On the Arctic Ocean
Rick Fienberg, Sky & Telescope's editor emeritus, led an eclipse expedition aboard the Russian icebreaker 50 Years of Victory in the Barents Sea west of Novaya Zemlya. "This trip has been awesome," he writes "— polar bears in the wild, a dip in the ocean at the North Pole — and we beat the odds and saw today's total eclipse, from a position near 76° north, 55° east.
"The day dawned foggy, but by 10:55 a.m. our time when the partial eclipse began, the fog had burned off and we were under scattered clouds with patches of blue sky all around. Excitement began to build among the approximately 100 passengers and 100 crew out on deck as we watched first contact through our solar filters. Almost immediately, though, the clouds merged into a single mass, hiding the Sun from view except for brief intervals during which we could see the progress of the partial eclipse, with the clouds as our filter.
"With about a half hour to go till totality we could see sunlight sparkling on the water in the distance, so the ship steamed at full power toward it. We reached an area where the cloud cover was thin enough to grant us a spectacular view of the eclipse from just before the start of totality through to the very end.
"We saw a beautiful 'diamond ring' as the corona emerged around the Sun along with several electric-pink prominences, most notably a large one at the 1 o'clock position for us. I was glancing occasionally at the horizon all around to experience the Moon's shadow washing over us — which was very dramatic out on the open water.
"Mercury immediately popped into view a few degrees to the Sun's left; I briefly looked further left to see brighter Venus shining too, about 15° to the Sun's left."The eclipsed Sun was surrounded by a classic solar-minimum corona, with equatorial streamers (a big one to the right, two smaller ones to the
left) and polar brushes. I could trace the corona only about 1 solar diameter out from the Sun's limb, where it got lost in the thin clouds, but it was a beautiful sight, especially with that 1 o'clock prominence glowing throughout totality. At one point I thought I saw a faint star shining through the corona at upper right.
"The diamond ring at 3rd contact came too soon, as always. Within minutes of the end of totality the remaining cloud cover burned off, and by 4th contact an hour later we were sailing toward Murmansk under an almost completely clear, blue sky.
"According to the climatology, we had less than a 30% chance of seeing totality, yet I'm now 7 for 7 for total solar eclipses."
Success at 36,000 Feet
Meanwhile, S&T's J. Kelly Beatty was leading a tour high over the polar ice cap. He writes:
"Seeing the Sun's corona is virtually guaranteed when you observe from 36,000 feet. And that's what the passengers and crew of LTU flight 1111 experienced on eclipse day. The Airbus 300-200 long-range transport we'd chartered carried 148 passengers and a crew of 12 to the far arctic and a rendezvous with the lunar umbra.
"Our 12-hour adventure began and ended at Düsseldorf, Germany. Mid-eclipse for us, at 9:43:00 Universal Time, occurred over the Arctic Ocean at 18.7° east and 82.6° north — establishing a new benchmark for the northernmost observation of totality.
"The plane's eastward heading (to keep the eclipse directly off the starboard wing) provided an estimated 2 minutes 55 seconds of totality — a precious 28 seconds longer than was achievable from anywhere on the ground.
"Those extra seconds helped our eclipse-viewers position their bodies and equipment amid the cramped pairs of right-side seats to gaze upward at the Sun, which appeared 25° above the true horizon. And while the skies might have been clear, some of the windows were not. Despite meticulous cleaning of the windows by Air Berlin workers the night before, condensation of ice and water hampered viewing for passengers in the rear third of the plane."Still, it was an eclipse to remember. The lunar shadow could be seen clearly on the parquet of sea ice below as it approached and then engulfed us from the northwest at roughly 2,500 miles per hour (see image at right). At that moment the umbral footprint measured about 190 by 78 miles.
"The sky above was beyond crystalline — its deep, seamless midnight blue let us see that hints of corona rimmed the Sun's western limb well before second contact. Although I'd expected to see a dramatic planetary chain formed by Mercury (closest to the Sun) and Venus, then fainter Regulus, Saturn, and Mars, I could see only Venus and Mercury. But both shone with electric brilliance.
"The corona displayed prominent equatorial streamers, matching well predictions issued last week. Many of the eclipse-chasers, particularly those who'd seen total solar eclipses before, donned eye patches or red goggles leading up to totality, so that their dark-adapted eye could see the corona to its fullest extent.
"En route to the eclipse rendezvous we traveled over Svalbard (Spitzbergen Island), a remote archipelago that had a 90% chance of being overcast on eclipse day yet proved remarkably cloud free. After totality we also made a dash to the geographic North Pole, first passing directly overhead before circumnavigating 360° of longitude in two tight circles.
"Our 48-member contingent from TravelQuest International and Sky & Telescope included accomplished 'umbraphiles' Craig Small (a perfect 26 for 26 in his total-eclipse ventures), Schneider (24 of 27), Michael (20) and Wendy (18) De Fauber Maunder, Jay Friedland (10 of 10), and Michael Gill (13 of 15). They and others are already counting the days until the next encounter with the Moon's shadow: July 22, 2009."
After crossing the Arctic, the Moon's shadow made landfall on the north coast of Siberia, where eclipse chasers had flooded into the town of Nadym. Rain there had just ended, and the corona shone in a clear sky.
The Moon's shadow continued south to cross Novosibirsk, Russia's third largest city. There, according to a local newspaper, 15,000 eclipse tourists had arrived to watch. The city's 87 hotels had been booked since 2003, so authorities set up tent camps. Clouds had been forecast, but the sky was mostly clear by eclipse time. Traffic throughout the city halted, and crowds cheered and whistled as the last of the Sun dwindled away and the corona emerged into view in a sudden deep twilight.
Canadian meteorologist Jay Anderson reports:
"The Sky &Telescope/TravelQuest expedition to Novosibirsk was rewarded by an exquisite eclipse in cloudless skies. Our observing site, just outside the city on a windswept beach along Ob Lake, was shared with several thousand basking Russian sunbathers.
"Enthusiasm built slowly through the partial phases, but the onset of totality brought a breathless pause from the crowd as the four-plumed corona evolved from the solar limb. Ephemeral shadow bands preceded totality by a few seconds. The eclipse sky was relatively bright, perhaps because of the proximity to the lake, and scattering of twilight by white-capped waves.
"This was a very pretty eclipse solar-minimum eclipse, small in dimension, but rich in detail. It had even more significance for one young lady, who received a whispered marriage proposal as a superb diamond ring brought down the curtain. She accepted.
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More Coming Up
The solar eclipse was only the first half of August's celestial shadow show. On the night of August 16th, a half a Moon-orbit later, the full Moon will pass through Earth's own shadow for a deep partial lunar eclipse. It will be visible from Europe, Africa, and Asia, much of Australia and South America, but not North America. (Map.)
The world's next total eclipse of the Sun comes less than a year from now, on July 22, 2009. It will begin at sunrise in India, cross parts of Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, and thickly inhabited areas of China, and will end at sunset over the South Pacific. (Maps and details. Tour information.)
The next total solar eclipse for North America comes on August 21, 2017. The path of totality will sweep from Oregon to South Carolina. (Map.)