Day 9 ECLIPSE DAY, Friday April 8, 2005

All night long the ship pitched and rolled, creaking and shuddering, smashing into the waves and tossing all about, rain and wind and waves outside in the dark.  There were many worried looks as the day dawned to deep overcast skies.  Fred Bruenjes was out on the deck with a satellite phone under a plastic bag, trying to download updated weather information.  The system that was supposed to clear up was staying around, and after consideration of the best weather data, the ship’s course was redirected further south and west, away from lighter clouds and bits of blue, and directly towards a squall!  The hope was that on the other side of the storm we would find clear skies that were heading for that same point of predicted intersect of ship, clear sky, and eclipse.  As Jen Winter said, “It’s official.  Now we really are chasing the eclipse.”  The hopeful set up telescopes, cameras, and measuring equipment, and waited to see if the sky would clear.

By the time of first contact at 14:41 ship’s time, the clouds were wisping across the face of the sun intermittently, but nenetheless we could see the small dark bite out of the bright disc in the lower left corner.  Solar filter glasses, #14 welder’s glass, and lens filters all were on, and the ship’s decks were full of people with heads turned to the sky.  The crew had all been issued eclipse glasses, and were freed up from other work to share in the view.  The clouds were thinner than before, but still thick on the horizon, and we were not yet in a clear hole.  Where was the wind coming from?  Which way were the multiple layers of clouds moving?  Were they moving faster than we were?  Would they clear as the eclipse weather affected the atmosphere, or would they form even denser cover?


By 10 minutes before eclipse time, it looked good.  Shadows were crisp, and getting sharper as the sun became a smaller crescent and more of a point source of light.  Pinhole or binocular projections showed crescent suns. The ocean reflections took on an iridescent cast, as did the clouds near to the sun.  The waves turned a deep purplish blue, and the light on the deck was definitely changed, a grayish color unlike a simple cloudy day.  Then across the white wall in the front of the ship below the bridge we spotted a rapid vertical flashing like torrents of rain across the surface—shadow bands!  They fell cascading over Vic Winter with his one and a half year old daughter, Shadow, in her baby backpack, seeing her first eclipse.


109°30’W longitude, 1°19.32’S latitude. The sky to the west was clearly darkened by the moon’s shadow as totality neared.  Excitement rose as everyone was sure we really were going to see totality.  Then yes, 16:17, the Bailey’s beads, the brilliant diamond ring, glasses and filters off, second contact, the photosphere disappeared—the total eclipse of the sun!  The circumference shone in a perfect ring of intense brightness, with a thin line of red chromosphere completely around the moon’s black disc, and faint strands of just detectable prominences trailing off.  The corona streamed outward in beautiful white brush strokes across the darkened sky, and just  2.5 degrees above it—Venus shining to rival the corona.  Below the eclipse, the sky was deep blue-purple, the clouds a golden color, and the horizon over the sea glowed on either side of the central shadow.  People called out with excitement, stared transfixed by the spectacle in the sky, clicked cameras frantically, forgot to do things they had planned, and experienced the moment.  Suddenly, too soon (could it really have been 30 seconds?), the second diamond ring appeared. Totality was over.  A great cheer went up, people embraced and celebrated, full of the eclipse magic and ecstatic that they had seen it all clearly.  The captain was thrilled to see his first eclipse and to have navigated successfully to the exact right spot. 


As totality swept away the shadow bands reappeared briefly on the front of the ship, then the light made its gradual return as the moon continued its course across to the upper right of the sun, finally achieving fourth contact by 17:45.  By then, most people were already checking out digital images of this eclipse and planning where they would be for the next one in 2006.


We had a party with cake, T-shirts, and songs created that very day in honor of the eclipse: “Galapagos Isle”, “Moonshadow”, “Moondance”, and “ Corona , Corona ”, with apologies to the original versions.  Many thanks were expressed to all who made the trip and success possible--tour organizers, captain and crew, people who helped determine best location, financial angels.  As David Levy pointed out in his discussion of eclipses past and present, it takes four alignments for an eclipse experience: the sun, the moon, the earth, and the people witnessing the awesome event.  We were happy that all came together today.


 (content submitted by Khati Hendry and Sally Kilburg)


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