Monthly Archives: August 2017

Travel Updates: MN to NE

We drove today from Minneapolis to Freemont, Nebraska, near Omaha. Tomorrow, we will drive to our viewing location in Hastings.  There were no traffic problems today.

There was fairly heavy traffic southbound on Interstate 35 from Minneapolis to Des Moines, but absolutely no problems.  The majority of the cars we saw in Iowa had Minnesota license plates, and many were obviously loaded with camping gear, cameras, and other signs that they were eclipse chasers.  We spoke to several other chasers in rest areas, and everyone was very upbeat.

Traffic is always heavy on Interstate 80 between Des Moines and Omaha, and today was no exception.  In addition to the normal truck traffic, there were many cars and RV’s with Minnesota and Wisconsin plates.

To get to our hotel in Freemont, we continued on 680, which was eerily devoid of traffic.  We got on northbound I-29 for a few miles, and southbound traffic toward the eclipse seemed moderately heavy for a Saturday.

We got off I-29 onto US 30 to head west into Nebraska.  There was no traffic to speak of.  We gassed up in Blair and drove to Freemont with no problem.  The hotel clerk apparently didn’t have glasses yet, and was very grateful when we gave him a pair.

I’ll update tomorrow with conditions between Freemont and Hastings.  We might continue on US 30 to Grand Island, but due to the lack of problems, we might get back on the interstate just to report the conditions.

If you are making a last minute trip and hear that traffic is heavy on I-35 and I-80, our experience today suggests that a better route might be to drive to Sioux City, Iowa, and then continue on US 30 to Grand Island or other points in totality.

At least five hotels in Omaha still show availability for Sunday night for under $100.  To find one, check my Minnesota Iowa travel page and click on any of the hotels listed there.  Even if it’s not available, you’ll see a list of all available hotels.

Live Streaming the Eclipse by Morse Code & Other Eclipse Links

BrownEclipseSketchWe are now beginning our final preparations to activate the official Eclipse Headquarters in Hastings, Nebraska. On Saturday and Sunday, we will post updates, including reports of conditions along Interstate 80 as eclipse visitors pour into the Cornhusker State.

IonosphereDuring the eclipse, we plan to transmit radio signals that you can monitor in real time at home. I’ll try to repost it before Monday, but you will be able to follow in real time at this link.  I currently plan to transmit on 40 Meters (7 MHz).  Within seconds of each transmission, you will be able to see where the signal was picked up.  With normal conditions, most of that reception would be within about 400 miles.  As the partial eclipse begins in the west, I expect enhancement in that direction.  As the moon’s shadow moves toward South Carolina, I expect the signal to be enhanced toward the east.  You can watch these changes real time.  The cellular network could very well crash, but even if it does, you watch me in real time as I live stream via Morse Code.

That page will contain a map which will incorrectly show that my transmissions are originating from Minnesota.  However, the signals will originate in Nebraska, and the locations of the receiving stations on the map will be correct.

Here are links to other earlier posts:

  • Take Your Kids to See the Eclipse!  This is the biggest scientific event of your children’s lifetime.  You should take them to see it.  If you were close to Yellowstone National Park, you would want to take them.  If you were close to the Grand Canyon, you would want to take them.  This time, you are close to an equally important natural wonder.  And it will only be there one day.
  • Planning for Eclipse Gridlock.  In this post, I offered my predictions for eclipse traffic.  The news reports on Monday will let you know whether my predictions were right.
  • Eclipse Travel Recommendations for Minnesota and Iowa.  If you are reading this before Saturday, despite what you’ve heard, you can get an inexpensive hotel room close to the eclipse.  If you’re reading this over the weekend, it’s still possible to make a one-day trip to the path of totality.  It’s even possible to take a bus to see the eclipse.  This page has complete information for seeing the eclipse for those in Minnesota and Iowa, and much of the advice is relevant to those in other states.
  • Eclipse Campground List.  I’ve compiled this list of eclipse campsites coast to coast.  Most still have spots available.
  • Eclipse Radio Experiments.  At this page, I explain my radio experiments.  I also tell how you, and even your kids, can participate by “listening” to the eclipse on an AM radio, and submit those results for publication in Sky & Telescope magazine.

Win Free Eclipse Glasses!

This contest how now ended.  We are running a Facebook contest, and two lucky winners will receive a free pair of eclipse glasses.  The glasses are similar to the ones shown here, and are ISO and CE certified as safe for direct viewing of the sun.  They are made in the USA by American Paper Optics.  (I purchased them directly from American Paper Optics, and they were shipped to me directly, so there’s no chance that these are counterfeits.)

Most retailers have now run out of the glasses.  This might be your only chance to get them, and they won’t cost you a dime!

To enter, simply follow these two steps:

  1. “Like” us on Facebook. Just click on this link and then click the “Like” button near top of the page.  (If it says “Liked,” then you already have this step taken care of.)
  2. Go to the contest announcement, which is the pinned post at the top of that page. I have randomly generated a number between 1 and 200. Post your guess as a comment to that Facebook post.  The two closest guesses will be the winners. I will contact the winners for their mailing addresses.

The winners will be the two who posted the numbers closest to the secret number.  In case of tie, the earliest post(s) will win.

The contest ends at 11:59 PM Central Time on Monday, August 14, 2017.  I will contact the winners by Facebook message, and you will need to send me your mailing address.  I will mail them by First Class Mail on Tuesday, August 15.  Glasses will be sent folded in a normal business size envelope.

If you want to purchase eclipse glasses, please see my post with advice on where to find the few remaining pairs.  Click here for more eclipse information.

The Dark Side of Sunspot Cycle 19

1967AugRadioElecSixty years ago, solar activity was at an all-time high, and the sun was plastered with sunspots. This was good news for hams, who depend on this solar activity for ideal radio communications on the high frequency bands. But in addition to being literal dark spots, this was, figuratively a dark time for the hapless TV repairman in fringe areas, because it fell upon him to explain to his customers that their interference woes weren’t his fault, but were instead caused by blotches on the sun.

Fortunately, the TV repairman got some sympathetic advice from this article in the August 1957 issue of Radio Electronics.

It starts by noting that Sunspot Cycle 19 was about to reach a peak, which was good news for hams and shortwave listeners, for whom shortwave propagation would be better than at any other time in history.

But the average TV owner “probably does not care about receiving Havana, Cuba, or some other distant TV station over his favorite local channel,” which was a distinct possibility in fringe areas. The article noted that this would be particularly an issue for channels 2, 3, and 4.

The article counseled the serviceman on how to deal with these calls. And unfortunately, there was little that could be done, other than to “explain to the owner what is happeninng and that the condition will probably pass in a short while. Ask him to call the next day if the trouble is still there.”

The article suggested that a good way to educate the customer would be to draw a sketch of the earth and ionosphere as shown above. While reorienting the antenna might help in some cases, the best advice was to hope that the owner understood what was happening. If the customer understood, it would make him “less likely to call a service technician and thereby leave the technician more time to devote to true television troubles.”


Alternatives to Eclipse Glasses

This page last updated Thursday, August 17.  It is now too late to get the glasses, but I list a number of alternatives that will work better.

Quick Links:

In most areas, it is now too late to get eclipse glasses at a reasonable price.  Just like happened during a recent eclipse in England, the glasses are now unavailable in most places.  They might be available in some areas at a reasonable price.  But don’t pay more than a few dollars, because you don’t need them.  If you don’t have them, don’t worry.  You can actually get a better view using other methods.

Whatever you do, don’t spend hundreds of dollars trying to find a pair.  They’re nice to have, but they are not essential.  You do have alternatives.   First of all, if you are around other people watching the eclipse, you can probably just borrow theirs.   You’ll only look through the glasses for a minute or two at a time.  Several people can use the same pair.

If you don’t have glasses (or even if you do, and want a better view, you can use a method of indirect viewing.

You can make a simple pinhole viewer, and instructions are available at the NASA website.  Many other variations are available, and you can get a  good view of the sun projected on a screen.



Other projection methods provide a view that is better than the eclipse glasses.  One extremely simple method uses binoculars or a small telescope or monocular.  (Use cheap binoculars, since the sun might overheat and damage them. Even toy binoculars like the ones shown here should work just fine.)  You do not look through the binoculars.  Instead, you point one end at the sun, and the other end at a white screen, or even the wall of a building.  You will see a very detailed image of the sun on the screen.  It’s amazingly simple, and you will see a much better view than you would with eclipse glasses.  It is described at this website.

Also, remember that eclipse glasses can be shared.  It’s somewhat interesting to look at the crescent sun, but most people will only look for a few seconds, and then possibly look again later when it’s gotten smaller.  In the meantime, others can use them.  If you are traveling to some kind of viewing event, it’s likely that other people will let you borrow their glasses.


Buying Online

Glasses are no longer available.  This page has been continually updated.  All of the websites listed below had glasses at a reasonable price.  As each one ran out, I removed the listing, and now it’s too late.

The following suppliers were previously listed here, but are now sold out:  American Paper Optics and  Rainbow Symphony.  The website remains an excellent source of information about the eclipse.  At this point, I do not recommend ordering from  Amazon, eBay, or other similar sites.  You will pay too much, they might not arrive in time, and the product might not be safe.

Local Retailers in Minnesota and Other Areas

Glasses are no longer available.  This page has been continually updated.  All of the stores listed below had glasses at a reasonable price.  As each one ran out, I removed the listing, and now it’s too late.  In some parts of the country, the situation might be different, and you might want to check some of these stores in your area.  In many cases, the link is to the particular set of glasses sold by that store.

The following retailers had glasses, but are now almost certainly sold out:  New York:  B&H Photo and Video.  Minnesota:  Radio City in Mounds View , Toys R Us,  Lowe’s, Walmart, AxMan SurplusGirl Scout Shop in St. PaulBest Buy .

Some public libraries were giving the glasses away free.  They are probably gone by now, but they might have some available at special viewing events.



1942 Mallory Wood Condensers

1942AugServiceWith wartime material shortages, replacement radio parts were hard to come by. And even when parts were available, the manufacturers had to adapt to wartime conditions.

This is illustrated by this ad from the August 1942 issue of Service magazine, showing the Mallory “Wood Neck” condenser (what we would call a capacitor these days).  Instead of an aluminum case and base, the capacitor had an impregnated paper case and a threaded wooden base.  The ad noted that “they are designed for the emergency but we predict they will be popular long afterwards.”

Science Fair Idea: How to Weigh Smoke


Sir Walter Ralegh by 'H' monogrammist.jpg

Sir Walter Raleigh. Wikipedia image.

Sir Walter Raleigh is reputed to have won a bet with Queen Elizabeth that he would be able to weigh the smoke coming from his pipe. After she accepted the bet, he weighed a pinch of tobacco, smoked it, and then weighed the resulting ashes. He convinced the Queen that the difference in weight was the weight of the smoke.

Of course, the Queen could have won the bet by pointing out that the combustion products contained oxygen, and most of that oxygen originated not in the tobacco, but in the air. But she didn’t think of that, and instead paid the bet.

This little experiment, from 80 years ago, takes into account the amount of oxygen, and proves that the total mass doesn’t change during the combustion process. You do this by placing some matches inside a sealed glass flask. You carefully place it on a balance. Since the matches are sealed inside, you’re not able to strike them. To ignite them, you heat up the outside of the glass. Eventually, the matches will burst into flame and burn until all of the oxygen in the flask is consumed.

The balance won’t move, since the weight inside the container remains exactly the same. The weight of the matches plus the oxygen will exactly equal the weight of the burnt matches plus the weight of the smoke. Since it’s all sealed inside the same container, that weight won’t change.

If you wanted, you could take it a step further and repeat the experiment with the flask open.  In this case, the matches would burn longer.  Oxygen would be able to go in, and the smoke would be able to go out.  Therefore, the weight would change.  Would it go up or down?

You can easily adapt this idea to your next science fair assignment with a hypothesis along the lines of, “mass is conserved during combustion.”  While that other kid is busy fumbling with the paper mache volcano, the teacher will be suitably impressed that you’re smarter than Sir Walter Raleigh, and you’ll undoubtedly go home with the first prize.

The photo and experiment appeared in the August 1937 issue of Popular Science.