Monday, October 27, 2014


Our daytime highs are still in the 90's, but the overnight lows have dropped into the mid-60's. Cooler temperatures bring the return of our winter resident snowbirds.

White-crowned Sparrows were the first to arrive, and have been here now for a couple of weeks.

This past weekend we saw a male Phainopepla perched in the top of one of our mesquite trees. We trimmed the trees recently, but were sure to leave some Mistletoe so the Phainopeplas would have the berries to eat.

We also heard Yellow-rumped Warblers over the weekend. And while driving to work this morning, I saw 2 flocks of Canada Geese flying by low overhead.

Our morning walks definitely have a different feeling now. It is much cooler, and we are out before sunrise. The calls of White-crowns and Yellow-rumps have added to the chorus of Mockingbirds and Bewick's Wrens we normally hear.

Fall has definitely arrived.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Viewing a Partial Solar Eclipse Indirectly (and SAFELY)

Safety is extremely important when viewing a partial solar eclipse.
NEVER look directly at a partially eclipsed sun without proper eye protection.
We have solar filters for our field scope, binos and our 10" Dobsonian.
But there are other ways to view an eclipse indirectly, without needing special equipment.

During the partial phases of a solar eclipse, you can see the sun's crescent shape in the dappled sunlight beneath leafy trees. The shape of the crescents corresponds to the shape of the solar disk at that particular moment. There was a little bit of a breeze during the partial eclipse today, so hundreds of little crescents were dancing in the shadows below the trees.

You can also create crescents by holding your fingers overlapped in a criss-cross to create a tic-tac-toe patterned shadow. It takes a little "focusing", moving nearer or further from a light colored surface, to get the crescents to appear.

A loose weave straw hat will also cast hundreds of tiny crescents in its shadow. Again, you can play with angle and distance from a white surface to get maximum effect.

Use a pin to punch a small hole in a 3X5" notecard. Hold the card so the light coming through the pinhole is projected onto a flat white surface. You will see the crescent shape of the sun in the projected light.

Partial Solar Eclipse - 23 Oct 2014

Today there was a partial solar eclipse, which was visible throughout most of North America.

It occurred during the work day, so we brought our field scope and solar filter to the office, and set it up out behind the shop.

We had nice clear skies, and about 12 of our work neighbors joined us to (safely) view the event.

During a solar eclipse the moon passes between the earth and the sun. It may block part, most or all of the sun's disk.

For this partial solar eclipse, about 30% of the sun was covered by the moon at maximum.

Here near Palm Springs, CA the moon took the first bite out of the sun around 2:15pm, max coverage was about  3:30pm, and sun returned to normal by 4:40pm.

The solar filter on the scope gave us excellent views. Numerous sunspots were visible on the sun's surface, including a huge grouping near the lower central equatorial region (not visible in these images).

At 25 power the moon's black edge looked slightly uneven, due to geological features on the lunar surface such as mountains, valleys and crater rims.

Want to know when the next solar eclipse will be visible from your area?
Use this nifty web tool on the NASA web site.
It lists locations world-wide and covers years from 1500 BC to 3000 AD.
Just in case you need to know...

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Another Lunar Eclipse

We got up at ~3:30am this morning to see the total lunar eclipse.

The moon was already in its total phase when we got outside to observe.

We took some pics using our Digital-Camera-Hand-Held-to-Field-Scope-Eyepiece technique.

As the earth's shadow slowly moved across the moon's face, the bright lunar surface gradually reappeared.