preservation Hall has 45 mins of grand old Dixieland music, every hour, on the hour, for $15. Not to be missed. They had a drum solo in St Louis Blues that must have lasted at least 4 minutes – audience and all were equally delighted and exhausted.

Preservation Hall Sign

Further East along Bourbon Street, on the North side, is Fritzels where Tom Fischer’s band plays traditional Dixieland jazz (there are very few places left), allow photographs and serve good beer.

FritzelsRichard Scott the pianist plays awesome Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton:

Big beads are the fashion this year as New Orleans warms up for Mardi Gras on Tuesday 12th. Feb.