Day 1, Thursday March 31, 2005

People from all over the world converged on Ecuador 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 Quito and Guayaquil traveled 960 kilometers to the Galapagos Island of Baltra.  After boarding the Galapagos Legend cruise ship, participants transferred to motorized panga rafts for the small island of 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 Antarctica.  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 sunset rays.

 

Day 2 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 Cruz 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 particular to Pinta Island .  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 completely extinct.  Galapagos 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. 

 

Santa Cruz 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 Fuji or Mount Shasta.  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.

 

Day 3 Saturday, April 2, 2005

During the night, the Galapagos Legend cruised over by Fernandina Island , 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 Galapagos National Park 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 Darwin 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 vegetables.

 

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 Darwin ’s 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.

 

Day 4 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.

 

 

Day 5 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 Williams College , 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.

 

Day 6 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 Iran , Africa, and Antarctica.  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.

 

Day 7 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 14:42, which is 1 9:42 Universal Time, as our ship time is kept 5 hours ahead.  Totality will occur at 16:17, lasting 31.7 seconds, and the partial eclipse will end at 17:45. 

 

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 April 8, 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 Pacific 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 French Polynesia 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 the sun. 

 

In the evening, we saw a video addressing the question: if the Galapagos Islands arose from the ocean as volcanoes, how did the animals come to live there?  The reptiles most likely floated from Central America 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.

 

Day 8 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 Slovakia 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.

 

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