Geminids 2017 – updates

I just came back from Koratagere after watching the Geminid meteor showers. What an awesome night it was!

We reached the place quite late by 11pm. The sky was completely clear. This place is a usual adda for us for Astrophotography. The show had already begun. As soon as we reached, we started seeing meteors in every direction. Every minute, we would see at least one meteor. Around midnight, we saw a huge fireball. It started at zenith and extended till Western horizon. It broke into many smaller pieces as it burned and left a smoke trail that lasted a few seconds. Just after that, we saw several big meteors. One of them got captured in the image below. Totally, we saw more than 100 meteors that night.

The second image in this blog post is rather strange. The object in the image is curved. I don’t know whether it is a strange meteor or a firefly… The debate is still on… If you have any ideas about the image, please comment on this post.


Geminid meteor shower 2017

If you have gone camping to a location with no lights and if you have stared at the sky, you might have seen shooting stars. Shooting stars are objects in the sky that appear out of nowhere, move very fast in the sky and then disappear… The scientific name for these is meteors. Meteors are sand grain sized particles in space which get attracted by the earth’s gravitational force, enter the atmosphere and burn due to friction with air…

On certain nights, you can see tens or even hundreds of meteors. These are called meteor showers. Although the meteors can be seen all around the sky, if you trace back the direction of the meteors, they would seem to originate from a point in the sky. The meteor showers are named based on these origin points.

The best meteor showers are Perseids and Geminids. Perseids occur in Aug which is the peak rainy season in India. But Geminid meteor showers occur in December giving us a very good chance to see the meteors in hundreds. On a particular Geminid night in 2011, I saw over 300 meteors. Every other minute, we would see a meteor. Some of them would burn in the sky for over 5 seconds. Some of them would leave smoke trails behind. Some of them would appear distinctly yellow or green. If for every shooting star, you got one wish, you would run out of wishes in no time!

Geminids, as the name suggests, appear to originate from the constellation of Gemini. The origin point is called the radiant. The Geminids are caused by an object called 3200 Phaethon, which leaves behind a debris of small particles as it moves around the sun. When the earth mives through this trail of particles, they get attracted by earth’s gravity, accelerate in earth’s atmosphere and disintegrate at the height of about 38km in the atmosphere.

This year, the Geminids can be seen on Dec13th and Dec 14th nights. To see the meteor showers, you need to be in a dark location like a village away from city light, sit on an easy chair or sleep on the ground and enjoy the show. Don’t forget to carry warm clothing and your favorite snack. If you want to photograph Geminids, get the widest and fastest lens you have, point the camera at the sky and click a lot of long exposures. If you are lucky, the meteors will register in some of the photographs.

The image below was captured in 2011 with a canon 450D and tokina 11-16 lens. I clicked about 200 long exposure images. Out of them, 20 images had registered meteors. I stacked all 20 of them and I got this image. Observe that all the meteors (except one) look like they are radiating from a single point close to the stars Castor and Pollux close the bottom center of the image.

Super moon of 2017 Dec

On Dec 1st, I got a call a call from a journalist. She asked me what I thought about Super Moon and whether I was excited about it. At that time, I was actually depressed that, even though it is December, we were yet to see the clear skies. The Ockhi cyclone had brought more clouds and rain to Bangalore.

But on the day of the super moon, miraculously the weather cleared and I was able to click a few photos.

Here is the image of the moon and the article published in the article. The star trail image in the article was also clicked by me in Ladakh.


Orionid Meteor Shower of 2017

If you are active on FB, you might have seen the alert on Orionids meteor shower. I went with 2 of my friends on 21st Oct night to see Orionids. Between 2AM and 4:30AM, we saw more than 30 meteors. All this time, my camera was looking at the sky clicking photos hoping to capture some of the meteors.
The next day, I scoured through hundreds of images and found meteors in 3 images. I combined these three images into one.
What are meteors? Many people might know meteors by the name “shooting stars”. On any dark and clear night, you can see at least a few shooting stars. Meteor showers are special days when you can see tens or hundreds of meteors in one night!
So what exactly are meteors? Meteors are sand-grain sized particles floating in space. Once in a while, they get attracted by earth’s gravity and fall towards the earth. But due to the friction with the earth’s atmosphere, they burn producing heat and light for a short period of time (a fraction of a second to couple of seconds). To the humans of the earth, they look like shooting stars.
What is the reason for meteor showers? Meteor showers are caused when earth passes through the debris left over by comets. When a comet comes close to the sun, the solar radiation melts the comet and pushes the comet’s material away from it. That’s how a comet develops a tail. Most of this tail is left behind by the comet as it revolves around the sun and goes back home. This left over debris will have dust particles of varying sizes.
As the earth continues its annual journey around the sun, on certain days of the year, it passes through the debris left over by the comets, attracts thousands of particles in the debris, which burn in the atmosphere as shooting stars.
The Orionids Meteor Shower is caused by the debris left behind by the famous comet Halley.
If you missed this opportunity, don’t worry. There are Leonids in Nov and Geminids in Dec. Geminids are my favorite. I have counted more than 200 meteors in a single night during Geminids.



The Solar Eclipse experience

Eclipse Day Part 4:
To assist me to view the eclipse, I used an app called “Solar Eclipse Timer”. This app gave voice alerts during the eclipse. As the totality approached, the app announced “10 minutes to totality. Observe temperature change. Observe changes in animal behavior”.
By this time, the temperature had fallen quite a bit. The light was reducing. Through the eclipse glass, the sun was a thin crescent.
Suddenly we spotted a lone bird flying towards its nest. I thought it could be a coincidence. Then three birds flew in the same direction. Then, another 20 of them flew in the same direction. This was no coincidence. They were definitely going back to their nests thinking it’s nightfall. I tried to click a pic, but I had forgotten to change the exposure settings of the camera. The chirping sounds of the crickets grew higher. The automatic lamps on the road side turned on.
The app announced “3 minutes to totality. Observe shadow bands”. We quickly laid out a white towel on the grass to observe shadow bands. We dint see anything. Are shadow bands a myth? An English astronomer of 19th century wrote in his diary “As the totality approached, a strange fluctuation of light was seen upon the walls and the ground, so striking that in some places children ran after it and tried to catch it with their hands”.
Some historical references describe it as “thousands of snakes moving on the ground”.
The reason for shadow bands is not well known. The simplest explanation is that they are produced due to the atmospheric turbulence.
60 seconds to totality. The excitement was building. Suddenly, we see the shadow bands. On the white towel, they looked like moving waves of light/shadow. It looked like the light patterns you see on a swimming pool floor. Time to look up at the sky. We saw Venus shining high in the west sky. Through the glasses, the thin crescent of the sun was vanishing.
10 seconds to totality. Remove the solar filter from the camera. Glasses off. Behold the diamond ring. The corona was all around the sun. Only a tiny part of the sun’s disk was visible at the edge creating the “diamond ring effect”. Within seconds, the diamond ring broke into multiple “bailey’s beads”, then the pink Chromosphere was visible and then, all of a sudden, it was dark. The transition from light to dark was so sudden, it was surprising…
Jupiter, Venus, Regulus were easily visible. It was (approximately) as dark as 30 minutes after sunset. The sky was light grey. In the middle of all these, there it was, this unbelievable thing in the sky. A perfect black circle in the sky surrounded by the magnificent corona. As the eye adjusted to the darkness of the sky, the corona seemed to grow bigger. I quickly clicked a few pics and looked at the corona through the lens to get a magnified view. The flares around the sun were visible. The coronal structures were also visible. Back to naked eye. I was really surprised at how big the corona was to the naked eye.
Time was running out. The app urged me to look at the horizon. The horizon was orangish all around as if the sun had set all around us. Some more birds were still flying back home. The crickets were chirping in unison.
Back to the sun. The corona was magnificent. It had three prongs. The longest prong appeared to extend up to 3 solar diameters. And in no time, the totality came to an end. Click click click. A few more pics as the diamond ring emerged. The C3 diamond ring was quite amazing. The sun looked like a ring of molten metal. Within no time, it was day again. Glasses on. Lens Filters on… And the show was over…
As I came back to my senses, I realized that the camera that was taking the video had fallen down… I had forgotten to click wide angle images and so on… But I’m happy that I enjoyed the event to the fullest and have a distinct memory of every moment. Unlike the 2010 annular eclipse, where I was so busy photographing, that I don’t even remember seeing the annular phase…

Some people may question my decision to remove the glasses before the start of totality (during diamond ring phase). After all, we see so many warnings about not to look directly at the sun without proper protection. Although those concerns are valid, I believe a short exposure to the sun does not affect vision. Refer to this paper…/170819-AAS-Chou-Solar….

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Solar Eclipse and the pin hole camera effect

Eclipse day part 3:
I dint have any big plans for the eclipse. Although I carried my cameras and tripod, my first priority was seeing the totality and may be click one or two photos.
There are many things that happen during an eclipse.
The first contact (c1) is when the partial phase begins. Observing c1 is really fun…
The sun had many active sunspots. 2 new sunspot had emerged which I had not seen the previous day.
I had the NASA approved eclipse goggles for viewing and baader film for photography. It is very important to keep the eyes and equipment safe when shooting the sun.
During the partial phase, I observed the moon slowly covering the sun‌, the sunspots disappearing one after another…
After 50% eclipse, I could feel the change in temperature. Before the start of the eclipse, I was sweating and it was hard to stand in the sun. But now, it was cooler.
At this time, I personally could not feel the difference in light.
But now, we could see the pin hole camera effect under the trees. You see, the gaps between the leaves of the tree act like pin hole cameras and project the crescent shape of the sun on the ground….

Solar Eclipse as seen by our ancestors

Eclipse day part 2:
After watching the eclipse, now I totally understand why our ancestors freaked out when they saw an eclipse.
Imagine living 500 years ago. On a beautiful sunny day, a farmer is minding his own business farming the land. Little does he know that there is an eclipse happening over his head.
Gradually, the light is fading. He looks up, the sun is too bright still… He cannot make out that the sun is eclipsed. There are no clouds. The temperature is decreasing. After some time, the birds start flying back in big flocks. The crickets start chirping… He looks up, the sun is still too bright to see. The light is getting dimmer. Suddenly, he sees bands of shadows moving like hundreds of serpents on the ground. He is scared. What on earth is happening?
Within a minute, suddenly, it’s completely dark. No shadows, no blue skies…
The stars are visible in the sky. What happened to the sun??? He lifts his head and there it is. A pitch black hole in the sky where the sun should have been. It is surrounded by a big halo… The sky sound him isn’t completely dark. All around him, near the horizon, he can see the orange hue as if the sun just set in all directions… But right above his head, there is this black thing where the sun was just moments ago…
What happened to the sun!!! Did it get eaten by demons? Oh god, please have mercy on us… He must have really freaked out….
Thankfully, within minutes, the sun came out, the confused birds and animals went back to their own routine… All was well…


The great American Eclipse – 2017

Eclipse day part 1:
On Aug 21st 2017, I witnessed the greatest celestial event, a total solar eclipse. I have seen many eclipses in the past. A partial eclipse in 2009, an annular eclipse in 2010, multiple penumbral, partial and total lunar eclipses. Also I have observed the transits of Venus and Mercury.
These are certainly rare events. The next transit of Venus will be in the next century! They are all very exciting and I have loved each one of them. But the TSE is a totally different beast.
If I could rate the eclipses on a scale of 1 to 10 (partial eclipse being a 4 and annular eclipse being an 8 and all other events somewhere in between), I would rate the total solar eclipse as 1000000…
No photo, no video can do justice to the wonder that a total eclipse is…