A New Adventure!

Welcome to the Solar Wind Sherpas’ blog page for the 2017 total solar eclipse expedition!  On this page, we will bring you the latest on our preparations, expedition and observations of the total solar eclipse over the continental USA.  Journey with us as we setup from Oregon to Nebraska to observe this beautiful event.  Text, photos and videos will be posted as often as possible so be sure to visit this page often.  Also, navigate through the pages and subpages on this website to find out more about who we are, the science that we do, the instruments that we use, and our previous expeditions.  Enjoy!!!


Pre-Exclipse Preparations: 3 years

“Life is a journey.  When we stop, things don’t go right.”   —Pope Francis

And so it is, that after three years of preparation, we are now in the final weeks of getting everything ready for the 2017 August 21 total solar eclipse over the continental USA.  With this eclipse traversing the US from coast to coast, we have prepared equipment for five observing sites, which will be set up from Oregon to Nebraska.  It goes without saying that this expedition is the most ambitious one the Solar Wind Sherpas will have carried out.  Preparations have included getting (or rather not getting) funding, scouting trips to the mainland, building equipment, recruiting new Sherpas and even horseback riding lessons!  Let’s take a look back at how we have prepared for the Great American Eclipse.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a step”                   —Lao Tzu

In our case, it began with a scouting trip along the path of totality.  In the early stages of the preparations for this eclipse, Shadia and Judd went to the mainland to find suitable places for us to observe from.  After visiting several places and carefully evaluating each one, they settled on a private ranch in Mitchell, Oregon, a field camp in Mackay, Idaho, Whiskey Mountain in Dubois, Wyoming, Guernsey State Park in Guernsey, Wyoming and a private ranch in Alliance, Nebraska.  Since then, it has been months of working out the logistics for each site from accommodations to the type of equipment.

Perhaps the most difficult part of planning a scientific expedition is securing funding.  Expenses range from instrumentation to accommodation to shipment of equipment to public outreach and to food.  Writing proposals takes months.  Of course, there is no guarantee that the proposals will be approved.  During these last few months, it has become all too real how important funding is.  If expenses can’t be covered, the experiments have to be reduced or cut altogether.  If that’s the case, the science we get is limited.  As a result, the next set of proposals lack the tools necessary to convince the funding agencies that another expedition should be funded.   This has been a financially challenging expedition that only our team leader, Shadia, knows how she pulled off five observing sites.  It is a true testament to her careful planning, her motivation and her willingness to carry on with her passion of chasing eclipses.

The next piece of the puzzle was putting together a group website.  A long overdue project, we have finally been able to get it done, albeit rather slowly.  Naty (yours truly) has been putting together the website (hosted at the IfA) with the intention of maintaining it in the coming years.  The goal is to have one space where we keep information on the group members, the expeditions and the scientific outcomes of each eclipse.  Though there is a lot yet to be uploaded, it has enough to give you an idea as to who we are, the science that we do and it serves as a place where we can share our experiences with the public through the blogs and the gallery.  If you followed our blogs covering the 2015 and 2016 eclipse expeditions, you know I will update the page as often as possible.  After this year’s eclipse, I will continue to update the website as often as needed, especially the science page, as we continue to carry out our research of the solar corona.  Be sure to come back!

One of the chosen sites is Whiskey Mountain in Dubois, Wyoming.  Getting to the mountaintop will be on horseback with the equipment taken by mules.  This site, of course, gets a smaller equipment setup.  The three lucky Sherpas who will be undertaking this adventure are Jana, Zuzana and Petr S.  In an effort to prepare for such a trip, they have taken horseback riding lessons and they are looking good!

Jana and Petr S. taking horseback riding lessons.  Credit:  Jana Hoderova.
Jana and Petr S. taking horseback riding lessons.  Credit:  Jana Hoderova.

Meanwhile, Adi built a spectrometer for the Aberystwyth University team, consisting of Joe and Steve, that will be used at their site in Mackay, ID.  Based on a spectrometer designed, built and used by Adi during the previous eclipse, this spectrometer has 3-channels.  The Aber team tested the spectrometer by using a small handmade coronagraph (an instrument that blocks the sun’s disk, thus simulating a total solar eclipse).

Since then, Adi has also built three other similar spectrometers to be used at:  Oregon, Wyoming and Nebraska.  He has been working nonstop for weeks, with little sleep, in order to get the instruments set up for Mike (Wyoming), Ben (Nebraska) and himself (Oregon).

Judd has made several trips to Hawai’i to work on the Atik cameras for each of the five sites.  He too has been working diligently in order to get the equipment built and aligned properly.  These two Sherpas deserve more than a praise for their hard work and dedication to the team and the experiments we carry out during each eclipse.

Judd Johnson (left) and Adi Ding (right) after one of many long days working nonstop (photo taken without their knowledge). Credit: Naty Alzate.

Check out Ben Boe’s blog for more details of the spectrograph building process:  https://solareclipsescience.wordpress.com/2017/08/11/laboratory-work/

On a warm, sunny afternoon in Honolulu, Shadia, Clara and Naty tested one of the telescope systems.  We tested the software that controls the Atik cameras while observing through mylar filters and neutral density filters.

Shadia Habbal (left) and Clara Lin (right) setting up the mount for the telescope system. Credit: Naty Alzate.
Telescope system setup. Credit: Naty Alzate.
Naty Alzate (left) testing the software for the Atik cameras. Credit: Naty Alzate.







Packing and Shipping

When each observing site requires a large custom made observing tent, a telescope mount, a tripod, a 6 camera telescope system, another telescope mount, a tripod, a white light system, another telescope mount, a tripod, a spectrometer, filters, tool box, laptops, USB cables, power strips, power cords, lenses…you have to ship as much as you can.  We spent a lot of time preparing the equipment for shipment making sure every piece was well protected in the shipping cases.  All this was done while keeping record of what was packed and for which site, labeling every piece of equipment, using bubble wrap and foam to place the equipment in the cases, making sure nothing will break if a case gets dropped.

Equipment loaded onto truck for shipment. Credit: Naty Alzate.

Shipping from Hawai’i to the Mainland

From the shipping company:

Regarding insurance,  the Insurance company only wants to cover FPA terms.  The terms approved are FPA terms and conditions only.

FPA Air Perils: This insurance covers only loss or damage to the interest insured which may be reasonably attributed to crash of aircraft, fire, lightning, or explosion, collision, forced landing, jettisoning of cargo for the safety of the aircraft, crew or passengers.
So basically they (the shipping company) only want to cover in case the plane crashes or if the air crew throws it off the plane mid flight.  Just to let you know,  I’ve never had cargo on a crashed plane and I’ve never had the air crew throw the shipment out of the plane mid flight.  Any damages that have ever occurred have been by the warehouse or trucker…”
Enough said about that!

Shipping from Wales to the US

Ah, the Aber team!  They did not get a science carnet when they shipped their equipment to the US and they declared their shipment as having a value of $100,000.  Red flags were raised at customs.  Poor Judd had to track the shipment all over!

Much to our luck, all the equipment arrived in Boulder, CO before the different teams arrived, adding on to boxes of custom made tents and other such supplies that had already arrived at Judd’s place.