29 May 2023

Matěj Štarha's love of technology led him to a deserted island

Matěj Štarha on his second solar eclipse expedition | Autor: archive of M. Štarha

Matěj Štarha, a student of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, was among the people who travelled to see this year's solar eclipse in Australia. He was no newcomer to the expedition as he joined Solar Wind Sherpas, the international scientific team, for the second time.

Matěj's family is close to observing the eclipse. His uncle Pavel Štarha has been participating in expeditions for many years and is the author of some of the hardware parts and software that researchers use during observations. Matěj's father was also on the expedition in the past. Nevertheless, Matěj himself got a place in the expedition team three years ago somewhat by chance. "When the team members were planning a trip to Chile in 2020, they were looking for one more person at the last moment. At that time, there had not yet been vaccines against Covid-19 available and I had contracted Covid shortly before, so I had developed a certain immunity," Matěj Štarha recalls the invitation to the first expedition.

Eclipse observation from a nameless island | Autor: archive of M. Štarha
The fact that Matěj was known by the Czech members of the team who knew that he could handle the demanding conditions also played a role. "In Chile, unfortunately, the observation did not work out well because the weather was bad, otherwise we did not encounter any great stress. But for example, this year's trip to the island could be beyond the comfort zone for someone," admits Matěj. Let us add that the word "trip" was a relatively adventurous six-hour boat transfer to one of the nameless islands of the Lowendal Islands archipelago, where the conditions for observation were ideal.

The whole expedition could be described as a "trip" in quotation marks. From a distance it looks tempting – just judge for yourself: Hawaii, Australia, cruise to a deserted island and back. According to Matěj, the reality of the research expedition is considerably less romantic. "In Hawaii, where we flew before the eclipse only to complete our equipment, it was really just about work, food and a bed. In Hawaii, I only saw the ocean in the dark. Jana Hoderová and I had about a day and a half off in Perth and then only after the eclipse," he confirms.

Even though the expeditions represent a small dream come true for him, seeing a unique phenomenon with his own eyes is not his primary motivation. "I personally wouldn't go as far as a tourist just to see an eclipse. What I enjoy most about the expedition is the technology, the fact that I can apply my experience and interest in technology and programming. And, I get to know another country and its culture," says Matěj, who is studying Mechatronics at FME in the fourth year. Even the resulting photos of Professor Druckmüller, thanks to which the scientific team gained the global fame and recognition within the professional community, are rather nice pictures for Matěj. "Paradoxically, I am not so much interested in the resulting photos as in the technology used to make them," adds Matěj with a smile.

He prepared for the expedition thoroughly, for example by trying out the software with cameras at home in the Czech Republic. And he was also in charge of some of the equipment. "I prepared most of the cabling and power supply for our site. I prepared everything in a limited setup so that we had as little equipment as possible to be transported to the island, but at the same time everything was backed up as much as possible. I managed to tackle this somehow and it looks like our mobile setup will be used in the future as well," adds Matěj. Even in this case, he could take over the service, the team has already "signed up" for the next expedition in 2024, when the so-called totalitarian belt is to hit Mexico, the USA and Canada on April 8.

Hawaii: Matěj with his uncle Pavel Štarha | Autor: archive of M. Štarha
Preparations for the upcoming solar eclipse | Autor: archive of M. Štarha
Matěj has already promised to take part in the next expedition | Autor: archive of M. Štarha
Equipment for eclipse observation | Autor: archive of M. Štarha
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