Total solar eclipse Indonesia – Sulawesi tour

It’s may be a long winter night outside if you are reading this page from Europe or America, but remember that the sun is already up in Indonesia! In less than three months it will be the place of the biggest natural spectacle – the total eclipse of the Sun.
For the Astrosafari team, it is going to be the third eclipse chase, after the successful trips to Kenya and Svalbard. We are pleased to announce available places in a group for the late birds!

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The most recent total solar eclipse in the Pacific – November 2012, near Cairns, Australia. It may look similar now in Indonesia, however the Sun will be more than twice as high in the morning skies.

 

The tour will start from Makassar, Southern Sulawesi and include an overland trip north, towards Lake Poso. The ultimate location for the eclipse chasing expedition will be defined according to the most recent weather forecast for the March 9th – among the potential observing sites there are Palu, Ampana, Luwuk. During the following days we’ll visit the nearby Togian Islands, an archipelago in the Molucca Sea, famous for its world-class sealife & diving. Afterwards, we will reach Manado, North Sulawesi, where the tour ends and you can fly back to Makassar or Jakarta.

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Snapshot from a past Astrosafari trip. Roaming amidst the tea-covered hills of western Kenya, four days prior to the eclipse.

Dates: March 5-17, 2016 (add a day or two to prevent air delays). Individual extensions are possible on both sides.
Hubs: Makassar (start), Manado (end point)
Accommodation: Budget to medium-class, bed&breakfast, twin room sharing (please inquire for single supplement)
Transportation: as on the picture above

Limited availability

Why Indonesia?
The path of the eclipse doesn’t make landfall in any other country this time. So unless you are on a luxury cruise ship in the Pacific, you will have no other choice but to visit this huge equatorial country with thousands of paradise-looking islands. Some travelers may also like the idea of combining this trip with an extended holiday on Bali or Jawa.

kadidiri

About the weather
Equatorial weather is never stable, and so March isn’t dry season either. Yet, Island of Sulawesi has significantly better chances of sunny weather than the jungle of Sumatra or Kalimantan. While we can never guarantee the weather conditions and this is spoken clearly, still we posess a specific experience in analysing the climate data, predicting the best location under the current conditions and a desire to get as much as possible out of it. You may have a look at the satellite imagery yourself: there still might be a plenty of sun within the rainy season.

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Eclipse path overlayed on the satellite image from March 10, 2015. All the potential viewing sites had mostly clear skies this day

How to reach Makassar?
Formerly known as Udjung Padang, this rapidly growing city is located 1400km east of Indonesian capital, Jakarta and 1800km southeast of Singapore, which is less than 3 hours by air.
There are regular flights from Jakarta, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, which are easy to connect with your international flight. Adventurous persons may also consider a ferry from Jawa Island, but please don’t be late.
For the depature airport, Manado, there are direct flights to Jakarta and Singapore, as well as an option to connect via Makassar.

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Please don’t forget
to take with you a special solar filter or film, those might be very difficult to purchase upon arrival. (For the astronony part). And perhaps your snorkelling/diving equipment as well – obvious, isn’t it? But we had this case while chasing comets / scouting for meteorites in Egypt – good that the Red Sea resorts sell at least something.

Maybe next time?
Sure thing. But it will be USA, more particularly between the Great Plains and the Cascade Range. No coconuts and stuff.

Daytime occultation of Venus

Venus shortly after the daytime lunar occultation in the United States. (it was visible across all North America on December 7th)

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By Stephen W. Ramsden, Atlanta

The telescopic view must have been pleasant. Note what a difference albedo makes!

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by Kevin Jung

Visibility area of this occultation (between the blue ellipses). In Alaska and the Canadian northwest, it was on a dark sky.
occult-venus

 

 

The winter comet Catalina (C/2013 US10)

Comet C/2013 US10 (Catalina) has emerged from the solar conjunction about two weeks ago, and now starts being visible in the Northern Hemishpere, in the wee hours before the dawn.

Currently, during the first decade of December, one can spot it in Virgo, not far from Venus. The comet is reported to be as bright as 6th magnitude (easy object for a good pair of binoculars) and has developed quite fascinating two tails, as you may see from the following photo

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by Akihiro Yamazaki, Yamanashi, Japan. Dec.04 20:05UT (36x30sec)

This guest from the outer Solar System will be still here for the remainder of winter, as the closest approach to Earth is in mid-January. It will cease being a well-placed object for the observers in the Southern Hemisphere, yet the viewing conditions will only improve in the north over the next month, as the comet will move northwards across Boötes and Canes Venatici.

On the New Year’s night the comet Catalina will pass within 0.5° from one of the brightest stars, Arcturus. And later in January it will pass near the star η of the Big Dipper and move towards Polaris.

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Visible path (Northern Hemisphere) of comet C/2013 US10 (Catalina)

Tanzanian annular eclipse: 13 months countdown

Two exciting events are coming soon, in 2016. One of them, the total solar eclipse in the Pacific & Indonesia is due next March, more details on it are to be disclosed within a short time.

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Annular eclipse of 2016 in Tanzania. Map courtesy of Xavier Jubier.

Another is the annular solar eclipse of September 1st in the Southeast Africa. Still being quite a time ahead, Astrosafari is departing to
Tanzania for a scouting trip. Locations within the central path, road conditions, local sights, pitfalls and, of course, weather patterns are to be studied closer. Hopefully, the latter doesn’t pose a serious threat, as May through early September is a dry season in the East Africa, even more pronounced in the southwestern part of Tanzania.

What does the Full Moon say tonight?

– Get off the sofa and pack your luggage for the eclipse!

Now as we have passed the 2 weeks beacon on the countdown and the weekend approaches there couldn’t be any better time to get prepared.

Full Moon tonight at midnight, from latitude 50°N

Full Moon at midnight, from latitude 50°N

What is interesting here tonight in this photo snap is that I could imagine the Sun instead of a Moon in the very same frame, not without a reason: their virtual positions accurately* match, owing to a fun set of coincidences:
• The eclipse will occure on the equinox day. This implies, its declination will be 0° (crossing the celestial equator);
• The position of the Full Moon is antipodal to the position of the New Moon (=eclipsed Sun). So its declination is also 0° but R.A. is +12h.
• In East Europe (ca. 30-35°E) the mid-eclipse occures at local noon. Likewise, that moment marks the highest altitude of the Sun on that… on the equinox day, that equals 90°-φ. In simple words, the distance between the eclipsed Sun and the horizon in degrees will be equal to the distance between you and the North Pole. For instance,
in Moscow: Sun altitude 33°, latitude 56° (=90-33);
in Svalbard: Sun altitude 11°, latitude 78° (≈90-11);

*with an accuracy of 3° in declination/altitude, which is usually negligible in general planning.

A European eclipse: Where to go?

2010 Total solar eclipse in El Calafate, Argentina by Janne Pyykkö, spaceweather.com

Some 2,5 months remain until a remarkable solar eclipse to occure in Europe. Indeed it has been a long break, as the last one visible all across Europe was the January 2011 one. (link to follow). Though most are probably just happy to see such an event on astronomical calender for their home location, it becomes more complicated when it gets into eclipse chasing. As I appreciate the excelsior approach to this hobby (spotting the largest possible phase along with the presumably best viewing & weather conditions), my focus in this article is on the such locations that might be offering the best chances to see the Sun on March 20th. Limited to the reasonable effort to reach those.

Total solar eclipse will take place in the Arctic seas, thus (so unfortunately) not touching the European mainland. March isn’t the best season in the North Atlantic eather. Although the totality path near-misses the coast of Ísland (partial phase as much as 99.3% in the east coast, near Djúpivogur), the only land to see the total eclipse are the archipelagoes of Føroyar and Svalbard. Both being dependencies of the European kingdoms, Denmark and Norway, respectively, both territories outside of EU / Schengen Area, yet are usually easy to reach with regular airflights. Svalbard bodes statistically higher percentage of clear skies due to the proximity to the cold Arctic anticyclonic air masses, and Føroyar appear to have spontaneously changing weather conditions, it could be anywhere between overcast, foggy or mostly clear. But what’s wrong with it? Regardless of how much enduring or appealing these destinations seem to you, there is a bigger problem emerging from the unexpected side — human factor. The anticipated ratio of eclipse chasers to the local population and tourist facilities is oustanding. Which causes prices to rocket and availability to evanesce. In fact, you shouldn’t be reading this paragraph but considering to book your tour well prior to 2014, more than a year in advance. Paradoxally, the geographically nearest eclipse chase may turn out to be the toughest one out of the many adjacent years.

However, hold on with discontentment, there are good news too. A partial eclipse will be visible all across Europe, with maximum magnitudes ranging from 96% in Scotland and mainland Norway to some 40% in the Ægæan Sea. And not just limited to Europe, but covering also vast areas in Northwest Africa, the Middle East and Central-Northern Asia.2015_Stereographic_MagnitudeSo to specify the preferable location, I would suggest four different plans. A to D consequetively, it gets easier to reach but you see less of the eclipse. Needs to be noticed, however, that Plan A is an ‘all-in’ option, the difference between the others is less dramatic.

A. Longyearbyen, Svalbardlongyearbyen

It worth going that far north, past 78° latitude, to catch a glimpse of the total eclipse, 2 minute 20 second long. An island of Spitsbergen, the largest and the only inhabited of Svalbard Archipelago can only be reached via mainland Norway. Commercial flights are available from Oslo-Gardermoen (2020km or almost 3 hours) and to some extent Tromsø; traveling by sea may not be a good idea in winter. Furthermore, there is an only one international airport in the area, Longyearbyen, a facility located 5km away from the town of Longyear, itself the only reasonably large settlement in Spitsbergen. Provided you have already cared about your accomodation options, there are few things to worry about. Once you have landed in Longyearbyen, you are deep into the totality path and moving somewhere else makes little sense. Natural sightseeing tours may be an option depending on your time frame. Weather is more or less stable, although in case of a snow storm rolling in, it cannot be avoided since there are practically no road on the island and helicopter flights aren’t normally sanctioned for tourist purpose. The fact to consider is the shadow of the nearby hills over the [some areas of the] town which may effectively obstruct the Sun due to its low altitude (11°). Last but not least, Spitsbergen is a wilderness zone, so there is a danger of encountering a polar bear which is not as fun as it may seem. Because of that, it is highly unrecommended to go anywhere beyond the urban area of Longyearbyen unless you have a proper firearm or a guide. Basically, stick to the groups of people, as there are supposed to be many of them!

Summary for Longyearbyen. A remote yet fascinating destination, capable of providing a unique chance to see the eclipsed Sun in the high Arctic. An enduring trip, priced high to very high, and anyway requiring a thourough planning. Weather to expect: -15 to -25°C if clear.

luleaB. Luleå, Sverige

Speaking of a partial eclipse, once again in winter (it is true in March), Northern Scandinavia offers good enough weather chances, as the local anticyclon prevail. Eclipse magnitude is very high, although partial, over 90% (93% in Kiruna, 95% in Tromsø) and the Sun’s altitude just over 20°, which all in combination with pristine boreal landscapes may result in a spectacular scene.
Luleå may be easily reached by air from Stockholm-Arlanda (1,5h) or by road however it would take a whole daytime (10-12h) driving the distance of 900km. Alternatively, there are other destinations in the vicinity, noticeably northwards, such as Kiruna, Sweden or Sodankylä, Suomi, both roughly equidistant at some 4-5 hours driving distance.
Temperatures in Luleå are more likely to be slightly below zero, but may drop as well to -10…-15°C. Will certainly go colder if you move further north/inland, away from the Bay of Bothnia.
Highlight: Location and timing are also perfect for chasing auroræ, as the nights are still over 10 hours long. Consider staying at least a few days in the area.

C. Hamburg, Deutschland
hamburg

While it does may sound predetermined, it is not, in other words, I would like to say such a location can be anywhere from Brest to København. The eclipse magnitude is quite high, around 83% and the Sun would be at a moderate altitude of 30°. The weather is more tricky than far north, as the vernal rainy fronts from the Atlantic sweep across the Western Europe. But a significant benefit for travelers is a reduced cost of a trip, a huge gain in mobility, and after all, so many people consider such a trip domestic.
Having briefly analysed the weather patterns, I can humbly assume the following: the weather situation in the Western Europe (sans Iberian Peninsula) may be described as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
Former describes a predominantly fair weather over the subject area (although not necessarily being explicitly anticyclonical), with some lands being clear and others not. Depending on the short-term weather forecast, one may consider driving towards a sunnier area. On some days it was Belgium / northern France, on some days it was central-southern Germany, or even Czech Republic ― from Hamburg all these lands are approximately equidistant and reached in a matter of 5-8 hours, maximum a half-day. Surprisingly, Alps may be a good diverse idea. However the nearby lands, namely, the Netherlands, Niedersachsen, Schleswig-Holstein should better be avoided as there is a risk of low clouds / fog rolling in from the cold North Sea at almost any time.
It can happen that the weather is worse at a larger scale e.g. a cyclone right over Germany. In such case, the preferable directions may turn out to be the very opposite. Coastal areas of Denmark and the Netherlands get a breeze which blow the clouds away inland. England may also ocassionally get large clear gaps. And somehow, when the forecast is pathetic at many locations, southern Sweden gets only scattered clouds, what due to the lake effect may even result in a mostly clear conditions.

Summary on Western Europe. Average early spring weather is daily 5…10°C, and highly unstable cloud cover averaging 70-80%. Good attention must be paid to the weather forecast, a day or two in advance and the site selection to be made accordingly to it (if desired).

D. Valladolid, Españavalladolid  

Despite Spain enjoys a more southern geographical position it is still not that far away from the eclipse centreline in the North Atlantic, so it results in around 75% magnitudes of the partial eclipse as, for instance, in Valladolid, which is northwest of Madrid but still well enough inland to prevent cloud influx from the ocean. The benefit is that Spain gets, on average, noticeably lesser cloud amount in March, ca. 55% which means, especially if you are able to drive a few hours away, fairly good chances to see the late morning eclipse. Temperatures would probably be a modest to Mediterranean 10…15°C yet still quite pleasurable conditions against those lucky chaps who will be freezing their noses in the ice-reigned Spitsbergen.
Hint. Same areas, I mean Spain and especially its northwest (Galicia, Asturias) would be in a global focus of interest in 11 years, during the total solar eclipse of August 12, 2026. While most of its totality path will stretch across the high Arctic (North Pole, Greenland, a bit of Ísland), Spain would become an only place worldwide to observe it in a favourable, cloudless, warm and easy-to-reach circumstances. Go on, get yourself familiar with an area an plan in advance.

Comet’s rendez-vous with Mars

Comet_ISON_Oct_08_2013

Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) to pass at extremely close distance (135,000 km) to Mars on 19 October 2014. From our planet, this celestial encounter will be best visible from equatorial latitudes. AstroSafari sets off an expedition to Zanzibar, where the ocean breeze provides clear skies. During a week at one of the world’s finest beaches we will be able to observe as comet approaches the Red planet every night.