Sam’s Total Eclipse Experience

(And other astronomical observations)

 

Wednesday 11th August 1999

At 00:15 hours on the morning of 11th August I caught the ferry from Dover to Calais and then drove to a village in northern France called ‘Grandvilliers’. I chose this spot south of ‘Amiens’ as it was exactly on the line of totality and earlier weather reports from the Met. Office and Meteo-France suggested a good possibility for clear skies.

Eclipse path through Western Europe:

At 4am I parked up in a field and slept in the back of the car.

The ‘campsite’ in the morning:

 

After breakfast and, thanks to mum’s trusty camping gas stove, a cup of strong coffee, I drove into Grandvilliers to buy some solar viewers. Many people had gathered in the town square and, although cloudy, there were enough gaps for a good view of first contact at 11:05am (local time).

As I was only armed with an Olympus Trip Af S-2 camera I decided that the best way to view and photograph the various stages of the eclipse was by reflecting an image of the sun onto a sheet of paper (as seen on ‘Blue Peter’)!

The projected reflection of the partially eclipsed sun:

I) Approx. 11:40am (local time)

ii) Approx. 12:00

 

N.B. As these are reflections the images are upside down.

 

Up until midday cloud cover was about 65% above our point so viewing was good, after all, everything happens reasonably slowly at this point so constant viewing is not required and certainly NOT recommended! However, just to the east of us was fairly thick cloud cover so we were anxious as to the possibility of us missing totality also, with 65% cover, one stray cloud and we could miss the whole show.

From midday onwards it started to get noticeably cooler and darker. Unlike at the end of a day when light levels gradually drop, during these last few minutes before totality the light seemed to drop in sudden stages as if every few seconds a dimmer switch was being turned down suddenly by a few notches.

At 12:12 I heard on the BBC world service that totality had reached Penzance, so now we knew that the moon’s shadow was heading straight for us at about 1800 miles an hour.

Another check of the sky and today we had good fortune on our side – not a single cloud around the area of the sun!

12:22 (local time) and everything starts to happen at once. By now I was in darkness, but with light all around us on the distant horizon, something felt different – this was no ordinary ‘night time’. Imagine being under a very thick, black and oppressive storm cloud, in the distance the next town is still enjoying a fine summer’s day, but where you stand something is about to happen! – That quality of light and that same feeling we have inside of us in apprehension of a violent summer’s storm is the closest description I can give to that of approaching totality.

One more look through the solar viewers and there is just the smallest fraction of the sun left disappearing behind the moon, a gap no bigger than this bracket:  ( and yet without the viewers you could still not look at the sun with the naked eye. Then the thing I will remember the most; all along the road where we were parked ‘shadow bands’ appeared.

These were very clear strips of light then shade, each about 8 inches wide that scrolled along the road at a frequency of about 130 per minute. They were horizontal to the direction of the sun and moved towards the sun. This lasted for about 15 seconds and ended as totality started.

Diagram of ‘Shadow Bands’:

 

 

Scrolling towards the sun (Approx. 130 per minute)

Sun / Moon

15 seconds to totality

ROAD

Each shade / light band Approx 8" wide

 

 

For the 2 minutes and few seconds that totality lasted for I don’t have much to say. It is probably the most beautiful and amazing thing I have ever seen. As a sign of our times, rather than to describe totality I would suggest watching a total eclipse on T.V. – you can probably see more than you can with the naked eye plus have an expert commentary on what you see and what to look for. In a field in France, with no special equipment and only the limited knowledge of the event that we had, all we could do was stand back and look in awe at this most incredible event in nature.

Totality, photographed on an Olympus Trip Af S-2:

 

This photograph certainly does not do justice to the true visual spectacle, the sun’s ephemeral corona spreads out much further across the sky and below to the left we could clearly see the planet Venus.

As the sun is approaching one of its more active periods (approx. every 11 years) the corona, as you can even see from our photo, was very uniform.

Below is the picture I am most pleased with, if you look closely you can just see the start of the ‘Diamond Ring’ marking the end of totality. A truly ‘one in a million’ photo!

A ‘Diamond Ring’ & me:

 

As totality ended so the shadow bands reappeared for again a duration of about 15 seconds, then it was all over. Light appeared to improve at a greater rate than its decline before totality; however, this is difficult to be certain of due the excitement of the event! Also, I cannot be certain as to whether the shadow bands were scrolling in the same direction as they were before totality – they were certainly identical in all other respects.

Over the next hour we viewed the eclipse as the moon passed across the sun’s face in the opposite direction then I spent the rest of the day shopping for wine and looking around some of the towns of northern France. The sun shining brightly, just as on any normal summer’s day.

 

Sam’s Total Lunar Eclipse Experience

Tuesday 9th January 2001

On Tuesday 9th January 2001 there was a total lunar eclipse that was visible right across Europe. I was working in Colchester, Essex that evening and I was fortunate enough to have clear skies whilst I drove north between 19.00 hrs and 19.35 so I had excellent views of the eclipse at its different stages of partiality.

Totality was reached at 19.50 and lasted for about one hour. During this time I caught glimpses of the eclipse in between fairly thick cloud cover and playing some of the great Jazz standards such as ‘Moon River ‘, ‘Old Devil Moon’ and ‘Moonlight in Vermont’!!

Unfortunately I don’t have a camera capable of taking pictures of this event but here is a picture of the moon during totality (From BBC Web site);

 

Sam’s Transit of Venus Experience

Tuesday 8th June 2004

For several hours on Tuesday morning, two of the sky's most brilliant objects appeared to meet as Venus, as viewed from Earth, passed in front of the sun. In the so-called "transit of Venus," the black silhouette of the planet was seen moving from left to right across the lower portion of the sun. Venus last passed between the Earth and sun in 1882.

The transit of Venus is a rare astronomical event - and one of historic importance. Astronomers first figured out how to measure the distance of the Earth from the sun by timing Venus as it crossed the face of the sun. The push to make measurements of the transit all over the world led to the European settlement of distant lands, including Australia.

I took a photograph of the suns’ reflection on our lounge wall (via binoculars and a mirror) using the camera on my mobile phone. (As it is a reflection it is upside down);

The transit of Venus at 6.55am G.M.T.

 

Some Excellent Links

www.mreclipse.com

www.eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse.html

 

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