The Great Disappointment

Yeah…the eclipse didn’t go so well for me after all. Still, I’d better do some kind of follow up post.

What Happened?

I woke up on the day and the weather was absolutely textbook. The sky was completely clear and the forecast for the afternoon was perfect. So, Hannah and I went along to the Nashville Science Center [Centre] where there was a bit of a festival going on.

When we arrived there were a few small clouds so I was a little concerned that one would pass in front of the sun. However, it looked pretty unlikely. I got my telescope set up and started to look like a science teacher:


For anyone wondering, that telescope cost about $30. You don’t need expensive kit to view an eclipse.


Not that many people know but it is actually possible to view the sun safely through a regular telescope. You just hold a piece of paper behind the eyepiece and focus it. Then you get a really nice image projected onto the paper. Here is how the eclipse progressed as the moon passed in front of the solar disc:

As the last image shows, we were really close to totality (just 4 minutes away), and then disaster. A cloud which had been moving in an ambiguous direction came right in front of the sun! It was pretty awful because I had to just stand there like a loser and watch it get covered. I didn’t have the car with me so I couldn’t just jump in and drive to a clear area.

So yeah, I missed my second total eclipse because of a single cloud.


Some interesting points

I did see a few cool things though:

  • In the above images there are three little spots at the centre of the solar disc. Those are sunspots – cooler areas of the sun’s surface. More info here. In fact, at the time of posting, those three spots (spot 2674) are still present on the face of the sun – you can see them at the link.
  • I absolutely promise this happened, I have no proof but it totally did: just after the first image was taken (the one with everyone standing around me), a plane flew in front of the sun. It looked absolutely awesome projected onto the paper. Unfortunately no one got a photo but a few of us saw it!
  • Since I made sure we were on top of a hill, there was one cool thing we could see during totality. The corridor where totality occurred was only about 60 miles wide. This meant that, looking out to the horizon, we could see areas outside of the corridor. These areas had a red hue to them, like viewing a distant sunset:

Image taken during totality. The sky was darker than it appears in this image. The horizon appears red because of light scattered from areas outside of totality.


What I’ll do next time

The next noteable total eclipse is in 2024 and is, again, in the USA. I will definitely be going along. I am, however, NOT going to miss another one because of cloud cover. I have 7 years to plan this, so I’ll basically be doing some of or a combination of all the things I thought about doing for this one:


1. Weather Balloon

I’ve been pondering launching a weather balloon anyway for a few years now. It’s actually easier than it sounds and all the communication can be handled with an Arduino. Sending one up an hour or so before totality and having it continuously send back cloud cover images would let me know EXACTLY where I could go to make sure I’m not sat under a cloud during totality. This would be combined with a terrain map to ensure I could drive to a clear area at short notice.

2. Tri-Lateration

It’s not completely infeasible to imagine setting up 3 or more video cameras a few miles apart, receiving their images simultaneously and determining the exact position of current cloud cover. I’d probably use a machine learning algorithm to do the legwork, and to predict where clouds would be in the near future. This could be used in conjunction with a weather balloon to better predict future cloud cover.

3. Doppler radar

While I certainly have the capability to build a passive radar, and am even considering building one soon, this would not pick up cloud cover. To do that, I’d need a Doppler radar. While it’s not completely infeasible to imagine building one given 7 years to figure it out, it’s pretty unlikely. It would be cool as anything to do, but I’d need an amateur radio licence and probably all kinds of other legal clearance to do this.


For anyone thinking of receiving images from weather satellites (as I have done in the past)  as a solution, this wouldn’t work. The spatial and temporal resolution would be far too low.

So, I will see a total eclipse one day but I’m going to have to wait again. It’s frustrating – I don’t want people to think of me as one of those odd ‘eclipse chaser’ people that travel around the world just to see eclipses all the time. I just want to see one then I’ll be happy!

In the meantime, I did still manage to do some really cool science while on holiday. I’ve been wanting to do a post on sound for a while now and I managed to do some pretty interesting ‘sound engineering’ while I was in New York. So, I’ll be posting about that very shortly.



One thought on “The Great Disappointment

  1. Pingback: The Great Eclipse | brain -> blueprint -> build

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