Tag Archives: Michael Zeiler

Gift ideas for the astronomically inclined

It’s that time of year again when we start getting questions about what sorts of gifts to give to astronomy buffs. Here are a few great ideas for you.

Year of the eclipse

Eclipse map 2024

Map courtesy Michael Zeiler, GreatAmericanEclipse.com

A solar eclipse was visible all over the country back in August, and the path of totality stretched from coast to coast in the United States. Eclipse mementos would make excellent gifts this year. A great source for them is GreatAmericanEclipse.com, which has a wide selection of eclipse maps, attire, and accessories, and is running discounts this month. Plus it’s never too early to start gearing up for 2024’s eclipse! We interviewed mapmaker Michael Zeiler late last year about his work; check out the article and podcast based on that interview. Zeiler’s maps are gorgeous and suitable for framing.

Sorin Space Art out of Denver offers some marvelous items, including prints of Sorin’s solar eclipse photography. He’s also made some hand-painted tree ornaments depicting the Moon, Sun, and planets, but as of this writing he was running a bit short of supply on those. Sorin also is the proprietor of Astro Box, a quarterly subscription service that delivers space art, writing, apparel, and more four times each year. It’s a cool gift that keeps on giving.

Two Chicks Conspiracy offers a line of artistic belts and accessories. Several of their belts have space-themed designs, and they created a special key fob in commemoration of the 2017 total solar eclipse.

Books

Tyler Nordgren’s book Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets (Basic Books, 2016) was on our year-end gift list last year and remains a good pick this time around. It’s a combination of eclipse mythology and history, travelogue, and eclipse science, and is a fine read. Check out our review of the book and our recap of Nordgren’s author talk about it.

Another good read for eclipse year is David Baron’s American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World (Liveright, 2017). Baron’s book is a look back at the American total solar eclipse of 1878 and in particular how main characters Thomas Edison, Maria Mitchell, and James Craig Watson led high-profile eclipse-viewing expeditions to the wild west that helped spark a national interest in science. Baron gave a talk about the book earlier this year. Here’s our recap.

Ethan Siegel‘s book Treknology: The Science of Star Trek from Tricorders to Warp Drive (Voyageur Press, 2017) will please anyone who has been a fan of any of the Star Trek television shows or movies. Check our article and podcast with Siegel about Treknology.

Telescopes

Recommending a gift telescope is tricky business. I’ve written a number of past articles on the topic, and the ideas there still hold true. If you don’t know what to get, a great reference is the Backyard Astronomer’s Guide (Firefly Books, 2008) by Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer. It’s a marvelous book for walking one through the ‘scope-choosing process, based on one’s astronomical interests. I used it when I first started out in stargazing, and it’s still a valued reference years later.

If you want to get a first-hand look at a variety of different telescopes, including solar scopes that are designed for observing the Sun, it would be worth a trip to Cloud Break Optics in Ballard. They have quite a selection of ‘scopes in their show room and a lot of experience in stargazing and astrophotography. They’re also running a holiday blowout sale on both new and used gear. Cloud Break Optics is a patron of Seattle Astronomy on Patreon.

That said, I will let you know that the Orion eight-inch Dobsonian telescope is my personal scope of choice. It’s easy to use—just take it out to the back yard, point at something, and take a look! With its simple design it also delivers the most visual bang for the telescope buck. This telescope is really not for photography, though I’ve used it to get smartphone pictures of the Moon and the Sun. Other objects like galaxies or nebulae require longer exposures and that means a ‘scope that can track objects to compensate for the Earth’s rotation. That starts to run into a little money.

Binoculars are also a good gift for someone just starting out in astronomy. Get some that are at least 10x power and 50mm in aperture. I have a 10×50 outfit from Orion, and one can see a lot of neat stuff with a good set of binoculars.

Experiences

If you’d rather give experiences than stuff, how about a membership to a local organization? The Pacific Science Center, the Museum of Flight, and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry often have space- and astronomy-themed exhibits and presentations. Memberships are a good value that keep on giving all year long!

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Planning for the 2024 total solar eclipse

Last month’s total solar eclipse was the first one I had ever seen. Like many newly minted and experienced umbraphiles alike, I’m already thinking about the next total solar eclipse to cross the United States, which will happen on April 8, 2024. It seems like a long time off, but you don’t want to be like those folks who were frantically looking for eclipse glasses the day before the event!

As I ponder the last two years of planning for 2017, I realize that the advice received in the course of the enterprise was somewhat contradictory. In summary, when preparing for a total solar eclipse, one should plan carefully and well in advance, always have a plan B, and be ready to chuck it all and just wing it in the case of bad weather or other opportunities and circumstances.

Plan ahead

Fred Espenak

Fred Espenak. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Our first tutorial in eclipse planning came from Mr. Eclipse himself, Fred Espenak, who spoke at the Seattle Astronomical Society banquet in January 2016. (Here’s our recap of that talk.) Espenak and his weather guru partner, Jay Anderson of Eclipsophile, scouted the entire path of totality for viewing and weather conditions. It was Espenak’s declaration of Madras, Oregon as having the best clear-sky prospects for eclipse day that drove thousands of people to central Oregon. My favorite remark from Espenak from that talk: “On eclipse day you don’t get climate, you get weather.” Oregon had the best odds, many of us rolled the dice on that and came out winners.

Have a plan B

For many eclipse chasers plan B amounts to watching the weather forecast in the days and weeks leading up to the eclipse and, if things look dicey, going somewhere else. Many choose their preferred viewing site based on the ability to get away. That’s one reason that Espenak viewed last month’s eclipse from Casper, Wyoming: the weather prospects there were good, and major highways running east and west along the path of totality meant a good chance to run to find a break in any clouds that might move in. The Astronomical League held its annual convention there, too.

O'Meara

Seattle Astronomy’s Greg Scheiderer with Stephen O’Meara at the Seattle Astronomical Society meeting Aug. 16, 2017.

The week before the eclipse Steven O’Meara, a columnist for Astronomy magazine and an avid eclipse chaser, gave a talk to the Seattle Astronomical Society. He recounted how, as a young child, his mother showed him little eclipses reflected through the holes in their home’s window blinds.

“Partial eclipses have been dear to me ever since I was a child,” O’Meara said. He noted that a thought struck him after a recent similar presentation.

“I realized how wonderful partial eclipses are and how much more fun I have at partial eclipses, because there’s no pressure,” O’Meara said. We think he actually thrives on the pressure though, and he told a number of entertaining stories about last-ditch efforts to beat the clouds and catch at least a glimpse of an elusive eclipse. Some of the more interesting ones involved Pop Tarts and essentially hijacking a boat in Indonesia when it appeared there would be no eclipse viewing on land. He may well be the king of plan B.

My own plan

Writing the Seattle Astronomy blog and producing our podcast was my research and planning for last month’s eclipse. I’ve done 27 posts (including this one) and did 15 podcasts about the eclipse, with the subject of many being the question of why one would choose Stapleton, Nebraska or Nashville for eclipse watching over the other places in the path of totality. I learned a lot about the activities each community had planned, and what else there was to do there once an eclipse was over. With all of that information, I ended up picking Salem, Oregon. I had three reasons: proximity, population, and weather.

cloud chart

Data by NASA/GSFC. Graph courtesy Jay Anderson, Eclipsophile.com

Proximity. I reasoned that, if I lived in the Salem area, I probably would not have gone anywhere else. I’d have gone to a local park, or sat in my own back yard, to watch the eclipse. One short move may have been to get a little closer to the center line. With Salem just a four-hour drive from Seattle, this seemed a sensible option.

Population. At some point in my deliberations, I decided that I preferred a more urban setting to a rural one. It seemed that accommodations, the ability to get around, and access to stuff like food and a porta-potty might be more likely in a setting with more infrastructure.

Weather. Yes, many people would and did laugh about this. Walk up to anyone and tell them that you plan to watch a solar eclipse in western Oregon, and about 80 percent of them will immediately laugh and declare that, “It will rain.”

Looking at Anderson’s chart above of weather along the path of totality revealed a different story, however. While, statistically, the weather in Salem on August 21 of any year isn’t as good as that in Madras, it’s still pretty close, and a far sight better than just about any place east of Missouri. Salem seemed a good bet. When the date arrived and climate turned into weather, it helped that we were in the middle of the driest, clearest summer anyone can remember.

Chuck it

As I asked people along the path if accommodations were available in their town or city, most of them noted that hotels don’t even book for more than a year in advance. In fact, I heard several funny stories about innkeepers befuddled by someone wanting to book a room five years ahead of time! Naturally, when I went online to look for reservations in Salem 13 months prior to the eclipse, everything was completely sold out. Some time later I stumbled across an available motel room in Lebanon, Oregon and snapped up the reservation. I got tickets to OMSI’s eclipse event at the fairgrounds in Salem, and I was ready to go.

Back in December I published a post and podcast interviewing Elaine Cuyler of Orbit Oregon, publisher of the kids’ book The Big Eclipse. Cuyler, a former marketing director for Eola Hills Winery near Salem, was putting together the Wine Country Eclipse festival at the Polk County Fairgrounds. She invited me to speak at the festival, complete with gratis lodging in a residence hall at nearby Western Oregon University in Monmouth. It seemed like a no-brainer, and I jumped at the chance. I cancelled my motel reservation and gladly stayed in the dorms at WOU (pronounced “woo”, according to the staff.)

So, after about 20 months of planning, I ended up doing something that was only finalized about two or three weeks ahead of the eclipse. As noted in my post about eclipse weekend, it couldn’t have worked out better.

Total solar eclipse, 2024

Eclipse map 2024

Map courtesy Michael Zeiler, GreatAmericanEclipse.com

If this year’s was “The Great American Eclipse,” then some are already dubbing the 2024 event “The Great North American Eclipse.” As you can see from the map at left, this one will first hit land in Mexico, swoop up through Texas, cross the path of the 2017 eclipse in Carbondale, Illinois, and zip northeast until it crosses Maine and the maritime provinces of Canada. Thanks to Micheal Zeiler of GreatAmericanEclipse.com for the map; Zeiler was one of our interview subjects, too! Check out our post and podcast.

So, where will you be in April 2024? I’ve been looking at Jay Anderson’s weather maps already, and it seems the best weather prospects will be in Mexico, but I’m leaning toward Texas right now. I’d try to make hotel reservations, but nobody books more than a year in advance. And some cool opportunity might turn up at the last minute.

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Gifts for the astronomy and eclipse buff on your list

Turkey day has come and gone, and we’ve started getting a few requests for gift ideas for astronomy enthusiasts. This year, in addition to the usual tips about books, gear, and gadgets, we’ll have a special section devoted to the total solar eclipse that will cross the United States on August 21, 2017.

Our advice doesn’t really change much from year to year. Check last year’s post Gifts for the astronomy enthusiast on your list, Gifts for the astronomy enthusiast from 2014, Picking a gift for the astronomy buff from 2013, and Choosing a gift telescope from 2012. Too busy to scrape around in the past? A few quick tips:

Visit the Seattle Astronomy Store. It’s packed with our favorite gear, books we’ve read from authors we’ve interviewed, cameras, gadgets, and accessories.

The best telescope

Smart-alecky astronomy types always say that the best telescope is the one that gets used. We tend to go with a Dobsonian reflector for outstanding bang for the telescope buck. Our personal model is the eight-inch Orion XT8 classic Dob. It’s nice on planets, super on deep-sky objects, but not so hot for photography, if that’s your thing. Dobsonians are pretty easy to set up and operate. For beginners, a good pair of astronomical binoculars can be a great tool for learning to find your way around the night sky. Get one that is at least 10×50—that’s ten times magnification and 50mm lenses. We have the Orion UltraView. Best yet, for great advice about how to choose the telescope that is right for your personal observing situation and interests, grab a copy of the classic The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide (Firefly Books, 2008) by Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer. It’s a great reference, offers fantastic advice, and makes a fine gift in and of itself. The guide helped me get started, many moons ago, and I still use it often.

Your local experts

Cloud Break OpticsCloud Break Optics set up shop in Ballard last year, and has a fantastic showroom full of astronomy gear. They have an online store, but why non pop in and do some hands-on shopping and take advantage of their expertise and advice. Check their website for some great holiday deals. Support your local small business!

Eclipse info and swag

Next summer’s total solar eclipse will be the first to touch the continental U.S. since 1979. It’s not too early to start getting ready. That means that eclipse-related items will be welcome for most everyone. Michael Zeiler’s website The Great American Eclipse has an outstanding store through which you can purchase his fantastic eclipse maps and posters, as well as shirts, caps, sun-oculars, and other eclipse items. Get a 10-percent discount through Monday, November 28 using the code SAVE10. (Check out our article and podcast with Zeiler from earlier this year.) Eclipse glasses or viewers would make the perfect stocking stuffer this year; find them at Zeiler’s site or at the Orbit Oregon store.

Orbit Oregon has just published a children’s book called The Big Eclipse, written and illustrated by Nancy Coffelt. It and an accompanying activity book are aimed at kids from ages five to 11. These would be perfect for getting the younger set interested in the eclipse, and in science in general. It’s the only such resource we’ve encountered geared toward kids. There are a number of other books out there. Zeiler penned See the Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017 (Great American Eclipse LLC, 2016). The book is packed with maps and information about the eclipse. We reviewed these two books earlier this month; watch for our upcoming article and podcast with Orbit Oregon’s Elaine Cuyler. In addition, Mr. Eclipse himself, Fred Espenak, has a number of eclipse books out, including Get Eclipsed: The Complete Guide to the American Eclipse (American Paper Optics, 2015) and several others shown below.

Eclipse posterAuthor, astronomer, artist, and night sky ambassador Tyler Nordgren has designed some fantastic travel posters about the eclipse, from generic nationwide posters to ones specific to some of the interesting viewing sites along the path of totality. You may have seen Nordgren’s travel posters for astronomy in National Parks and for visiting other places in the solar system. The eclipse posters are in a similar style, they’re a steal at $20 each, and they’re suitable for framing. Get them here.

Nordgren is a professor of astronomy at the University of Redlands. He was the keynote speaker at the 2014 annual banquet of the Seattle Astronomical Society.

AstroBox rocks

AstroBoxOur friend Sorin this year started a business called AstroBox; you can read the article we wrote about it in August. AstroBox is a quarterly subscription collection of cool and unique items based on a space theme. The theme for December is New Horizons: Discovering Pluto, and the box includes a cool Pluto t-shirt, a fine art print, an inflatable Pluto globe, mission patches, the AstroBox magazine filled with mission news and activities, and other goodies. Order here and use the coupon code PLUTOSA and you will get a nine-percent discount just for being a friend of Seattle Astronomy! (The coupon is good through November 30.) Plus, in the spirit of giving, for every subscription sold AstroBox will donate $1 to help restore the Pluto Discovery Telescope at Lowell Observatory. The winter AstroBox will ship in early December, so order soon!

More books

Here are a few of our other book picks for this year:

Tyler Nordgren’s new book Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets (Basic Books, 2016) is a delightful read. It is part travelog, part primer for the eclipse, but the best part is the history of eclipses and Nordgren’s thoughts about the development of scientific thinking. We’ve just finished it; watch for our full review soon. Nordgren will speak at Town Hall Seattle on January 14, 2017. Tickets are available online now.

Scientist Amanda Hendrix and writer Charles Wohlforth have surveyed the solar system in search of the best place for a human colony away from Earth. Their conclusion: Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, is the place to go if we have to leave the home planet. Titan has an atmosphere, suitable shielding from radiation, near limitless, cheap energy, and Earth-like features that the authors say makes it the best bet for colonization. They explain their choice in their book Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets (Pantheon, 2016). It explores the economics and ethics of a move off-planet as well. The pair spoke about Beyond Earth at Town Hall recently; check our recap.

Another author paid a visit to Town Hall this year; astronaut Chris Hadfield spoke about his book The Darkest Dark (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016), a volume aimed at children trying to overcome their fears. Hadfield himself was afraid off the dark as a little kid, which could have been detrimental to a career as an astronaut had he not overcome it. Hadfield is a most engaging and entertaining speaker. Our recap of Hadfield’s talk includes a link to a music video he created in support of the book.

Julian Guthrie penned How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight (Penguin Press, 2016), a book about the SpaceShipOne project that won the XPRIZE competition. The tale is an interesting one about the renegades and entrepreneurs who dreamed of getting to space without the help of the government. The book includes a preface by Richard Branson and an afterword by Stephen Hawking. It’s a thrilling tale of adventure and new space.

Happy astro-shopping!


Purchases made through links on Seattle Astronomy support our efforts to bring you interesting space and astronomy stories, and we thank you.

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Special cookies and two books about next year’s total solar eclipse

I’ve recently read two fantastic books about the total solar eclipse that will sweep across the United States on August 21, 2017. One is geared toward kids, while the other could be a useful tool for serious adult eclipse chasers.

The Big Eclipse (Orbit Oregon, 2016), written and illustrated by Nancy Coffelt, is a beautifully done 16-page book that children will love and easily understand. It’s a lighthearted and playful eclipse primer that explains what will happen and how to watch it safely, looks at odd effects of eclipses, shows how to make a pinhole projector, and has a glossary with meanings for all of those new words like totality and umbraphile. While aimed at children the book is not dumbed down, and it’s certified “astronomically accurate” by an eclipse expert at the American Astronomical Society.

Sold separately is The Big Eclipse Activity Book that supplements The Big Eclipse. It is packed with games, puzzles, art and imagination projects, and even has a recipe for “eclipse cookies” that you can make and serve at your total eclipse viewing party. It would be great for school projects, family fun and learning, or just for a kid who loves to read and figure things out solo. Grab both volumes; they’re perfect for kids around ages five to eleven.

We did an earlier article and podcast with Michael Zeiler, who along with his wife Polly White operates the dandy eclipse website GreatAmericanEclipse.com. Zeiler also has come out with a book, a compact 44-pager titled simply See the Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017 (Great American Eclipse LLC, 2016). The book is packed with maps and information, touching on the splendor and science of the event, safe viewing, best places to see the eclipse, strategies for success, and lots more maps. It’s super informative, and small enough to slip into your satchel or even a larger pocket and head out for some eclipse chasing.

As discussed in the podcast, Zeiler works hard to make his maps not only accurate and informative but visually pleasing. He dose marvelous work, and he has a selection of poster-size maps suitable for framing on the website.

Safety tools are included with both books. The Big Eclipse comes with a rectangular solar viewer, while a copy of See the Great American Eclipse will also get you a couple of pairs of eclipse glasses.

You can snag all three books by visiting the links above. Buying through Seattle Astronomy helps us defray the costs of bringing you great space and astronomy articles, and we thank you for that.

There’s more info and additional eclipse swag on the websites for Orbit Oregon and The Great American Eclipse.

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Mapping the 2017 total solar eclipse with Michael Zeiler

If you’ve been thinking about where to go to see the total solar eclipse that will cross the United States on August 21, 2017, you have more than likely come across the work of Michael Zeiler. Zeiler is the proprietor of the website Great American Eclipse.com. He has been an astronomy nut and eclipse chaser for many years, but just started making solar eclipse maps a few years ago.

Zeiler saw his first total solar eclipse from Baja, California in 1991 and was smitten.

Michael Zeiler

Michael Zeiler is the proprietor of the websites GreatAmericanEclipse.com and Eclipse-Maps.com. Photo: Eclipse-Maps.com

“It just was an amazing experience to see the eclipse hanging high in the sky with the blackest black you could see where the Moon is, and the shimmering corona, the most beautiful object in the sky that you never see in your life except for the few precious moments of totality,” Zeiler said.

“I was hooked from that point on,” he added.

Zeiler has used Fred Espenak’s eclipse maps ever since. In fact, back in 1991 he’d just purchased Espenak’s book Fifty Year Canon of Solar Eclipses, and noted the date of the 2017 eclipse 26 years in advance!

Making eclipse maps

Zeiler practically fell into the business of making eclipse maps back in 2009. He booked passage on a ship for a total solar eclipse in the Pacific Ocean in July of that year. The cruise advertised that it would sail to the point of greatest eclipse. He found that Espenak’s map didn’t have a key piece of information that he needed to know if that was true.

“For a land-based eclipse, it’s straightforward, because you see the road network, you see the cities and the roads and the other geographic features so that you can place yourself on the map,” Zeiler said. “But for an eclipse at sea, there’s no real geographic reference around you, so if you have a GPS receiver, what you really need is lines of latitude and longitude drawn on the map.”

gaeclipseZeiler, who works for the geographic information system software company Esri, decided to create it himself.

“I had the interest and the skill set so I made my own maps for this cruise,” he said. “I made a large map, laminated it, brought it on board the ship, taped it on one of the walls, and over a thousand eclipse chasers were on that cruise. That map was a smash hit.”

People encouraged him to make more, so he launched the website Eclipse-Maps.com late in 2009. The site became pretty popular. On May 20, 2012, the date of an annular solar eclipse visible from the American southwest, the site had a quarter million unique visitors and one million page views.

“I was stunned by that,” Zeiler said. “I didn’t expect that kind of response.”

It was at that moment that it struck him that the 2017 total solar eclipse was going to be huge. He snagged the URL GreatAmericanEclipse.com the very next day, launched the site, and has been working on it ever since.

“We constantly get emails or phone calls from people who are just jazzed about the eclipse and excited and wanting to learn more,” Zeiler said. “It’s a real thrill to participate in that.”

Vintage eclipse maps

Zeiler is a collector of vintage solar eclipse maps, and has images of some of them on the Eclipse-Maps website. His favorite era for eclipse mapping is the early 18th century, when the maps were not only gorgeous but amazingly accurate.

Casper eclipse map

Casper, Wyoming eclipse map courtesy GreatAmericanEclipse.com

“One of my key goals in making eclipse maps is to bring the artistry back into eclipse cartography, so I intentionally try and make the maps expressive, communicative, and just beautiful things to look at,” he said.

The man who has mapped the entirety of the 2017 total solar eclipse is headed to Casper, Wyoming as the starting point for his eclipse chase next summer. Zeiler said he considers three factors in making that decision: weather, mobility, and duration of the eclipse. He said the climate in Casper is good, and there are highways running east and west of town that pretty much hug the eclipse center line.

“All experienced eclipse chasers that I know are headed west for the weather, and we’re sacrificing ten or twenty seconds of maximum eclipse to get the great weather odds,” he said. The Astronomical League has chosen Casper for its annual conference in August for the same reasons. Catch our previous article and podcast about eclipse viewing in Casper.

Get eclipse stuff

GreatAmericanEclipse.com includes tons of information, maps, and a history of solar eclipses, plus a great selection of eclipse swag. You can buy your eclipse glasses there. Zeiler has also written a 44-page book, See the Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017, that aims to answer all the questions people might have about the eclipse. The book includes two pairs of eclipse glasses.

Zeiler does it all with excitement about sharing the eclipse with people.

“This will be the most fantastic astronomy event in decades for this country,” he said. “It’s going to create a new generation of people that appreciate the beauty and the majesty and the science of our universe, and many people will become newly formed eclipse chasers.”

Resources

Podcast of our conversation with Michael Zeiler:

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