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Vehicle: Aircraft: Airship
Eclipse Zeppelin   (+18, -2)  [vote for, against]
Specially built for watching eclipses

A blimp with a large flat platform built to rest on top of it. Eclipse viewers would set up on this platform and watch the show. The platform may be equipped with wind-block walls around the perimeter.

During solar eclipses, the blimp could travel along the path of the shadow, extending the length of the experience for viewers. Not by much, granted, but seconds count when the event lasts only minutes to begin with.

The blimp would be able to rise above low cloud ceilings that would otherwise inhibit the view. It would also reduce the amount of atmosphere through which the eclipse would be seen, thus reducing the effects of air turbulence and improving the 'seeing', though for something as large and 'naked-eye' as an eclipse, and considering the altitude difference, granted the effect would be negligible.

This 'seeing' difference might be enough to matter for astronomical trips however. The blimp could make sky viewing runs when not being used for eclipses. This would also help reduce the effects of ground light pollution.
-- waugsqueke, Jun 10 2002

Annular Solar Eclipse http://sunearth.gsf...ipse/OH/OH2002.html
Tonight (Mon 10 June), visible from the western US. [waugsqueke, Jun 10 2002]

Eclipse photos http://science.nasa...llery_10june02.html
From Includes an incredible shot of a crescent sunset in Texas. [waugsqueke, Jun 11 2002]

Balloon Based Astronomy
Don't know if you can get a blimp up to 37 km, but if you could, you'd have a *lot* of paying customers. [DrCurry, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 21 2004]

Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei GmbH http://www.zeppelin...e/pages/E/haupt.htm
Rigid airships take to the skies again. [bristolz, Oct 11 2004, last modified Oct 15 2004]

<groan> I didn't realise eclipses were an annular event - I've only ever seen one in my 25 years. </groan>.
-- stupop, Jun 10 2002

I'm thinking the size of the blimp might help keep the platform stable. I probably have this wrong but I'm imagining a smaller blimp might be more prone to flipping over, top heavy. That would be pretty much bad.

stupop (groan), eclipses do occur annually, at least twice a year, and at least partial. Total vs. annular (a ring eclipse, where the moon does not cover the sun completely, but leaves a firely ring visible) is dependent on how close the moon is to earth at the time.
-- waugsqueke, Jun 10 2002

//the blimp could travel along the path of the shadow, extending the length of the experience for viewers//

Only by a few seconds - the eclipse footprint travels pretty quickly, and blimps aren't usually noted for their speed.
-- drew, Jun 10 2002

[waugs]: Shouldn't be any serious problem in stabilising the platform. It's relatively simple to dynamically stabilise it, with the blimp providing the lift.
-- drew, Jun 10 2002

Yes, the umbra speeds along at over 1000 mph. But when talking about an event that lasts minutes at most (totality), any additional seconds gained is still a good thing.
-- waugsqueke, Jun 10 2002

If you could get the zeppelin moving at 100mph (perhaps in the jet stream) and assume the eclipse lasts for 50 seconds, you would be able to buy yourself an extra 5 seconds. I imagine the main advantage to this would be getting above any cloud cover.
-- stupop, Jun 10 2002

Why might the E-Z be shot down, bliss?
-- drew, Jun 10 2002

Ah yes - the ever present threat of slow motion bouncy castle warfare. Nasty.
-- drew, Jun 10 2002

Re waugs' note about the difference between total and annular eclipses:
Is there any physical relationship between the relative sizes of the Sun, Moon, and Earth, and the orbital radii of the Earth and Moon that would cause the Moon to be so precisely positioned that it would just perfectly (+/- a small fraction) block out the Sun? I can't think why the Moon's orbit should have to be at such a position, but it seems awfully amazing that it would end up just at the perfect spot for annular eclipses or just-barely-total eclipses, entirely by chance.

I mean, are eclipses on other planets commonly either just barely total or with a tiny ring? I bet not. And if the Moon happened to be bigger or smaller and thus occupy a significantly different orbit, would we still observe the oscillation between total and annular eclipses, or would we always see one or the other?
-- beauxeault, Jun 10 2002

The difference between total and annular eclipses is caused by the moon's elliptical orbit. When it eclipses the sun at or near perigee, we get totality, but at or near apogee, the moon is that much further away, ergo smaller, that it leaves a sun ring around the outside.

I don't know if any other planet/satellite combo is set up to get the same beautiful totality corona effect we get on Earth. It's common to see shots of Jupiter with shadows from its inner moons crossing it - multiple eclipses happen every day - but if you could stand on the surface below the shadow, what would you see? I don't know. Depending on the satellite, I would think it would blot out the sun, corona and all. Ganymede is larger than our Moon (larger than Mercury - and they all look amazingly similar) and you're much further out from the sun, so the combined effect would probably leave no trace of the sun visible.

(This is all presuming one could stand on the surface of Jupiter, which of course is impossible, unless you have an eclipse zeppelin :)

In the future, when we've made friends with all of the other alien cultures in our part of the galaxy, and interstellar travel is commonplace, I believe that visitors from other worlds would regularly visit Earth just to see its magnificent total eclipses of Sol.

stupop, that's a worrisome image. I don't think I'd want to be standing on this platform in 100 mph winds at 30,000+ ft. altitude. Doubtful the jet and the path of the umbra would ever line up anyway.
-- waugsqueke, Jun 10 2002

Oh, the umbrage!
-- thumbwax, Jun 10 2002

Okay, I'm voting for this idea because it would allow me to stand on the surface of Jupiter.
-- beauxeault, Jun 10 2002

As [stupop] says, the lack of cloud would be a big advantage, but observing an eclipse from the air would also take away the experience of seeing what happens on the ground. I saw the 1999 eclipse from a hill just outside Helston in Cornwall, directly on the centre line. A few minutes before 11:00 (the eclipse was at 11:11, local time), as the sky began to darken, the wildlife began behaving very strangely. As totality approached, it was as though someone was turning down a dimmer switch, and the temperature dropped noticeably. The Zeppelin would make the *sight* more spectacular, but I think you'd miss a lot more.
-- angel, Jun 11 2002

I was flying an aircraft over Cornwall during the 1999 eclipse, and the sensations were different, but equally impressive. The change in the view over a substantial area as totality approached and the passed was incredible. I would think standing outside on a platform would enhance the experience. So I agree, different experience, still worth it.
-- drew, Jun 11 2002

"...and now everything I see looks much like a croissant."
-- beauxeault, Jun 11 2002

All the old Zep Graf, Hindenburg, and Graff II all had small top platforms although, people did not enjoy them because of the severe wind. And the view from the Keel was just as good even more so. To build a ship as you propose It would have to be a rigid airship. Becuase remember you need somekind of a staircase or ladder to get to the platform, this is a severe problem that they have just noticed the Cargo lifter airships have. The old airships like the Graf had many hatches to gain axis to the top or side of the ship incase a patch had to be sewed on from the ship being hit by lighting or hail. The new airships like those made by Cargo lifter and AAT donot have such hatches because they are nonrigid and the baloonnet and presurezation system prevents an axis rout through the envolope. However American Navay airships that are being designed to carry Radar arrays inside the envelope have been working on this problem for a long time since even if you donot need to axis the top, you would still have to axis the radar to make repairs. However the ultimate solution is just to use rigid airships, unfotunatly after what happened to the hindengurg people do not trust the reliability of the rigid aiship. Even though the rigid airship has been proven by researchers to be the safest and most reliable way of air travle, but unfortunatly the people don't like them so it is difficult to convince companys to invest in maufacturing and selling the product.
-- wood2coal, Jun 11 2002

If you sized the blimp just right, you could creat your own transportable eclipse from its shadow.
-- RayfordSteele, Jun 11 2002

Why wait for the moon to get good and ready to make an eclipse? On off days (a fair many, it would seem), send the old bird up to *cause* an eclipse for clients gathered on the tarmac with their tea and crumpets. You could position it for the desired eclipsicality, from croissant to totality. And it could last as long as the clients are paying. Croissant.
-- Chance, Jun 26 2002

Chance: "And it could last as long as the clients are paying" - Well, only if you were at one of the poles, during that pole's summer ..... otherwise, once every 24 hours, bits of the earth get in the way, and it goes all dark.....

Besides, I don't think you'd get nice effects like Bailey's Beads from a baloon, unless you put some sort of ripply fringe round the circumference. And the higher the Zep flies, the bigger it needs to be, and the faster it needs to go.

Try this. Get a small, black umbrella. Go outside on a sunny day. Open the umbrella. Tie a pole to its handle. Lift the umbrella until the umbrella appears just slightly larger than the sun's disk .... wooo-hoo ! Instant eclipse, right ?

What is this thing with eclipses ? "Ooooh, it goes dark..." ...yes, but that happens once a day anyway for most of us. I've seen eclipses. Big deal.
-- 8th of 7, Jun 26 2002

Blismiss: hey, well, I can go up to the mother ship any time and look at the stars ...
-- 8th of 7, Jun 26 2002

8th, those of us less fortunate have to make do here on the surface.

// What is this thing with eclipses ? "Ooooh, it goes dark..." ...yes, but that happens once a day anyway for most of us. I've seen eclipses. Big deal. //

I am fascinated with all things astronomical and am awestruck by such celestial displays as eclipses. You are a Trek geek. To each his own.

Using the zeppelin to create an eclipse would not work. The umbra wouldn't be nearly large enough to create the same effect. It would be more like a cloud passing in front of the sun.
-- waugsqueke, Jun 27 2002

Waugsqueke: I think eclipses are intriguing but I wouldn't fly halfway across the planet to see one, that's all. Sunrise and sunset happen most days for most people. Eclipses are rarer, but still a perfecty ordinary phenomenon as a result of known physical law, like tides, and therefore not something to get overly agitated about, which to me is uncomfortably like sort sort of irrational animist/pagan belief system.

Your zeppelinn size/umbra deduction is also correct.

What I DO find extremely intriguiong is that the moon is AT THIS POINT IN HISTORY just about the right size to produce the eclipse effect, and that from said effect so much can be deduced about orbital physics. Miiions of years ago the moon would have completely occluded the solar disc because it was closer. In the future the moon will move further away, and eclipses as we know them will cease. But human "civilisation" just happens to arise in a timeframe when a ready-made astrophysics phenomenon is there to be observed. Eclipses allowed ancient peoples to deduce much about the way the universe works, information which would not otherwise be availabe.

It is an interesting coincidence but I am not proposing any conspiracy theory about moon-moving aliens. Yet.
-- 8th of 7, Jun 27 2002

Just tried the 'black umbrella on a sunny day' routine, modified. Awesome! I just used a black stocking cap stretched over a clothes hangar which was bent in the shape of an umbrella frame. And, no kidding, it felt just like a windy blimp ride!
-- Grog, Sep 17 2002

I thought you had to put the gondola on the bottom, or the thing would flip over?

If it is practical, however, this can be applied much more widely than just eclipses and other one-off events like meteor showers. I would think that amateur or even professional astromers would likely pay to get a clear view of the heavens most nights of the year. And you could take people well out to sea, on your own personal Hawaiian mountaintop.

Hey - you could even combine it with the telescope farm! (Oh no!)
-- DrCurry, Mar 18 2003

No, it would not be a problem to dynamically stabilize the platform on top.
-- waugsqueke, Mar 18 2003

Engines on the bottom acting as counterweights, I think.
-- bristolz, Mar 18 2003

Goodness, yes!
-- brenna, Mar 18 2003

Heck, I thought that this thing was going to provide a portable eclipse!
-- pluterday, Mar 18 2003

I wouldn't think the stability, vibration, and movement of any sized blimp would be acceptable even for crappy telescopes? I can't even use an 8" direct reflector unless it's on a stand on a concrete porch vibrates too much from such things as fridge, people walking, etc.
-- DrOuD, Mar 19 2003

You have an 8" direct? Wow. Focal length?
-- bristolz, Mar 19 2003

Getting an airship to move at the speed that the eclipse 'moves' would be tricky. I am reliably informed by a friend (who went to Cornwall to get a good view of the one the other year) that the zone of total eclipsion (no, I don't think that's thr right word either) really races around, so you'd more likely need a supersonic plane to keep up with it.
-- vincebowdren, Mar 19 2003

Absolutely correct, [vince]; British Airways ran an eclipse-chasing Concorde flight which failed to keep up, but at least gave a good view. My own view was somewhat obscured by clouds (covert Pink Floyd reference), but was still an amazing experience. I was directly on the centre track of totality.
Right word or not, 'eclipsion' is rather good.
-- angel, Mar 19 2003

This is correct, in the past Concorde was fitted out as an Eclipse Observatory. At the time it was the only civil aircraft capable of the necessary speeds. Also, it could climb to reatively high altitudes for clearer observations.
-- 8th of 7, Mar 19 2003

I thought this was about a band who were better than Led Zepplin and was going to say WIBNI. It's not so I won't. (+) Might be good for rock performances above massive crowds when not eclipse chasing (speakers/amplifiers as couter-weights obviously).
-- silverstormer, Mar 19 2003

// the zone of total eclipsion (no, I don't think that's thr right word either) really races around, so you'd more likely need a supersonic plane to keep up with it. //

The word you're looking for is "umbra", which moves across the Earth at about a thousand miles per hour. However, the intent here is not to keep up with it, it's just to extend the viewing time a bit.
-- waugsqueke, Mar 19 2003

I think I would prefer a non-vibrating, non-windy veiw of the show instead of waching it for ~6 more seconds.
-- my-nep, Oct 21 2003

random, halfbakery