Astronomy at a Time of Pandemic

Since the outbreak of a new respiratory disease was first reported from Wuhan on 31 December 2019 the world has been beset with the effects of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Everyone is now regrouping, and if you have any concern at all for other people, you are taking on the social distancing model, restricting your voluntary travel, and following all the recommendations about sanitation, hand-washing, and keeping in touch with others who may have a hard time staying in for a while.

I can only extend my very best wishes to you in this difficult time, and hope that you are able to see this as an opportunity to regroup, look at everything afresh, and embrace positivity in this very difficult time.

As we are being encouraged to take things easy and stay inside, a bit of positive news is that it’s possible to do some interesting astronomy – and always learn more – on-line. In terms of connectivity we’ve never been in better shape to weather this storm by using the information tools now available.

In the coming weeks I will be looking into astronomy from the kitchen table once again. While our physical site on the shore of Lake Huron south of Kincardine remains closed up for the cold weather, Pine River Observatory will be working on what a “virtual observatory” can do.

Andrea 20200321 Lurgan Beach 2

The Ontario shore of Lake Huron looks west-north-west at Lurgan Beach, the site of Pine River Observatory’s physical base of operation. As of 21 March 2020 it’s still a pretty cold place! Photo by Andrea Becker of Toronto, ON.


Long Time, No Posts

I suppose it’s not really news to anyone, but I haven’t posted in a while. Too many reasons to try to explain it. I thought though that a note of acknowledgement was long over due. This blog has been by no means forgotten. To bring it back to life I need to do some homework. Stay tuned. Or not. Happy New Year!

A Visit to Meteor Crater

Five years ago today I visited one of the most spectacular landscapes on earth. It was the first crater on the surface of the earth unequivocally linked to an asteroid impact, and it’s billed as the best-preserved, too. And it’s big. Approximately 800 meters across. And it’s fairly old on our terms – about 50,000 years.

Located in north-central Arizona, Meteor Crater, also known as the Barringer Crater, was on my list of “like to sees” during a recent trip to the Canyon State. Another of my trip targets was the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, and the crater is just an hour’s drive further east.

Craters like this, or astroblemes, are tangible reminders that Earth is just one body in our solar system. We are shielded by our amazing atmosphere, but still susceptible to chance encounters with our fellow travellers.

I took many photos but have not yet put together a decent set for the blog.

The scale of the crater is evident on the drive to the visitor centre, perched high on the rim.

The scale of the crater is evident on the drive to the visitor centre, perched high on the rim, on the outside.

For more information on the Barringer Crater, visit their web site at:

Copyright © 2013 David Allan Galbraith


Updates on Pine River Observatory

The summer of 2018 is, and I realize I haven’t gotten many things posted to the blog for a long time. This has been a busy year, and I do intend to provide additional updates. In particular I need to post the results from last year’s expedition to Missouri to watch the 2017 Solar Eclipse. So have faith! This site is not abandoned. It just has to occupy a low priority for the time being.

Preparing to Photograph the 21 August 2017 Solar Eclipse? Practice, Practice, Practice

If you’re going to try to photograph the solar eclipse on 21 August, practice what you want to try out. Totality will last less than three minutes at best. You just have one shot.

I’ve been practicing and preparing for Monday’s solar eclipse by going over my equipment, trying photographic methods, and thinking what it is I’m really trying to do in seeing this event.

First and foremost, I want to experience the eclipse, not spend those few precious minutes fiddling with gear only to realize later that I missed the whole show. That means planning what I will and will not do, in detail.

I’m planning on setting up one camera on a tripod to take a series of wide angle shots that can be stacked afterward to make a composite image. This must be set up with a solar filter that can be popped off at the beginning of totality and then on again at the end. The good thing is that with that camera running on its own intervalometer it’s pretty much a hands off process.

A practice run of solar images captured with a dSLR running on internal intervalometer with a brown plastic solar filter. The sun covers its own diameter in the sky in about 2 minutes. This image is cropped from a larger composite lasting a fee hours. It represents about 50 minutes of the sun’s movement through the sky.

My most complex set-up will be a 125 mm Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope equipped with a mylar solar filter, set up on my old black EQ4 mount for viewing, twinned with a dSLR with 500 mm telephoto lens for detailed coronal photos at totality. I’ve been working out the basic details of exposure times this week.

A telescope equipped with a mylar solar filter twinned with a dSLR camera and a 150-500 mm telephoto lens, also behind a mylar filter. This setup will not follow the sun with accuracy: it will have to be corrected manually throughout the eclipse.

I’ll also have a video camera set on wide angle to record the overall setting. My fourth camera will be a “general purpose” dSLR to take photos of the event and my colleagues as it unfolds.

The main thing is to be able to set things up efficiently and then paying attention to the timing of the event. One key manipulation is to pop solar filters off of cameras during totality. I’m creating a checklist to keep my intended processes working minute by minute, with time built in to take the whole thing in.

Practice, practice, practice!

The Eclipse of 2017: One Week To Go!

Will the total solar eclipse of 21 August 2017, which will transit across the continental USA, live up to the hype? The eclipse will also be visible as a partial eclipse from pretty much all of Canada and Mexico.

I've already seen that some writers are expecting the eclipse to be the most-photographed event in history (at least far). I'm planning on seeing the eclipse first hand, as are many other astronomy fans and photographers. My contacts near our planned main observing site are worrying about the traffic. Stores specializing in astronomy gear are selling out of excise viewers.

Whether or not the event – compounded by human interest – lives up to it all depends on the weather too. Right now I'm hopeful it will cooperate. Long-range forecasts (always to be taken with a grain of salt) show a sunny day expected on the 21st at my planned observing site. Just in case, though, I do have a backup site thanks to the suggestions of friends in the area.

In the mean time, many people planning on attending the eclipse in its totality are practicing their photographic methods. I've been preparing by running a series of tests of interval exposures with wide-angle lenses. Shot through solar filters, these photos are then stacked together to create a single image showing the track of the sun through the sky.

Above, a Nikon D800 dSLR on a sturdy tripod with a wide angle lens and a solar filter, set up to take photos every 30 seconds. The sun moves through the sky at a rate of about 15 degrees per hour. At a diameter of about 30 arc-minutes this means that the sun shifts by its own diameter every two minutes.

I've also been running through other equipment options, such as whether I should try to set up a telescope and motorized mount to follow the sun. Given the travel distance and the practicalities of carting around heavy gear, I'm now planning to minimize the kit and maximize the experience, but also be equipped to take some interesting snaps.

On to more mundane things today though, like having a plumber over this morning to replace some old plastic water lines that are now prone to leak.

Getting Ready for the Eclipse? Free Viewers in SkyNews!

Kudos to SkyNews, Canada's astronomy magazine! In specially-marked copies of the current issue (on shelves right now) they're giving away free eclipse viewing glasses. Look for the yellow sticker on the top right of the cover for a copy with the insert. Eclipse viewers are hard to find already. Even KW Telescope on Manitou Drive in Kitchener have told me they've sold out and are expecting more shortly.

You should be able to find SkyNews in Chapters, Indigo, and other shops with large magazine racks – until they sell out too!

Also, there's a photo of mine on page 14 🙂 (the Nov 2016 moonrise sequence).