Monday, October 15, 2012

Eclipse 2012 - orchestrating the event

Even if it is possible to avoid clouds, even if it is possible to haul a capable astrophotographic setup halfway around the globe and still have it functioning at the right moment - would I even want to operate it? In order to take exposures and continuously change camera settings I would be an operator of technical equipment, trying hard to keep cool and focused on the task. I would not be able to personally - physically - immerse myself in the experience. Anyone who has ever witnessed a total solar eclipse knows that missing out on the experience is completely unacceptable!

Eclipse Orchestrator in action - just before second contact.
For those that have DSLR cameras a very elegant solution exists to this problem: a piece of software called Eclipse Orchestrator. This program controls your camera via a cable, firing off shots at precisely the right time and with precisely the settings you have pre-defined. What's more, it aids in designing just the right sequence of photos for your setup, your location and the specific eclipse. Using coordinates and a time signal from a GPS receiver on eclipse day this enables a precise timing to within 1-2 seconds; i.e. you can squeeze in the maximum amount of possible shots at just the right moments. And the best thing is: after setting it all up leisurely in advance any remaining involvement from your side is minimal!

Me using Eclipse Orchestrator during totality in China, 2009.
I tried using this arrangement during the total eclipse 2009 in China. However, back then I had not paid enough attention to practicing beforehand. Consequently, I did not discover that the script I had designed caused the updating of camera settings to lock up around third contact. I got some good shots of Baileys beads, the diamond ring and the chromosphere - but all my corona shots were underexposed!!

This time around, I am practicing more. I am running the script over and over in my living room, noting how many shots I can press in without problems; making sure that the camera operates as required. So far, I'm going for this during the most crucial moments:

which amounts to 73 exposures totalling 5 GB of data.

However; more preperation is needed. How do I know whether I can even achieve focus with this setup of borrowed parts? How long will it take to set up? Will the camera shutter cause significant vibrations? How long will my batteries last? Will my resolution be good enough - across the field of view? And what about the unforeseen problems I haven't even been able to think of? Testing under the skies - on celestial targets - is needed and next time I will talk about how that is going.

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