People from all over the world converged on
to chase the eclipse.There were
scientists and eclipse enthusiasts from Iran, Japan, Great Britain, Australia,
Slovakia, Poland, Canada, Spain, Ireland, South Africa, the United States, the
Netherlands, New Zealand, and Switzerland.
The plane from
traveled 960 kilometers to the
boarding the Galapagos Legend cruise ship, participants transferred to
motorized panga rafts for the small
Bartolomeo, recently famous
as a film setting for the movie “Master and Commander”.The islands in the Galapagos archipelago have been home to pirates,
whalers, and settlers from around the world, but are most renowned for
inspiring Charles Darwin to develop his theory of evolution.He observed the remarkable adaptations animals and plants had made to
specific ecological niches in these remote islands, and many of them remain,
thanks to protection from the extensive national park system.
At Bartolomeo, the eclipse chasers snorkeled with a couple of
Galapagos penguins, which looked awkward on land, but playfully darted smoothly
around us in the water. Penguins on the equator?Surprising, but yes; they survive here on the rich food in the cold
currents that travel up from
Fish congregate around the lava reefs, and we also got a first look at marine
iguanas, sea lions, and the colorful Sally Lightfoot crabs which also call the
shoreline their homes.The young
crabs are dark and inconspicuous against the black lava to protect them from
predators, but as they grow, they turn into brilliant red and orange creatures
picking their way across the rocks.
Flying above were brown pelicans, just coming into breeding plumage, and
elegant black frigate birds with long forked tails.The blue-footed boobies do indeed have spectacularly turquoise and sky
blue feet, and they first hover, then dive spectacularly straight down into the
water to catch fish for their dinner.
A short hike to the Bartolomeo summit took us past dozens of
small“spatter cones” from many
volcanic eruptions, and the rocky red landscape looked as if they could have
been pictures taken on Mars by the Rover.
Looking below to the beach, a narrow curved isthmus of sand and green mangrove
trees, the dramatic rocky Pinnacle towered along side of it, silhouetted
against the bay, with distant flat lava plains stretching out to the ocean,
other islands rising above the horizon, and our ship at anchor reflecting the
Friday, April 1, 2004
Santa Cruz island is home to over 5,000
Galapagos Giant Tortoises, which live entirely on land, their legs being
adapted to walking, unlike the sea turtles (also present in the Galapagos),
whose legs are better adapted to swimming.
We found several giant tortoises high in the hills, hiding in thickets of
bushes, or taking mud baths in small ponds to rid themselves of small insect
parasites.They do everything
slowly, and turned placid eyes to us as we gawked at their huge size, and
watched them munch their vegetarian diet of leaves and grass.Santa
is home to the Charles Darwin Research Station (www.galapagos.org
), where tortoises are studied and bred.
“Lonesome George” is the best known tortoise there, the last of his subspecies
PintaIsland.He is estimated to
be about 70years old, with a possible life expectancy of another 80 years.Two female tortoises of a subspecies closest to his have been placed in
his living area with the hope that his genetic diversity will not become
mockingbirds called from the trees by Darwin Station, large and bold-- as are
their northern cousins, but without the expected tendency to mock other sounds.
also has an enormous lava cave in the highlands, traveling for more than 600
meters, as tall as a two-story building and wide enough to be a subway tunnel.The Galapagos volcanoes are mostly shield type, as in the
Hawaiian Islands, which produce liquid lava flows that
form rounded tops instead of the pointed cones such as
As the lava flows, it cools on the outside in contact with the air, while the
inner liquid lava continues to pour out through the hardened pipe-like tube.When the flow ceases, the lava ultimately empties out leaving a hollow
tube behind.As water gradually
seeps through porous areas in the lava over millennia, cracks appear in the
walls, stalagmites and stalactites may form from chemicals in the dripping
water, and the tube may collapse.Outside
the entrance to the cave, fearless Galapagos flycatchers flitted in the trees.
Puerto Ayora is the harbor town on
Santa Cruz, a thriving community that benefits from the tourists and
scientists who come to the Galapagos, and the busy harbor is filled with water
taxis and tour boats.It is
possible to make a phone call, use the internet, have a meal, or shop for
souvenirs or necessities.
Saturday, April 2, 2005
During the night, the Galapagos Legend cruised over by
FernandinaIsland, the furthest west, uninhabited, and relatively unaffected by
invasive exotic species that have caused problems for the native flora and
fauna on other islands.We were
greeted by a couple of sea lions, lolling on the landing dock under the
mangroves.A few steps further,
and we virtually stumbled upon a large colony of marine iguanas, sunning
themselves in a dense tangle on the dark lava, and blending in with exquisite
camouflage.They look like
miniature “Godzillas”, with short faces and spiny crests down head and back,
lifting up on front legs to observe the passers-by, and spitting if approached
to closely.We quickly learned
that one smells them before seeing them.
They lay their eggs in shallow depressions in the sand, which are protected
from visitors.In fact, all
tourists to the
must be accompanied by naturalist guides.
The lava landscape is treacherous, with the sharp “a-a” type,
the ropey “pahoehoe” type, lava tubes, and all combinations in between.In fact, one of the naturalist guides and one of the members of our
group fell on the lava and were scraped by the irregular surface.The crabs are more nimble, and the sea lions frolic in the tide pools.Here flightless cormorants breed, and build their nests of seaweed on
the ocean’s edge.They are
excellent divers and swimmers, but their wings are small and no longer useful
for flight—another adaptation unique to the Galapagos.Beautiful yellow warblers, Galapagos hawks, many varieties of
finches, and even a lava heron were in the mangrove trees.
Deep water snorkeling was colder than the reefs by the shore,
but there were many marine turtles and sea lions swimming by the strange
mammals with the funny goggles and plastic tubes.The Galapagos Legend chef prepared a special Ecuadorian lunch for the
hungry and tired tourists with an amazing collection of carved fruits and
Across the water to the east lies Isabella, the
largest island of the archipelago, but very sparsely populated.Both Fernandina and Isabella are relatively new islands, formed as the
Nasca plate drifts over the underlying earth “hot spot” and the magma rises
through volcanic activity.At this
time of year, the incense trees that cover the hills have few leaves, and even
fewer flowers, which carpenter bees nonetheless are busy pollinating.Underbrush is returning after years of nearly being eaten away entirely
by goats on the island, thanks to a program to gradually remove them. The goats
particularly affected the tortoises, which depend on low-lying vegetation for
food.Whalers and people from
other ships have left graffiti on the layers cliffs above the bay, with the
name and year of the vessel.The
older graffiti is carefully carved with a stonemason’s skill, sometimes
complete with serifs on the letters.
We climbed up to
Lake, a heavily concentrated salt lake in a volcano
crater near the shoreline, with varied theories on how the water is
replenished.Only a few brine
shrimp survive in its waters.
In the evening, the stars were out in a clear, moonless sky.The Milky Way was easily seen in the dark sky, along with countless
stars and deep sky objects.Since
we are only a couple of degrees below the equator, the Southern Cross, Eta
Carinae, Omega Centauri, the “Southern Beehive Cluster” and Magellanic Clouds
were among the special treats for northern hemisphere dwellers, while familiar
constellations such as the Big Dipper, Leo, and Orion seemed upside down or
sideways. The top deck of the ship was crowded with astronomy enthusiasts with
telescopes, binoculars, red flashlights, and even laser pointers to help
identify objects for others.David
Levy, best known for finding the Shoemaker-Levy comet that crashed into
Jupiter, had his telescope out, but we didn’t find any new comets.Eli Maor, mathematics professor and author or the “The Transit of
Venus”, just appreciated the beautiful southern skies with the unaided eye.
Sunday, April 3, 2005
A walk through the brush near a different cove on Isabella
island took us past quite a number of land iguanas, solitary creatures unlike
their distant cousins the marine iguanas.
They blend into the ground with brown, yellow, and orange skin coloring,
contentedly browsing in the dust and leaves, retreating to burrows for
protection.Tortoises live here,
but are hard to spy.Marine
turtles were in abundance, swimming in the shallow water and seen well by the
snorkelers.The turtles climb out
onto the sand dunes at night to lay eggs in dug out hollows.We could see the depressions of these nests, where the eggs incubate
under the sand in the sun’s heat, becoming male or female depending on the
temperature. Black lava gulls cruised overhead.
A dinghy ride around the shoreline passed by several penguins
standing on the rocks next to a dark mass of marine iguanas, blue-footed
boobies, brown pelicans, lava heron, and flightless cormorants.Through the clear green water we could see the tips of spotted eagle
rays flying through the water, and turtles passing below the boat.
Some people trekked across the rough black lava plain to an
oasis of collected water and the beginnings of a return to life from the rock.This day, there were several pink flamingoes and a Galapagos reef shark
among the sparse greenery.
Tonight the Galapagos Legend left the protected waters of the
archipelago and headed due west towards its rendezvous with the path of the
total solar eclipse.
Monday, April 4, 2004
The ship was out to sea at last, and the passengers were
learning to get “sea legs” over the ocean swells.After a night of stargazing, there was a welcome morning of sleeping-in.After lunch, the captain gave a lecture on the use of the sextant for
navigation.Before the days of
GPS, it was more of a challenge to know where you were on the ocean, and
sailors used the sun, stars, and time to calculate position.The sextant gives the angle of the sun or stars to the horizon, and then
a complex set of calculations and reference to nautical tables is required to
determine position.The room was
packed with scientists and science buffs—the captain had never had such a large
and attentive audience before!One
person even brought her own cardboard version of a sextant.One of the people in the audience with a deep understanding of the
problem of navigation was Dava Sobel, the author of “Longitude”, “Galileo’s
Daughter”, and “The Planets”.
Professor Jay Pasachoff of
WilliamsCollege, author of astronomy textbooks and veteran of 23 eclipses, gave a
presentation on the sun’s corona(www.williams.edu/astronomy/eclipse,
also www.eclipses.info ). It is
difficult to capture the corona well on film because of the extreme differences
in intensity, and measurements during eclipse observations help to fill in
certain gaps.It is still not
known why the corona is so much hotter than the sun itself.He will be collecting information with one of the students from the
college during this trip.
Dr. Fred Espenak (www.mreclipse.com;also www.sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/eclipse.html),
astrophysicist with NASA, shared video clips and photos from eclipses past—this
will be his 19th.He is
best known for producing marvelously precise maps of eclipse paths past and
present, which guide eclipse chasers to the right spot for viewing.Using the latest weather data, he is working with the captain to help
guide the ship to the right spot at the right time, and to figure out how to
minimize the swaying and drift during the eclipse.
People checked out the best spots to set up equipment to
measure the eclipse, with minimal interference with the sight lines, and
negotiated how best to share the space.
Jen Winter, organizer of this expedition, expertly mediated the equitable
division of finite deck space.
Tuesday, April 5, 2005
Our trusty ship is not used to being in the open water, and
some of the larger swells caused things to tip over, making for some excitement
in the dining room and bar.The
Captain and crew are all excited to be part of this trip to a seldom visited
area of the Central Pacific.We
are heading west, and the cold Humboldt current comes from the south, then
becomes the Ecuadoran current as it turns west, and hits the ship on the port
side, rocking us side to side.
Hamid Khodashenas showed some wonderful slides, followed by a
movie of eclipse trips in
It showed the terrain, the people, and the animals as well as the eclipses,
because going to see an eclipse is more than just looking at the sky during
totality.It is often seen from
remote areas, and the journey is integral to the overall experience.Before the eclipse, the weather changes, animals react, people ready
themselves, and the landscape transforms as the shadow approaches.The eclipse itself is not a cerebral event, but taps deeply into
emotions. Afterwards, there is a comraderie and celebration cutting across
cultural divides.All this was
magnificently captured by Hamid’s beautiful and haunting film.
David Levy gave a talk about the celestial happenings in times
past, and how they affected literature and daily life.Anyone appreciating the heavens or seeking out an eclipse is a poet at
heart.There were both solar and
lunar eclipses in Elizabethan times, and multiple comets, all of which deeply
affected people’s perceptions of the heavens.
Shakespeare was aware of this as he referred to “these late eclipses” in his
play, “King Lear”.Using a
computer simulation, he also showed us that soon after the King Lear eclipse of
1605, the planet Saturn was occulted by the moon!Who knew?
Jay Pasachoff presented a lecture on the transit of Venus
across the sun of 2004.Venus
transits twice, eight years apart, each century, and no one alive in 2004 had
seen a Venusian transit before.By
observing it from different vantage points and timing the transit, it should be
possible to measure distances in the solar system, but the “black drop effect”
at the beginning and end of transit have made this very difficult.There are other methods of measuring today, but the transit can give
good information about the effect of a planet blocking the energy of a star,
and this type of information is helpful to identify distant planets in our
galaxy, beyond the solar system.
Across the ocean, at least one whale was sighted spouting and
diving, while flying fish skipped away from the bow, fins whirring into a blur
as they truly flew across the waves.
Wednesday, April 6, 2005
The captain of our ship, Cesar Arcos, gave a tour of the
bridge to see how the ship is controlled.
The Galapagos Legend was built in 1964 in Germany, and has all the essentials
to ensure a safe journey—controls to keep different compartments watertight in
case of damage, back up generators and communications systems from bridge to
engine room, compasses, charts, and GPS for navigation.Captain Arcos is very experienced, having sailed the world in many
different vessels, from refrigerator ships carrying Ecuadoran bananas, navy
ships, and container ships, as well as pleasure craft.
Fred Espenak spoke about how the exact path of the eclipse is
determined.It is not necessary to
be on the exact central line of the eclipse to experience it well--the length
of time doesn’t fall off greatly until you near the edge of the path of
totality.In the case of this
eclipse, the path is very narrow—only about 22 kilometers wide—and if we are
within 5 kilometers on either side of the central line we should still see a
reasonable percentage of totality.
That gives us some room to maneuver to account for drifting with the current
and avoiding cloudy weather, but precise navigation will still be very
important.The current plan is to
aim for latitude 00°56.2’
S and longitude 109°00.0’W.The best estimate is that the partial eclipse will start at
, which is
Universal Time, as our ship time is kept 5 hours ahead.Totality will occur at
, lasting 31.7 seconds, and the
partial eclipse will end at
The length of an eclipse depends on the distance of the moon
to the earth (which varies due to the moon’s elliptical orbit), as well as the
position of the earth in its own elliptical orbit around the sun.Minor variations occur depending on where you are on the earth and the
precise orientation of the moon with its mountains as it blocks the sun.If the moon is not close enough to block the entire sun, an annular
eclipse occurs, where a thin ring of sun persists around the black disc of the
moon.At a distance just on the
verge of being a total eclipse, a circle of“Baily’s beads” is produced by the sun’s rays shining between the
mountains of the moon, sometimes described as a “necklace of diamonds”.This eclipse of
2005, is a hybrid—an annular eclipse at the beginning and end, but total for about half a minute in its
middle part over the
Ocean.The Galapagos Legend will intersect the line of
totality a bit east of the point of maximal totality, while the Paul Gauguin
and the Discovery setting out from
will intersect the line a similar distance to the west. As far as
we know, there will fewer than a thousand people who will be attempting to see
this total solar eclipse.
In order to view an eclipse safely, special filters are needed
to block out bright light and harmful UV rays from the sun.Jen Winter, Astonomical Tour organizer, brought a sheet of filter
material and traced out covers for camera lenses and binoculars for all who
needed them, then ringed them with stiff paper to make a removable cover.Once totality occurs, no filters are needed, and you can look safely at
the sun.In fact, if you want to
see the corona and planets or stars, you have to take the filters off!It is possible to see the sun safely before and after totality by using
a pinhole to project the image on a light background.Any small opening will do, and on land leaves, loosely woven hats, or
even cracks through your fingers may create a pattern of crescent suns during
partial eclipses. But it is NOT safe to look through the pinhole directly at
In the evening, we saw a video addressing the question: if the
arose from the ocean as volcanoes, how did the animals come to live there?The reptiles most likely floated from
on vegetation rafts, while birds were blown off course by winds.Likely precursors to the Galapagos species of tortoises, iguanas, and
finches have been identified in
Panama, and once on the islands, further subspeciation occurred
based on the local conditions.The
animals have evolved to help each other too—finches clean mites from iguanas
and tortoises for example.The
woodpecker finch is particularly clever, and has learned to use tools of small
sticks to help dig out grubs from small burrows in the trees. Our planet is
indeed an amazing place.
Thursday, April 7, 2005
All the days so far have been warm with mixed sun and clouds.Yesterday, someone spotted a shark, and today another whale was sighted
breaching and spouting off starboard.
We haven’t seen another ship for almost four days. In the early morning, groups
of stargazers gather to observe the waning moon and look at the southern skies.
In those hours, Scorpio and Sagittarius are high in the dark sky, and many
nebulae and clusters are visible to the unaided eye.
Today there were more clouds than before, and even a little
bit of rain.However, we arrived
at the central line of the eclipse path and are ready to move along it if
necessary.One of the people on
the ship has been communicating via satellite telephone with Jay Anderson from
Environment Canada (who is on the ship Paul Gauguin out of
Tahiti) and with NOAA to get weather predictions.The outlook for our position tomorrow looks favorable, so everyone has
high hopes and is starting to feel nervous and excited about the prospects for
a clear view of the total eclipse. We haven’t seen any sunspots, so the corona
will likely be less spherical and more elongated.
There was a dry run for the eclipse in the afternoon, and
people brought out equipment to the spots they had picked to see where the sun
would be, if the view would be good, if there would be enough room for
everything, and how much rocking could be expected from the ship.The captain turned it in various orientations to see which position
would be best—probably to the northwest.
Vojtech Rusin from
gave a talk about his work on the corona, and some of the questions that remain
unanswered.Why is the corona so
much hotter than the sun’s photospere?
Why are there cooler areas within it?
How are the magnetic fields determined?
What causes the solar wind to accelerate?
Dr. Rusin does detailed work on the spectra of the corona to try to answer such
of these questions. Unfortunately, it will be difficult to get much precision
from a ship-based observation due to the movement. but Dr.Rusin has much
experience getting precise photos.
During the transit of Venus, he successfully planned a picture of the sun with
the space station and Venus transiting together!
David Levy and Fred Espenak each gave helpful pointers on
watching the eclipse and taking pictures.
It will be important to have everything ready well beforehand, because once the
eclipse starts, there will be no time to make adjustments.We must be sure film or memory is in the camera, batteries are fresh,
solar filters are on and easily removed and stored, camera settings are in
place. Due to the ship’s motion, a relatively wide angle lens will make it
easier to keep the eclipse in the picture frame.A simple wide angle picture with something of interest in the foreground
is better than missing the target with a high power magnification.Don’t use the autofocus on the cameras.Don’t take flash pictures during totality.Don’t interfere with others or trip over their equipment.Take a look around at the approaching and receding shadows, look at the
sea, look at the people around you.
Oh yes--the most important thing of all—don’t get so involved in everything
else that you forget to look at the eclipse!!!Remember, we will be lucky to have 30 seconds of totality.