March 29, 2006
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Summary: On Wednesday, March 29, 2006, the moon passed in front of the sun producing a solar eclipse visible from parts of four continents: animated eclipse map.
Unless otherwise stated, all images are copyrighted by the photographers.
|Photographer, Location, Date
| TunÁ Tezel,
4 km west of Side, Turkey; a few meters from the centerline.
I observed the eclipse near Side, Turkey with friends. This fisheye shot I took during totality shows Venus as well. Mercury was also visible to the naked eye. The second shot is a composite of 2nd and 3rd contact images; maybe resulting an illusion of an oblate Sun. In fact the images were 3 minutes 46 seconds apart. Symmetry proves that I was very close to the centerline.
We made a chilly 4am start from our home in Norfolk on the day before the eclipse. The destination was Side, a resort on the Turkish Mediterranean coast and on the eclipse centre line. The weather at Side had been grim for the previous two weeks but when we arrived after the four-hour flight the sky was cloudless. Once we escaped from the terminal building we savoured hot sunshine and a very welcome 22C for the first time since last summer.
First thought on waking the next morning was the weather. A quick peep out through the curtains revealed a just risen sun, faultless blue sky and an equally blue Mediterranean. We were really going to see it! To tempt the Gods right on their own back doorstep with such thoughts is highly dangerous and so all fingers were very quickly crossed.
By the time we had had a leisurely breakfast, many telescopes were already being set up in the hotel grounds and on the beach. High on a semicircular theatre arena the golden glint of a tiny PST H-alpha telescope caught my eye. Abandoning wife I bounded up the steps to see close up this new object of desire. At first peep through it nothing was visible but then there it was, the mottled solar disk surrounded by incredibly feathery prominences. Hopefully (cross fingers again) they would soon be visible to eyes unfiltered by such high tech narrow-band technological marvels. Lyn was highly impressed too by the little PST gem so who knows what Santa might bring!
The hours before the eclipse (totality 13.55 Turkish local time) passed incredibly slowly. We explored the grounds, avoided falling in the pool, bought some very necessary sun tan cream, wondered at the range of telescopic and photographic delights that had been dragged across the world. As Luddites and first timers we had deliberately not brought any cameras. We wanted to be completely free to just absorb the atmosphere and spectacle. Our only equipment was binoculars for a quick look at prominences and the corona immediately after the start of totality.
For our observing site we decided to forego the luxuries of the free drinks service around the pool and opted instead for the beach. From there we might see the Moon’s shadow racing in across the sea and then leaving across the impressive snow covered mountains to the North.
After the fortification of an early lunch we made our way again to the beach and dragged two sun loungers down almost to the waves. We were not alone but in spite of the hundreds of astronomers at the hotel there was plenty of space and an almost devotional quietness over the proceedings. The sky had remained a faultless blue with the exception of one or two worrying hazy cloud spots to the west. As the sun was a high 54 degrees, the sun loungers were more than a luxury.
First contact had indicated that the predictions were correct and the long awaited event was really going to happen. The bite from the sun appeared to grow quickly at first and then slowed as more of the disk was obscured. By 50% coverage the sky had already changed to a darker and colder blue and from then on the temperature drop was increasingly noticeable. Shadows looked peculiar, sharp on one side and fuzzy on the other. For reasons I do not understand the top edges of shadows looked slightly reddened. The light was now quite eerie - dim and cool. Those little patches of hazy cloud in the west had grown but elsewhere the sky was a clear bluish black. Then Lyn found Venus - I had been looking in the wrong place. Light was falling quickly now and dim Mercury appeared between Venus and a pure white odd shaped sun looking more and more like a spotlight. There was no lunar shadow apparent over the sea. It was so cold that sweaters would have been welcome. Someone shouted that there were shadow bands.
Then events became all too rapid and shocking. Without warning light levels plunged downwards as in a power failure. I looked up in surprise to catch the first diamond ring and then the inner corona shining far brighter than expected. Pink prominences sprouted from the leading edge of the Moon’s silhouette. At that stage I forgot the mental checklist and simply gawped in disbelief.
Coming to, a sweep with binoculars brought out the feathery prominences seen hours earlier in the PST but this time swathed in a growing and structured corona. The spiky coronal structure tracing out the north and south polar magnetic field lines was clearly there.
And the sky? Brighter than expected but darkly unreal with that ungraspable black sun hanging there. The whole 360 degrees of the horizon was a bright pink but not at all like a twilight or dawn.
By now the corona was stretching oh I don’t know how many solar diameters like a gauzy scarf draped and pulled and tugged across the sun, asymmetric and strongly structured just as all the solar minimum predictions had foretold. Its polar spikes were now easily visible to the eye.
Then the pinky prominences grew and brightened at the following edge of the Moon. It was all ending so soon! Expected this time, the second diamond ring swelled and blazed, again a pure dazzling white. The ‘oohs’ at the first and second diamond rings were about the only sounds from the beach at totality.
Don’t forget the moon’s shadow! A look to the north east and the snow topped Taurus mountains had disappeared, replaced by an inky black mass like, yet not like, a giant storm.
Outstanding memories? All of them. Perhaps the unexpected things protrude most, the pre-totality spotlight sun, the dynamics and change, plunging light levels at totality onset, the pink horizon and huge outer corona, the inky moon shadow and a diamond ring whiter, brighter and sharper than any diamond. And that it seemed to last 3 seconds rather than over 3 minutes.
It is 17C and mostly cloudy at Side just now (Thur 30th). The Gods really did smile yesterday.
30th March 2006