It’s Time for the Eclipse, and I Don’t Have Eclipse Glasses. What Can I Do?

No need to worry.  There are several safe, simple ways to view the progress of the eclipse:

  1. A pinhole projector can be as simple as an index card with a tiny hole.  A thumb tack or a push pin can make a good hole of the proper size.  ‘To use, hold the card so that it faces the Sun, and place a second index card in the shadow of the first card.   Adjust the spacing of the cards until a good image of the Sun is visible.
  2. Use a mirror to project Sunlight onto a wall.  I just heard about this technique, and haven’t had a chance to try it out.  Use a circular mirror, or a mirror masked by cardboard with a circular hole.  Hold the mirror so that it casts reflected sunlight onto a smooth white or gray wall, or some similar surface.  If all goes well, the patch of reflected light will have the same shape as the eclipsed Sun.  Caution:  Don’t look directly into the mirror to see the Sun.  This is just as destructive as looking directly at the Sun.  If you fasten the mirror to any kind of fixture, stay with it, so that other people don’t misuse it.
  3. Here’s an easy one: Find a tree or bush with leaves and look at the shadow that it casts.  Wherever the shadow has a small sunny spot, you should be able to see the shape of the eclipsed Sun.  This same effect can be produced by a piece of cardboard with a hole, or even with your hands and fingers.

Enjoy the eclipse, wherever you are!

lookin’ up,



Leaving Town for the Eclipse

Today is packing day, and tomorrow we drive to Illinois.  On Saturday morning, we will pick a destination, based on the latest weather forecasts.

It is my desire to make frequent posts during this expedition.  We will see if this works out.  Right now, the last-minute preparations don’t leave much time for writing!

lookin’ up,



I Haven’t made Any Plans. Is It Too Late to View the Total Eclipse?

No, it isn’t!

No one knows for sure how many people will travel to the band of land where the Total Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017 will be visible.  Crowding will very likely be a problem, but here are a few ideas to consider:

  • The “narrow band” for totality is actually a vast area. Even with millions of people visiting, there is plenty of room for everyone.
  • Of course, some places will be very popular, and they will be crowded.
  • Our love of automobiles and our road system is the weak link in handling a large number of people. On August 21, the eclipse traffic will be added to the normal traffic load.  A particular concern would be after the eclipse, where most people will want to go home at the same time.
  • Motel rooms will be available at the last minute, because some people (my self included) have made reservations in multiple cities. The unused reservations will be cancelled a day or two before August 21.

So, I offer this advice:

  • Try to make motel reservations as close to the area of totality as possible.
  • Check for last-minute vacancies at places inside the area of totality.
  • Arrive at your destination as early as you can manage.
  • Keep your gas tank full, and bring food and water.
  • Bring printed road maps, since the cellular networks in some areas may be overloaded.
  • Try to plan a route which avoids the major highways. In particular, be wary of expressways, because U-turns are not allowed.
  • Research good locations to view the eclipse. Many small towns have provided viewing areas, with varying levels of support.
  • While the centerline of the band of totality offers the maximum duration of totality, areas a small number of miles away will be almost as good.

In summary, a total eclipse of the Sun is such a magnificent event that many people want to experience it.  Even with advance planning, inconveniences will occur.  The goal is to keep them to a minimum, and have a memorable day!


Some Links and Apps For the August 21 Total Solar Eclipse

These links will cover virtually every aspect of watching this eclipse:

A very interesting analysis of road traffic patterns:

The US Weather Service offers this service:

Here are two Android apps which calculate the local circumstances (timing and degree to which the Sun is covered):

Eclipse Safari


Keep looking up!



The Moon Has Started the Final Lap Before the Great Eclipse

3 Day Old Moon - Cropped IMG_20170725_214905_EXP1

3-Day old Moon, July 25, 2017

As August 21 approaches, my excitement increases.  After many years of hearing about total solar eclipses, I expect to have the chance to see one.

If the Moon were alive, it would probably wonder why there is so much excitement.  After all, the Moon has been following the same path for millions of years.

Last night, the Moon looked serene as it hovered over the Western horizon, as it has done so many times before.  From my point of view, this time is different.  I see the Moon beginning its last set of phases before the Total Eclipse in August.




Don’t Forget to Check Out Jupiter.

Some times I can’t come up with a good topic, and should not burden the reader with a low-quality post.

Today, I was ready to skip the weekly post, but I remembered that Jupiter is in a prominent location in the sky.  Jupiter has always been a pleasure to observe, with a telescope, with binoculars, or even naked-eye.

So a brief word: Take a look at Jupiter!

Have a good week.





“Did Pluto Disappear?”

“Did Pluto Disappear?”

This is an exact quote, from a young student at a star party. When I heard this question, I realized that the new definition of a planet has created confusion for students.

In 2006, the International Astronomical Union adopted a new definition of a planet.  It requires that the body be large enough that it naturally assumes a spherical shape, and it requires that the body be large enough to “clear the neighborhood around its orbit.”  Pluto does have the spherical shape, but it hasn’t “cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.”  Therefore, Pluto was designated as a “Dwarf Planet”, rather than a “Planet”.

A new proposal by Kirby Runyon is the extreme opposite of that of the IAU.  Runyon’s definition requires only that the body have a spherical shape.  It doesn’t matter what kind of orbit it follows.  This would mean that moons would called planets, if they are spherical.  This would raise our list of planets to over 100 members!

My proposal is to define a planet to be any object orbiting the Sun, which is known to have a spherical shape. Other objects, such as asteroids and comets, are not spherical, and would not be called planets. There are several large objects, such as Eris, Haumea and Makemake, which are too distant for their shapes to be determined.  Until better observations are made, these objects would not be listed as planets.

How big would the new list be? Only ten planets for now!

Here is the proposed list, in order of distance from the Sun:


Note that our old friend Pluto is back on the list.  Also, a new member, Ceres, has been added.  Since most people have never heard of Ceres, the new list should encourage people to learn something about this planet.

The Dawn spacecraft is currently studying Ceres.  This image shows two very unusual bright spots on its surface.

This method of defining the word “planet” may never make it to the text books, but it was fun putting it together!

As always, keep looking up!



For more information on the planet Ceres:

Did You See that Meteor?

One reason I like the slogan, “Keep looking up” is that the night sky is full of surprises.  Most of the objects in the sky don’t appear to change rapidly, but there are exceptions, like meteors.

Most meteors are very tiny specks of solid material, which make a subtle steak of light as they burn up in the atmosphere.  These displays last for a fraction of a second, and are visible to those who are looking up.

At star parties, I often forget to look up while I am waiting to look through a telescope. Someone will exclaim, “Did you see that meteor?”  Unfortunately I would have to answer in the negative. After that I try to watch the sky better.

Visibility of Earth satellites can be found on various web sites, but we don’t consult then very often. Thus a speeding satellite can take us by surprise.  The International Space Station is the most prominent, but there are many other objects which can be seen by those who are looking up.

Northern or Southern Lights often appear in places far from the polar areas.  During times of intense solar activity, they can be anticipated, but they can also appear unexpectedly. These displays may last for only a few minutes or a few seconds. Again, It helps to be looking!

So keep…


Blog at

Up ↑