Friday, 31 July 2009

Eclipse Hunter Pack

Headed for China this January 2010 for the Annular Eclipse?

What’s an eclipse hunter without his tools ? Get that checklist and see if you have considered bringing this stuff. Give yourself a point for every item considered.

1. Passport… Perhaps the most important piece of your luggage. No passport no entry. Nuff said. And be sure it’s at least 6 mos. valid. China requires visa. Allot 4 regular days for processing

2. Toiletries… hahaha.. A hunter needs to be vain at times to look good on the camera. But don’t bring the whole set.. One thing you might miss out is lip balm.. Weather will be very cold in January, you ‘ll need to moisturize your lips regularly.

3. GPS… This tool comes in handy to get your exact latitude, longitude and elevation. Essential for contact timings. Don’t forget the AA batteries

4. Cash… Most hostels don’t accept credit card.. Bring lots of mooolah.. Better bring dollars and have it exchanged at an accredited bank. Changing dollars at the airport is not advisable because they charge a considerable fee.

5. Wristwatch.. For the timing of the contacts

6. Digital Camera.. ..Of course while you’ll be using a DSLR for the sun shots it pays to have a point and shoot cam handy.

7. Hotel Info… In Chinese characters.. Most taxi drivers can’t read the alphabet. Have your hotel info in Chinese characters handy and you’ll never get lost

8. Cellphone… Of course you would want to answer that incoming call.. It’s PhP 80/minute for int’l roaming . But then it pays to have it handy for emergency purposes. Besides you can receive text message from your envious friends in the Philippines for free. Texting back though is PhP 20/ text.

9. Photographs… Some hostels have this sort of shrine for travellers (Think Mt Pulag Shrine). Leave your mark by posting a good photo of your group.

10. Mini-flashlight… I just squeezed this in.. Flashlights might come in handy in case of power failure. We had that experience when we’re in Shanghai. A small key-chain would do the trick.

11. Mini-tripod… Big things come in small packages. Comes in handy for those spur of the moment group shots. This toy elicited hearty response from my foreigner friends when I whipped it out for a group pictorial.

12. Credit Card… While most establishments don’t accept credit cards, having one is a good insurance.. You’ll never know when you need one.

13. Mementos…. Bring memorable stuff from the Philippines or from your group. Chances are you’ll meet a cute lady whom you’d like to leave something to help her remember you by.. (ehem ehem, sounds familiar to someone I hope)

14. Chargers… As Lady Gaga said… Russian roulette is never fun without a gun. Your gadgets are useless without the power.

15. Calling Card… Chances are the person sitting beside you on the plane is a fellow eclipse hunter or a media personality or has a contact to where you’re headed There is always wealth of opportunities of meeting folks on trips like this.. Have these cards handy so you can give your contact details in a jiffy.

16. Thumb drive… Handy for swapping files.

17. Pen… Need to fill out that entry form? Need to write down the address of your hostel? Need to scribble the cute girl's number? Need I say more?

18. Scissors and Cutters.. They come in handy in most unexpected circumstances.. cutting ropes for your banner… constructing a box… devising a filter for your cam.. Throw in a baggage tape and masking tape to complete the set . Just make sure you pack it in on your checked in baggage as sharp objects are not allowed in the cabin.

19. Medicines… A hunter is only good if he’s not sick.. Make sure to include paracetamol, ascorbic acid, ibuprofen and loperamide in your pack.

20. Laptop.. Kinda bulky but essential for storing thousand of bytes of digital images and videos.. Besides you would need to stay connected with the gang.

That’s it folks. Hope this list gives you a head start on your hunt.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Viewing the Setting Sun

My next goal will be to observe the Annular Eclipse in Qingdao China on January 15, 2010.
It has been my long-term goal to see an annular eclipse during sunset and this celestial event by some stroke of coincidence will just happen perfectly.
About 6 months after my recent conquest in a place very much accessible.

Qingdao, China has been my choice for 3 major reasons :

1) It near the centerline thereby giving the longest possible duration

2) It is accessible by plane or train from Shanghai or Beijing and

3) Maximum eclipse will occur near sunset.

The timing afford me the chance to view the sun directly.

Intuitively, viewing the setting sun without any filter should be safe. However I made sure there's a valid basis for this. The link herewith gives a comprehensive discussion on why it's safe to stare at the setting sun.

Incidentally in this link I stumbled upon an article that debunked an astro Urban Legend that Galileo got blind because of improper usage of the scope while viewing the sun. On the contrary he became blind at the age of 72 from a combination of cataract and glaucoma.. =)

172 days to go.. Qingdao here I come..

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Shanghai Total Solar Eclipse 2009

The weather in Shanghai a day before belied the sky condition that would greet us on Wednesday, the day of the eclipse.

We conducted a dry run of our equipment on Tuesday in front of the hostel under the sweltering heat of Shanghai sun and everything seemed good to go. Our strange-looking equipment gathered curious glances from onlookers. Some Chinese folks don’t have a concept of privacy or territory; they would just peek on our stuff without even asking permission.

Fortunately Wang, our ever-reliable interpreter kept on shooing off the nosy folks. Beng, our team official documentation head had a brilliant idea; she had someone scribbled a sign in Chinese characters that somehow said.. “ We are observing the sun. Please do not disturb”

All the set-ups were tested: multiple exposure setups, magnified shots of the sun through various phases, one on video tracking of the sun piggy-backed on a tracking scope, wide angle shot of the sun to capture nearby heavenly objects during totality, sun’s projection on astroscan, and shadow bands set-up.

Later that day, I, Aaron (one of official student delegates), Wang and Kale ( an enthusiast from Chicago who wanted to join our group) went to Jinshanwei for an ocular inspection.

Jinshanwei is a coastal suburb around 70 km south of Shanghai city proper. It is near the centerline and the southernmost part of China along the eclipse path giving us the advantage of the longest totality (our computation was 5 min and 58 s).

I was quite surprised that I haven’t heard of any Philippine team setting up in Jinshanwei. I have heard of folks flocking to She Shan observatory, Shanghai city proper and Jiaxing. Then there’s also a team at Wuhan.

I admit I was a bit apprehensive that a coastal setting might give a fickle sky condition which would have explained why no other astronomical team had set up in the location.

We arrived at Jinshanwei around 1230 pm.. We spotted 3 ideal locations and first choice was near the beach area with no entrance fee. (The other option was inside another beach that charges 30RMB /head, the third one was a park in front of a bus station).

Our chosen location did not meet two of our original requirements : must be near an electrical source or power supply and with WiFi.. But it was best there was in terms of unspoiled view.

We took the GPS setting of our chosen location ( latitude, longitude, elevation) as these were crucial for the contact timings. Bamm was our contact in the Philippines who supplied the eclipse data based on the exact location.

Cloud cover on Tuesday afternoon was promising. Thought there were scattered cirrus clouds all over, they were not alarming since they were the type that would fleet by easily. There was a smog buildup on the horizon up to about 30 deg altitude; not high enough to spoil the view of the sun during first contact.

We had 2 back up options in Jinshanwei and our ultimate back up option would have been a drive westwards towards Jiaxing area should cloud cover be nonnegotiable.

Kale had been tracking the cloud patterns the night before and the storm brewing from Beijing had all indications that it would cover the entire Shanghai area the following day.

Our call time that Wednesday was 5 am at the hostel lobby. It was quite surprising that everyone seemed all revved up when clock hit 5. ( I surmise some of them had a restless night, like me which just had a 2-hour nap) .

We left for Jinshanwei at 530 AM. Two enthusiasts from UK , Milly and Doug joined our team since we had two more slots in the vehicle Traffic, unlike what we originally thought was surprisingly light.

Ominous cloud cover was all over Shanghai and the same scenario greeted us in Jinshanwei. It was a stark contrast from the fair weather that greeted us the day before (sigh). (Sometimes I still ask God why He couldn’t have just swapped the weather for two days)

A drizzle greeted us when we were setting up. I told the team that transferring to Jiaxing was no longer an option given the extent of the overcast. We were far better off by staying put.

We had to adjust our location a bit to have a cover in case of heavy downpour. I admired the team for its professionalism. Despite the bleak scenario they set up their equipment as if all things were normal. Our equipment were all set up an hour before first contact.
Onlookers trickled in as early as 8 AM.

Some of the team prayed the rosary hoping for the clouds to open up a bit.

Our prayers were answered partly as we had glimpses of the sun between first and second contact. As the team official timer I had to announce every two minutes, the countdown for multiple images shot and the number of minutes prior to totality. In most instances the presence of the mylar prevented us from getting a good shot since the cloud provided additional filter. The settings we used during the dry runs were almost not applicable.

In other instances the sun would peek but not on the determined time that we’re supposed to get for multiple exposure. Kin and Erika nonetheless took shots of the sun since its appearance was becoming highly-prized.

Our last shot of the sun was taken 5 minutes before totality and the clouds as if a curtain, gave the sun its final bow.

We never got to capture the corona. We did however capture in video the change in the surrounding light as we approached totality.

When countdown for 2nd contact was being done we were looking at the imaginary sun. The onlookers joined us as we made the countdown. One could really feel the emotionally charged atmosphere as we were nearing zero.

As a team lead of the expedition I was supposed to be professional in the countdown. But I admit a few seconds before totality I totally lost it. I just realized I was just a child lost for words basking in one of nature’s grandest spectacle.

On hindsight I was lucky I had a point and shoot camera with me to capture on video my lunacy during totality. (And the camera was not even part of the set –up)

It all made sense to me that astronomy while it thrived on rigid numbers was not about the cold equations. True, one could find handy the timing of the contacts, the altitude of the sun, or the duration of the totality. One could utter with astounding command the declination, azimuth, hour angle, right ascension or absolute magnitude

But without the heart and the human vulnerability, these numbers make no sense.

For more fundamental are the raw emotions that a celestial event would evoke. I realized that inherently we are still very much like our ancestors when they first glanced at the skies and partook in the ancient of sciences.

We may have come a long way since our caveman days but no mathematical advancement could ever rob us of that awe, of that child-like fascination, of the magical wonder.

This is the heart of astronomy.

While we were disappointed that we never got a shot of the corona, we were still blessed to feel the change in temperature and the surreal darkness that blanketed us.

We could proudly claim that we felt 5 minutes and 58 seconds of darkness, a record that would only be surpassed in 2132.

In many many years time we could tell our children and even our grandchildren that the longest total solar eclipse of our lifetime passed in 2009.

And that we, UP Astrosoc Team Shanghai : Beng, Sharon, Kin, Rej, Sig, Erika, Andre, Aaron, Kiel, Am, and I , were bold and lucky enough to be there.

The Journey Begins

Hooray ! This blog official marks my goal of chasing eclipses. Join me in my journey.. As of today there are 173 days to go before my next goal... The Annular eclipse which I plan to observe at Qingdao.

Hopefully my third attempt to capture the climax of the eclipse in photo would be successful this time thereby disproving that I have "balat sa puwet".