Special Members Eclipse Issue
Welcome to this August 1999 Eclipse Special Issue, MIRA Number 50. It contains stories from members of this last eclipse of the century, indeed of this millennium. All of us who stood in the shadow of the Moon last August will never forget the experience, so here is a permanent record of this unique event. I have decided to put these stories in the order that the eclipse happened. So first off is Geoffrey Johnstone from a wet Cornwall below, followed nearby by Mike Frost in Totnes, Devon on page 4. Then Mark Edwards from Alderney on page 6. From Dieppe in France the eclipse was watched by Frances Petrak on page 7. My story is from Mondsee in Austria on page 9. Both the last two stories by Alan Hancocks on page 12 and Tony Jenks on page 13 are from a resort in Hungary and shows the result of moving as far east as possible to escape the awful August weather.
The cover pictures are a selection of the shots I took at Mondsee with a Nikon F2 camera, 300mm lens with a 2x tele-converter on Fuji Velvia 50 ISO film.
Viewing the Total Solar Eclipse from
(Well not quite)
by Geoffrey Johnstone
Seeing the total eclipse from Cornwall I knew was always going to be
a long shot, but there was no other option, so I booked a rail trip with
Explorers Tours way back before Christmas. At 21:00 on August 10,
(my 36th wedding anniversary), I caught the train at Coventry, loaded down
with an ETX scope, huge tripod and two cameras, apart from all manner of
extras. After a tortuous 10 hour journey using a very convoluted route
round half the country, I and 500 other travellers arrived at Penzance
at 07:00am August 11.
One strange thing was that at every station regardless of the time
of night, or early morning, there were a dozen or more train spotters complete
with cameras and all manner of gear. I would estimate, from what
I saw, that between 06:00 and 08:00 3000 people alighted from trains at
Penzance station yet there were absolutely no extra facilities available
before the shops opened at 9 o'clock. There were enormous queues
at the toilets both on the station and car park, just outside the station,
whereas those at the harbour were locked. One cafe I came across
at 11am on eclipse day and another at 2pm. The only entrepreneur
I saw was a man selling eclipse glasses at the station, but what he didn't
know was that we had all been given a free pair with our tickets and any
way by this time it was becoming cloudy.
As for the weather it was clear on and off overnight on the train and
part of the time I tried to find a Perseid meteor but failed, although
Jupiter was very prominent. At 06:00 there was a marvellous red sky
which didn't bode well for the rest of the day.
By 07:30 the Sun, what there was of it, was very watery and shortly
afterwards it disappeared for the rest of the day. At 09:40 I settled
down to watch the eclipse on a park bench with a good view in the direction
of the approaching shadow.
The weather forecast had said the day before, that it would rain in Cornwall at about the time of the eclipse. Well it started to throw it down at 09:45 with first contact due at 09:56. For 20 minutes I sat huddled under waterproofs and a small umbrella, looking round I saw several others similarly huddled under umbrellas nearby. Miraculously after 20 minutes or so the rain stopped and the rest of the morning was reasonably good apart from the thick cloud.
From 11:00 things started to get more interesting as follows:
11:00. The light had become very strange and the wind began to pick up. It started to feel chilly although there is no drop in temperature.
11:05. All the seagulls continued to feed normally although it was as dark as dusk and the street lights were beginning to come on.
11:08. Light was very dim, the faces of the people on the bench next to me looked a very odd colour.
11:10. Light faded rapidly just as if someone had turned the dimmer switch down. (Presumably diamond ring stage)
11:11. It darkened further becoming as dark as night. All the street lights were now on. At that moment all the seagulls rose into the air together squawking madly. My thermometer still indicated no temperature drop, probably due to the thick cloud deck. The horizon remained light and flash guns were going off all over the headlands, with Marazion to my left and Newlyn to my right.
11:12.5. Light returned rapidly.
11:15. The light became much brighter, but the quality remained strange. This was followed by a rapid return to normal.
Although the eclipse was clouded out it was nevertheless an amazing experience. In the course of the event I went 40 hours without sleep, got wet through, hungry, and sat for 20 hours in an uncomfortable train and yet I shall never ever regret the hassle in getting to and from Penzance to view this once in a life time sight from British shores.
Roll on 2002, Australia here I come.
The Totnes Eclipse of the Sun
by Mike Frost
Like many people, I had been waiting for the 11th of August 1999 for a very long time. I have researched and written about several English eclipses Halley's great eclipse of 1715, the dawn eclipse of 1927 and partial eclipses in my own lifetime and this was my one opportunity to see a total solar eclipse from my own country. Other points along the track of totality; Hungary, Turkey, Iran, offered much better weather prospects. But I was willing to take a chance with the English climate.
So England it had to be but which part of England? Inside the zone of totality, of course, so it had to be in the south-west. The BAA set up camp in Truro, on the centre line of totality. I thought of booking with them, but eventually decided that I wanted to be somewhere a little bit different. Indeed, the whole of Cornwall seemed to me to offer limited opportunities for late changes of mind. Likewise, both the Scilly Isles and Alderney were appealing destinations, but constrained the observer tightly on eclipse day. So it was going to have to be Devon. Not on the centre-line, to be sure, but with a range of observing sites with respectable durations of totality.
I had raised the idea with some friends of mine some time ago. Andrew and Julia were both lecturers at Exeter University, and Andrew's speciality was solar fluid dynamics. They were happy to invite me along for eclipse week, but there was a catch they lived just to the north of the totality zone. We discussed the best way of travelling south on the day. I was for driving south, but my friends cautioned against travelling by car there was too great a possibility of being caught in traffic jams. So we looked at destinations on the railway, and eventually decided on Totnes, a rather pretty market town just inland from Torbay. Totnes would have 91 seconds of totality; it was possible to squeeze up to 30 seconds more by travelling south towards Start Point, but this would involve a tortuous car journey on eclipse day.
So we started our eclipse day by driving north-east, into Exeter. The skies were initially blue, with some cloud, but the Sun shone brightly and we had cause for optimism. My worries were far more down to earth. Could we trust Virgin Trains to deliver us southwards into Devon without cancelling or breaking down? Would the station announcer tell us of cancellations because of the wrong kind of eclipse on the line ? We didn't wait to find out. A Great Western Train arrived at the platform and we hopped on board.
Totnes was heaving with traffic when we arrived. It's the crossroads between the route east to Torbay and the route south to Kingsbridge, and both routes were jammed with traffic. I had reconnoitred the town the previous day. The most scenic viewing point was from the keep of Totnes Castle, but I had my concerns about that vantage point; too many street lights, and definitely too many people. Instead, on the advice of the tourist bureau, I had selected some parkland east of town, away from the streetlights. We crossed town on foot and made our way along the river.
The viewing site was ideally situated by the riverside, away from buildings, with a pretty backdrop of wooded hills. There were a few families sat around enjoying picnics, but plenty of space to set up. I unpacked my gear from my rucksack and provoked some laughter when I produced my industrial strength 11x80 binoculars. Don't observe the Sun directly with these•, I warned, in fact, don't look at anything remotely bright with them!
Fat chance. The weather had noticeably worsened as we travelled south. Cloud cover was ninety percent plus. Just occasionally a patch of clearish sky drifted in front of the Sun, and we could see the bite taken out as the moon made its way inexorably across. I had a radio with the local station on, and reports from across the Torbay area all suggested a similar story of cloud.
Our last view of the Sun was seven minutes before totality, but by then cloud cover was virtually complete and our hopes of seeing the eclipsed Sun faded with the light. There was some compensation from observing the skies. Most particularly, an extraordinary effect towards the south, where the sky took on the colour and the consistency of slate, with parallel delineations. The radio presenter wittered on inanely, confusing the onset of totality in Cornwall with the gradual drop of light in Torquay. I knew better, from the RGO booklet, and turned to the west to wait for the shadow to arrive. I counted down, Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five..., watching the hills to the south of Totnes. The skies to the west darkened like thunderclouds and suddenly totality was on us.
It was the darkest totality I have witnessed. The seagulls, who had thus far ignored the gathering gloom, took off noisily from the river. The sky to the east and the west was curiously orangey, not what I'd expected, reminiscent of twilight. The sky to the south was much darker (explained by us being north of the line of totality), and the hills blocked our view to the north. One person to my right took a flash photo, but most people just stood and gawped. I glanced at my watch. Fifteen seconds to go! Watch the hillside! Even as I spoke I realised that the clouds were too thick to let the shadow reach the ground. So instead I looked up and was rewarded with the astounding sight of the moon's shadow sweeping across the cloud, bringing in its wake the light of the Sun. Totality was over.
Perhaps it was because our eyes had become dark accustomed, but the change in light levels seemed much greater coming out of the eclipse than going in. We shook hands and regretted the passing of the shadow without a glimpse of the Sun's corona. I asked the people sat next to us how their dog had behaved during the eclipse. "Oh, he went crazy", they said, "Mind you, that's how he usually behaves." We stuck around the park for another twenty minutes but there seemed little point in sticking around, so we retired to the pub. And that's where we next saw the Sun from, two hours later, after the end of totality. By then I didn't care!
Reports from around south-east Devon indicated that a few areas got lucky. Newton Abbot, to our north, was under a break in the clouds and saw the Sun briefly during its forty second eclipse. Torquay and Torbay town centres were both clouded out but the crowds on Berry head, the promontory to the east of Torbay, were rewarded by views of the Sun. On Alderney, the assembled astronomers did view the Sun through light cloud. Here there were also reports of bands of light across the sky during totality, which were provisionally attributed to contrail effects. My own observations of the clouds shortly before totality still puzzle me. I think perhaps I saw a manifestation of shadow sharpening the crescent Sun highlighting the edges of layers of cloud. My most vivid memory is of the end of the eclipse, with the moons shadow moving like a stage curtain across the sky, turning night to day in just seconds.
Of course, I am disappointed to miss seeing the Sun in eclipse now I never will see the corona or prominences from English soil. But I can't help feeling that if I had gone abroad, there would have been a nagging suspicion would I have got lucky from England? At least I know the answer to that one. No I didn't!
I Was Totally Eclipsed in Alderney
by Mark Edwards
The alarm rang and I was out of bed in an instant peering at a dark and cloudy sky through the curtains of my hotel room, surely the time could not be 4:15 am — I was on holiday! However, this was no ordinary 4:15, it was 4:15 on the 11th. August 1999 the day of the eclipse!
It seemed a lifetime ago since I first discovered that this was the day when a total eclipse would occur in England, but on the great day itself I was not in England. Instead I had chosen to join other astronomers from the RAS at NAM99 (National Astronomy Meeting 1999) on Guernsey in the Channel Islands, as our chances of seeing the eclipse were slightly higher than on the English mainland standing at a 60% chance of a clear sky.
Although Guernsey lay just south of the path of totality, the island of Alderney 20 miles to its north lay quite close to the centre line, so that is why I was up so early. I had to catch a coach that left at 5:00am to travel to the harbour in St. Peter Port, then join the jet boat that was to take us to Alderney. By 5:30 we had all assembled - about a hundred astronomers and their friends and families, plus members of the media and the Guernsey Boys Brigade Band, the latter rejecting my suggestion of playing "The Sun ain't gonna shine anymore" as they didn't know it - shows my age!
By 6:15 am we were on the boat and pulling out of the harbour at high speed. As we drew clear of Guernsey we could relax for even if the boat sank, we at least would be within the track of the Moon's shadow! As we got closer to Alderney, in the east I could see that the Sun was attempting to break through the cloud cover and producing wonderful sunbeams and a sun pillar in the process. Perhaps that was a good sign that the latest weather forecast from Jersey would be correct, as nothing worse than broken cloud was predicted for the morning.
On arrival at Alderney we were met by the Alderney Womble (don't ask me why! - we were also given free Womble eclipse viewers on the boat) and made our way to the transport that was to take us to our reserved observing site — the derelict victorian Fort Albert overlooking the harbour. To get there we could either take a very old looking bus or have a ride on the only railway in the Channel Islands. I chose the train.
Forget the eclipse, this was an experience in itself, as the coaches on the two-mile line consisted of old London Underground carriages, pulled by a diesel locomotive! This train normally took visitors to an old quarry at weekends, but today it was running on a Wednesday and what was more, to allow us to get off at the fort, the Alderney Railway Society had constructed a special station (consisting of two concrete steps!) called "Eclipse Halt".
As we hadn't had time to eat breakfast, it was a relief to find that a free breakfast of coffee and bacon and sausage butties was ready to greet us as we staggered into the fort, weighed down as we were with cameras and other equipment. During breakfast our spirits rose even more as the Sun showed itself - perhaps we were to be lucky after all! We then claimed a spot on the crumbling walls of the fort that would allow us a good view, but also not pose a danger to life and limb.
So by 9:00 am we were all ready for the great event, unfortunately the clouds seemed to be getting thicker and the Sun was not visible except for a glow in the sky where it should have been. Still we could but hope! From our vantage point we could see over to the French coast 8 miles away to the East, and down below to the lighthouse on the end of the island - this was turned off for the duration of the eclipse.
First contact was due at 10:00 am, but that time came and went with still no view of the Sun and by 10:10 we were starting to get desperate. Suddenly, a great cheer went up to our right, as the clouds thinned and at last we could see the Sun with a bite out of it - the eclipse was under way!
So that is how the partial phase progressed, the Sun fighting and just succeeding against the clouds. At times the cloud was too thick to see the Sun, at other times thin enough to view the eclipse without any protection (don't tell the government!), and sometimes — each greeted by a cheer — without any cloud at all. This is where the Womble eclipse viewers showed their worth as they were slightly less dense than other viewers and gave a wonderful view of the Sun through the thinnest part of the cloud.
Totality was due to start at 11:15:15 BST and by 11:10 with five minutes to go we could see a beautiful crescent Sun through the cloud and it was becoming decidedly chilly and gloomy, but with a strange feel to it — not like dusk at all. The southerly breeze that had been blowing before the eclipse had died completely, giving a very still and calm feeling to the scene. Overhead a mysterious broad dark band appeared in the clouds stretching from horizon to horizon adding to the air of unreality (later this was explained as a shadow of an aircraft''s vapour trail).
To great gasps of delight the shadow raced over the horizon to engulf us as we saw the last part of the Sun disappear and like a giant hand reaching down on us it went pitch black. Then we saw . . . absolutely nothing! To come all this way and to see all the partial phases in such beauty and then nothing of totality was too cruel to bare! But then after 50 seconds another great cheer went up from somewhere in the darkness to my right, then we were also jumping up and down and cheering, as a thin part of the cloud let us see the black disk of the moon surrounded by at first a dim ring, then — to another cheer — a much bigger and brighter pure white corona.
I just managed in the excitement to look at the wonderfully pink and bright prominences through binoculars, then it suddenly went light again and the diamond ring appeared. It had all happened in a flash and left us all hungry for more! We had only seen about 55 seconds of totality, but they were 55 very lucky seconds as we were to discover later from those who had gone to Cornwall and other places.
The Alderney Blowers dressed in sunflower hats played a fanfare to welcome the Sun back for the benefit of the assembled media, while in the distance we could see that it was still dark over France.
Five minutes later the Sun was already making its heat felt (from measurements taken at the time the temperature drop had been 3 degrees), the breeze was also back, but this time blowing from the west. Then most of us left the fort to continue the celebrations with a free barbecue (but not free drinks!) on Braye Common by the beach below.
We eventually left Alderney in peace at 5:00 pm - the population for that day had quadrupled from the usual 2,500 to 10,000, and I overheard two locals say that they had not seen as many people since the liberation 54 years before. No doubt when the next total eclipse occurs in 2081 in the Channel Islands some of their grand children will remember that great day in August 1999 when everyone was totally eclipsed in Alderney!
A French Eclipse
by Frances Petrak
My daughter and I usually spend a couple of weeks in the summer at our flat in Dieppe along with my two grandsons. This year we were thrilled to learn that our visit would coincide with the eclipse.and that Dieppe would be in the area of totally. With all the propaganda from the British Government we became a little anxious about the safety aspect. In the end we decided that the grandsons should not attempt to look at the Sun as they were too young, at four and six, to trust to do things properly but I bought some spectacles from a supplier, recommended to me from an experienced member, for my daughter and myself.
We decided that the sea front was a good place to view and at 10.30 we made our way to find a good spot. Dieppe has a long pebbly beach, a mile long promenade and a large green famous for its kite flying so there was plenty of room for the gathering crowds. My first impression was the difference in attitude of the French government. They encouraged their citizens to view and to make sure it was done safely there were posters everywhere explaining the dangers and informing on the methods of viewing and to make really certain, there was a distribution of glasses free to anyone who wanted them.Everyone settled down to wait as it began to grow darker. There was almost a carnival atmosphere, a young man was entertaining the crowd by leaping around on his roller blades. There was a juggler and some of the kite flyers were out in force with eleven enormous kites shaped like black bats which gave a sinister effect in the approaching gloom. Some young Dutch men had set up a camping table and primus trying to make a bit of cash selling coffee from the back of the grubbist van I've seen in a long time. There was a flurry of yachts rushing from the harbour out to the west where the sky was bluest. Unfortunately our patch of sky was overcast and we only knew what was happening through the loud speakers set up by the Municipalité to keep us informed. Then there was a cheer from the far end of the beach, the end now bathed in a pool of sunlight. They had seen something and we could only wait until the clouds thinned. It got darker and colder which I hadn't reckoned on as we weren't adequately dressed. We could just see people scrambling along the cliff top as if trying to get a better view by climbing higher. The children began to shiver and one grandson hid his head under his jumper expecting the Sun to jump out and burn his eyes. (I think we must have overdone the warnings.) We decided to have our picnic lunch and warm ourselves up with food. Then the clouds parted and we saw it — the crescent of the disappearing Sun. It was so beautiful, like the moon but brighter and sharper. The clouds were still hazy and we were looking without our lenses. Then it went, and it became darker, but not as dark as I'd expected. There was a metallic greyness about it and made the world look as if it were made of marcasite. The glow continued and we heard on the PA that this was totality. The bats looked ever more menacing. Then the cliffs, normally creamy white began to glow mauve then pink. The sky, now clearing, glowed blue behind the remaining clouds of an intensity I've not seen before. Behind us out to the west the sea, previously black began to change colour too and then there was an explosion of beautiful sorbet colours stretching from the cliff tops to the horizon. I stood transfixed watching the blues, mauves, purples, reds, dance around the sky and something happened that I hadn't expected. I burst into tears. The whole experience was so overwhelming. The glow seemed to settle where I had seen so many sunsets, but this was more like a bright sunrise glowing red, orange and when it was yellow there was an enormous noise of shrieking and calling from the seagulls as they rushed around the sky either in joy to see the "sunrise" or panic to see it in the wrong direction. Then all was calm again and the light returned except that it was different, as through we'd all been transported to an alien planet where the inhabitants had tried to make us feel at home. Dieppe was as I knew it, it was all there, but the light just wasn't quite right, it was too blue. And this feeling went on for half-an-hour. The clouds were really thinning now and we could at least have a real look at the Sun through our glasses, and we could follow the progress of the moon quite clearly until it had passed over. Some people were disappointed that we hadn't been able to see the totality. It would have been nice but I think of it as an experience of the whole occasion and I'm glad I was there. The boys, well I don't know how much they could understand of it, or whether they will remember it. My daughter anxiously asked the youngest boy, "You didn't look at the Sun did you?" "No Mum, but I saw the moon." We looked at each other and smirked. I think he must have risked a quick peek.
My Lucky Eclipse
by Ivor Clarke
For our fortnights holiday this year I planned to travel with my wife to Austria, near Salzburg to view the eclipse as all the forecasts predicted that around this area was one of the best places in Europe for clear weather. So off we set in our 9 year old Vauxhall Cavalier SRi on a round trip of around 2,500 miles . . .
Saturday 7th August 1999
My wife and I set off from our home in Bedworth on our two week tour across Europe. Its 7.00am and a fine drizzle greets us as we drive down the M6, M1 and the dreaded M25 (with a burnt out car and a two car crash to contend with) in the wet and dull conditions.
Over the Thames Dartford bridge and little can be seen either side in the low mist. On down the M20 to the Tunnel; arriving over 50 minutes late. I have never seen the Tunnel Terminal so crowded, we finally get on the 11.39 train which leaves at 12.14! But the weather is improving. That night we stay at Reims in France. Lots of posters about the eclipse and eye safety on every hoarding. Sunday 8th
From Reims we drove east to Verdum and visited the huge war cemetery at Fort de Douaumont. This First World War cemetery contains thousands of graves and houses a strange grey submarine shaped building dedicated to the 130,000 men killed during the battles in the area and who have no remains. There we meet an English couple thinking of observing the eclipse from the large car park at the cemetery. Lunch in Metz, which is right on the eclipse centre line. Plenty of cloud but also sun. Many of the street posters have advertisements for eye safety during the eclipse. That night we reach Strasbourg and after midnight, rain. Monday 9th
Left Strasbourg in light rain and crossed into Germany. Stopped off at Baden-Baden for morning coffee and out came the Sun, what a lovely clean town. Drove across Germany on the autobahns in increasing heat, up to 25°C and clear skies. Crossed into Austria and headed past Salzburg for the Austrian Lakes. First stop, Mondsee, just off the autobahn and into the areas Tourist Information Office where we asked if there where any guest houses locally. The helpful and efficient girl manning the counter soon found us a farm house in the area, about a mile from the centre of town, which had a number of rooms for tourists; at £15 per night for the two of us with breakfast! Who said Austria was expensive?
The farm house had a lovely large clean room with a balcony facing a mountain across a valley just round the side of the lake. After a welcome shower we made our way back into Mondsee for an evening dinner, and what a delightful place it was. Full of interesting architecture, good shops and restaurants and with a large lake of the same name to the south of the town. The church was used in the film "The Sound of Music"
and inside is the most ornate building I have ever seen.
Later as we walked our dinner off, one of the local bands played in front of the Rathouse next to the church square. After a while a few spots of rain started to fall and in the distance thunder rumbled. As we were tired from the long drive, we started back to our farm house. By the time we turned off the main road and down the track to the farm the rain had started and the lightning was almost continuous. In the nick of time we dashed into the farm house before the heavens opened and the wind and rain really started. Tuesday 10th
Woke up to damp, dull, wet, cloudy weather. After breakfast the rain had stopped so we walked around the lakes edge near the town looking for a suitable spot to observe the eclipse. Part of the lake was a private beach with changing rooms, bars, restaurants and childrens play area which was open to the paying public. Near by was a lovely small bay, from which boats departed for trips across the lake, next to a large car park. Along the bays edge were many benches set along small trees with a small park area behind. As most of this bay looked south, this seemed as good spot as any if the sky cleared.
At the Tourist Information office in Mondsee the weather prospects did not seen to be too good. . . less cloud than today, tomorrow. By then it had started to rain and was completely overcast and dull. We got into the car and drove in the rain up the road to the towns north of Mondsee which was close to the eclipse center line, Straßwaichen and then Frankenmarkt. Both towns where set in lovely rolling country side with the hills and mountains disappearing into the low clouds. Quite a few places looked as if they would be excellent places to observe the moons shadow rushing across the country side. Providing it wasn't dull or raining of cause. That night I went to sleep feeling very unhappy with the weather prospects for the following day. Wednesday 11th Eclipse Day
Cloudy! Oh No. The mountain across the valley from our room at the farm house was wrapped in low cloud, but it wasn‘t raining and the clouds did look more broken.
After breakfast we called in at the Tourist Information Office in town again and the lady in there kindly called another Information Office at Gmunden about 30 miles east, but the weather was the same, cloudy. She said that the local forecast gave a 40% chance of clear skies in the area with a 60% chance of clear weather at Graz, a 4 / 5 hour drive away.
It was now about 9.30am and the eclipse started at 11.20am local time with totality at 12h 40m 20s. What to do? Drive towards Graz down a twisty lake side road for many kilometers before reaching the autobahn and maybe be half way up a mountain in the mist at the wrong time. Stay by the lake at Mondsee and keep all your fingers crossed. Go north to the higher centre line towns which could be in cloud. Decisions, decisions.
We, or rather my wife was not at all keen on driving anywhere. So we returned to the car and drove it the two hundred yards or so to the car park by the lake. Got out the camera gear and went in search of a bench looking across the lake.
By then quite a few folk were making their way to the waters edge and most of the benches were taken. Many tripods were being set up and long lenses were being pointed hopefully towards the sky. We found a free bench which was a little overshadowed by a tree but with a clear view across the lake towards the mountain facing our farmhouse room. The Sun was popping out by now for a few seconds through small gaps in the broken cloud. I noticed that our mountain had lost its low cloud. Things were looking brighter.
Near by a few stalls had been set up by the local towns folk selling food, drink, eclipse glasses, books and other items. Under a tree an elderly gent played an accordion. At last I started to feel happy about this eclipse!
Slowly the clouds drifted past over the Sun, and in the north west a streak of blue appeared over the mountains.
First contact at 11.19am went unobserved by cloud, but shortly afterwards through a break in the clouds, you could see the Sun had had a bite taken out of it. I wondered over to watch two guys set up a 8" Newtonian scope with a small board attached to a bar from the eyepiece. As the Sun came out from behind cloud it was possible to see a nice group of sunspots across the Suns surface with an ever-growing piece missing.
I had set up my Nikon F2 camera low to the ground on a tripod with the legs spread wide so as to minimize the risk of camera shake. The partial eclipse phase photographs was taken with a 4x neutral density filter on the front of the lens, a 300mm Nikkor with a 2x tele-converter making a compact 600mm focal length unit. All the film used was Fujichrome Velvia, ISO 50. I had tried a solar filter and also Mylar film in a set of exposure tests earlier, but decided that the best compromise was the neutral density filters for best exposure and colour of the Sun. Remember that a 2x tele-converter cuts down the light by about 2 stops. The exposure I gave to the partial phases was 1/250 @ f8, bracketing well over a stop each way.
By now the Sun was in and out about 50% of the time and that blue streak was getting closer. The clouds too, started to thin. As the eclipse got deeper more and more folk arrived around the lake side. Every one seemed in an excited mood and all seemed to have the proper eclipse sunglasses or filters to view the Sun.
Then the blue patch arrived, it was here. In the hole in the clouds above us, the Sun was a bright dazzling crescent. It was starting to feel a little colder now with the Sun down to a banana shape. I took a couple of pictures of the Suns shadows through the leaves of the tree, thin crescents on the ground. It was starting to get darker too, a strange sharp half light lit by this strange thin crescent in the sky.
Every second, as if a dimmer switch in the sky was being turned, the light was slowly falling, the sky was getting darker. The ducks on the lake went quiet as at night fall. Venus appeared sparkling high in the south. Suddenly all the lake side lights winked on and I realised how dark it was getting.
From the crowds of people an expectant murmur. The Sun was now an impossibly thin crescent in the sky which got thinner and thinner by the second and then got smaller and smaller by the second. . . drawing in to a point.
The Diamond Ring flashed. And disappeared.
Clapping and cheering from everyone along with oohs and aahs. I was looking at my very first total eclipse, and in clear skies. I could not believe it. It looked so big this hole, this black hole in the sky surrounded by a fantastic pearly white feathery corona spreading out for what seemed 5 or 6 Suns diameters. All the while I was clicking off frames on my camera, twisting the shutter speed dial another click, wind on, shoot, twist the dial another click to a lower shutter speed, not looking at the camera, but at this marvellous event taking place over our heads.
I grabbed the binoculars, the detail and colours where breathtaking. All around the edge of the moon pink prominences showed brightly, one on the right side was plainly visible as a separate flame well away from the Sun. But those amazing strands of light of the corona fading into the dark blue of the sky well away from the Sun, an awesome sight. The detail in the corona was amazing, full of soft light bending away from the black Sun. In my excitement I could hardly hold the binoculars still enough to see the details.
I can‘t remember seeing any stars but the sky was not totally black, more an inky black blue colour, around the horizon a sunset like light played over the encircling mountains, to the west it started to get lighter.
The Sun popped out, another diamond ring had appeared. I clicked off frames twisting the shutter speed dial of the Nikon backwards and forwards hoping one exposure would be OK.
It was over. Two minutes seventeen seconds had gone by in just a few moments, I couldn't believe it.
"I want to see it again!" my wife said, so did I.
It was all to much to take in in one go. The light was returning, the opposite of a few minutes ago. Across the lake the clouds still looked dark, just under the moons shadow. The strange eerie light slowly brightened back to normal. The sky slowly regained its blue. Within a few minutes the lake side lights had gone out and the ducks were back to looking for food.
Soon people started to pack up and drift away. The last eclipse of the millennium had happened and we had seen it in clear skies. I still could hardly believe our luck. I hoped Cornwall had been clear too. (It was next day when we bought an English newspaper we knew the worst.)
I have over the years read many accounts of total eclipses by different people, but even knowing what will happen and why, still does not give one the thrill of actually being there and seeing the fantastic effect for yourself. No photograph or video can hope to capture the feel of the moment, the expectation, the excitement, the wonder of it. I am fortunate to have seen it.
By 2 o'clock in the afternoon the clouds had returned and our blue patch had moved on. That night and the next, it was cloudy, so no observations of the Perseids meteors.
Next day we drove to Salzburg and the Sun stubbornly remained behind low cloud all day, as it did the next when we travelled on to Innsbruck. I don‘t know what the chances of seeing the eclipse were, but all over Europe the weather for August was very poor. In the past I have spent many days in August in both France and Germany during the harvest and the weather has been hot and sunny.
I feel sorry for all those who stood in the shadow of the moon and did not see the total eclipse. It was worth every bit of the effort of driving 1,000 miles to Austria and I will remember this event as long as I live.
Magic Memories of the 1999 ECLIPSE
By Alan Hancocks
Both Alan Hancocks and the next writer Tony Jenks observed the eclipse
from alongside the same lake in Hungary . . . .
Thoughts on the 99 Eclipse began 40 years ago in art studio, this being due to my interest in astronomy and the event taking place in this country. Those thoughts were mainly concentrated towards the Cornish area of the UK. What seemed at the time the ideal venue was to be dismissed as the years passed and a decision to view it from further afield, this being due mainly to our unpredictable climate. Where should it be?
Germany and Austria were suggested but August can be unpredictable
with inclement weather at that time of year. So it was my wife, God
bless her, who eventually chose Hungary, stopping off at Budapest for three
days before journeying approximately 100km further SW to Lake Balaton,
( The Hungarian Sea ) at 77km long is Central Europe's largest lake and
as it turned out, it was to be an idyllic setting for the eclipse with
a clear western horizon to view the on-coming shadow. All we needed
now were clear skies.
The day prior to the eclipse was very hot and hazy, not the most ideal
conditions with clouds building up towards the evening. During that
night I was wakened in the early hours by the rain beating down.
Oh dear!! When dawn eventually arrived, eureka sunshine!! With
just a few broken clouds about otherwise the prospect looked a lot better
than I was expecting.
So it was load the cameras, get down by the side of the lake and put
your towel down on the sunlounger before the Germans arrived in force.
One of the first things that was evident that morning was less people
were actually swimming in the lake. Also various yachts were in position
at anchor down the centre line of the eclipse. There were also various
telescopes on view showing first contact projections with one or two sunspots
Time seemed to fly by as we approached a now distinct crescent Sun
which for the first time produced the distinct crescent shadow effect under
some nearby trees. At the waterside excitement was now increasing
rapidly with the light becoming more and more eerie. Totality was
now almost about to happen. It was then I looked eagerly towards
the western horizon for the imminent approaching shadow. What I can
only describe as a most strange darkish looking colour in the distance
was hurtling towards us and then suddenly as if someone had blown out the
candle, darkness had arrived.
The chromosphere followed immediately by the corona, absolutely fantastic.
People were clapping and cheering, my daughter was still shooting off her
photographs throughout the entire event ( and she did a first class job
when you consider that she has never taken any astro pictures previously
). The next sight to amaze us was to see the planets Venus, and especially
from my own satisfaction point of view, Mercury could be seen clearly now
at its furthest westerly position. The light around the lakeside
perimeter was changing constantly and towards the west the horizon began
to brighten. Suddenly the diamond ring appeared and it was all over,
clapping and cheering echoed around us, some people were actually in tears
of joy ( including my wife ).
After what can only be described as without doubt the greatest sight
that I have ever had the pleasure of seeing . . .
I can't wait to see the next one . . .
TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE -
11 AUGUST 1999
by Tony Jenks
My wife and I started planning to see the 1999 total eclipse way back
in early 1998.
I had obtained lots of data on the eclipse from the NASA site on the
internet. I had the longitude and latitude coordinates, durations
of totality, probabilities of clear skies, and temperatures for the track
across Europe and Asia.
We wanted to see the eclipse without having to use our own car and
without going on a specialist eclipse tour. Any venue would be a
compromise Cornwall was near but the chances of clear skies was only
45%, there was a 90% plus chance of clear skies in Iran but the temperature
would be excessive.
I had ascertained the track of the eclipse across Europe and Asia and
with the aid of some large scale maps could pinpoint the centre line very
accurately. I was looking for tourist resorts which the path of totality
would pass through and the scenic Lake Balaton area in Hungary looked a
By browsing the travel brochures I found that Archers Travel were running
a coach tour round the Czech Republic, Austria, and Hungary, with an optional
7 day extension at Lake Balaton. Every week during the summer this extension
arrived at the Lake Balaton area on Sunday and left the following Sunday.
As the total eclipse was on a Wednesday this seemed a cast iron way of
being on site for the event.
Totality would last for 2 mins 22 secs at Lake Balaton, only 1 second
less than maximum. The NASA weather prediction gave round about a
60% chance of clear skies at this location, temperatures should be reasonable
and best of all, my detailed maps showed that the resort of Siofok, where
the hotel was, was bang on centreline.
We originally booked to stay at Siofok but after we learned that it
is a bit like Blackpool we changed out venue to the scenic Tihany Peninsula
on the North shore. This was maybe 5km off centre line and may have
cost us a second off totality but it was set in a National Park with glowing
reports of beautiful scenery and we thought the benefits outweighed the
one second. So we booked our holiday to arrive at Lake Balaton on
8th August and to leave on 15th August.
Total Eclipse Day - 11th August
The weather at Tihany had been superb since we arrived with clear skies
every day, but I awoke early on 11th August to the sound of heavy rain
and lay in bed wondering how I would feel if we missed seeing the the eclipse.
We had already seen one total eclipse in India in 1995 and I felt rather
philosophical about missing this one. An 82 year old neighbour of
ours had missed seeing the 1927 total eclipse due to cloud and she wanted
to see one before she passed on. She had asked for my advise on where to
go and bearing in mind that this was her last chance, and that a clear
sky was all important her, she had travelled to Turkey with Explorer Tours
for the event. I remember saying a little prayer and wishing that
even if we were to miss seeing the eclipse that our neighbour shouldn't.
By the time we got up the rain had stopped and the sky had brightened
considerably. We walked along the lake shore to see if any other
eclipse watchers had arrived. There were very few people about but
there was a solitary apparently ownerless telescope set up
for solar projection. The Germans had as usual bagged all the benches
by throwing towels over the backs and then going off to breakfast
or maybe back to bed!
We had picked a spot in the hotel gardens from which to view the eclipse.
Totality was scheduled to begin around 12.50pm local time and we arrived
at our spot around 11.00am. The sky was covered with high cirrus cloud
but we could see the Sun albeit not all at the same time!
I set up my tripod and camera. We also had a sky map for showing
what objects should be visible during totality, a pair of eclipse viewers
each and a pair of binoculars.
I planned to take a series of photographs during totality and had written
down all the exposures so that I could take a disciplined approach.
My plan was to take one exposure at 1/1000 sec at f22 for Baileys Beads
then during totality to open the aperture fully to f8 and starting with
a shutter speed of 1/1000 to take a series of shots decreasing the shutter
speed all the way down to 1 sec if time allowed. I had carried out
some tests prior to the eclipse and realised that my lightweight tripod
would not hold the camera still enough during long exposures. I had
therefore commandeered a bench on which I rested the front of the lens.
This seemed to hold the image steady at trial exposures of 1/2 sec.
All in all I felt that we were reasonably prepared for the event.
First contact occurred at about 11.20 it caught me off guard because
of the cirrus cloud. The eclipse had begun before I realised!
It was at this time that we discovered the hedgehog. Janet had
heard rustling sounds coming from a nearby drain but had thought nothing
of them. I decided to investigate and had found a hedgehog which
had fallen into the drain. We rescued it with the aid of some cardboard
from a nearby waste bin and Janet just had time to take a photo of it before
it scampered away into some bushes.
As the partial phase progressed, the temperature dropped and the light
level decreased. Janet informed me that biters (mosquitoes) were
appearing and were hovering all around me as I knelt down taking photos
of the partial phase. Normally I would have run a mile but this was
an eclipse, the adrenalin was flowing, and nothing was going to disturb
The cirrus cloud was still transiting the Sun with half the Sun obscured
by the moon but there was now a line across the sky beyond which was clear
sky and the line was rapidly approaching. In a very short time we
had a beautiful clear blue sky.
Although it didn't seem to me that the light level had dipped dramatically
due to my eyes becoming light adapted it obviously had as the lights,
which normally only came on during the night to light the pathways, had
all come on. The sunlight however had none of its normal warmth,
it was colder, whiter almost like an continuous electronic flashgun
Images projected through trees onto the ground clearly showed the partial
phase progressing and I took this opportunity to show some of the local
Hungarian workers this phenomenon whether or not they wanted me to!!!
I had been taking photographs of the partial phase with a 200mm lens
plus 2x converter (giving 400mm) and using exposed black and white film
supplied by Ivor Clarke as a neutral density filter. I was using
Fujichrome Sensia II ISO 100 film with exposures of 1/125 sec at f11 and
JUST prior to 2nd contact (start of totality), about 11.50 hrs local
time, I removed Ivor's filter and took what I hoped would be Baileys Beads.
THEN IT WENT DARK!!!
Being on the centre line it happened so quickly. I couldn't see
the camera controls properly and although I managed to find the shutter
speed ring I forgot in my excitement to open up the aperture so all
my photos were as a consequence taken at at an aperture of f22!
The view at totality was magnificent the inky black orb of the
moon surrounded by fire. There were red prominences, one of which appeared
to be detached from the Suns surface, red, green, yellow hues, immediately
surrounding the disk and the faint white of the corona further out.
All this against a very dark blue sky it was truly AWESOME.
There was so much to see and so little time to see it we could only
wonder at the sight before us.
After some time I spotted Venus. How could I have missed it
seemingly shining brighter than I had ever seen it before but of course
my attention was focussed on the fiery ring. Janet and I had studied
the sky map of what should be visible during totality and she now saw not
only Venus but also Mercury. Whilst she was trying to tell me where
Mercury was, the darkness was suddenly destroyed by the reappearance of
the Sun, and all we had left were memories, and my photographs if they
It happened so quickly. If the diamond ring effect occurred then
it was too quick for me to appreciate. This suddenness was because
we were bang on the centre line. Our previous total eclipse experience
was in 1995 in India and was from a site very way off the centre line which
had the effect of slowing up the Baileys Beads and Diamond Ring effects
but also shortened totality so you take your choice! What amazed
me was that even though only the smallest sliver of Sun was visible I could
once again easily see my surroundings what incredible power our nearest
So I didn't see Mercury during totality much to my chagrin as I still
had NEVER seen this elusive planet. Even though we were surrounded
by trees we didn't notice any birds going to roost as the light faded (I
think we too busy looking at the Sun to notice but as the light returned
after totality Janet saw many birds flying out of these trees.
The week around the eclipse was also the time of the Perseid meteor
shower and as well as staying up late on several evenings I had also arisen
one morning at 00.45am and on another at around 03.00am to view these.
I did see some Perseids but on the whole it was rather a disappointing
show. However on the second of my earlier morning sorties, just before
dawn I noticed Castor and Pollux (the heavenly twins) in the East and it
suddenly occurred to me that the skymap showing what was visible during
the total eclipse featured these two stars and that they formed a pointer
to yes you've guessed Mercury.
To cut a long story short I did see Mercury that morning as dawn broke
but only through my binoculars. Try as I might I was unable to see
the planet with unaided vision. The next morning I again got up early
about 03.45 and found Mercury using my binoculars and then by using
a solitary sliver of cloud, and parts of our hotel as pointers I finally
managed to see this elusive planet with unaided vision I was chuffed!
So ended the astronomical side of my holiday so enjoyable, so
exciting. Now where shall we go in 2001 Kenya, Tanzania, Madascar?
by Ivor Clarke, Editor
I hope that you have enjoyed all these stories from the Society's Members who stood in the shadow of our Moon last August and witnessed this strange, infrequent, unique, fascinating, once-in-a-life-time event. I am sure that many more members witnessed the deep partial phases of the eclipse from wherever they where that day. I have since spoken to many folk who live around this area and also colleagues at work who took a few minutes off to stand and stare (through the proper solar glasses) at the thin crescent Sun and see a sight all too rare, most with clear skies unlike those unfortunate folk further south.
This eclipse was one of the Saros Series, Number 145, which began long ago on January 4th 1639 and will end on April 17th 3009. This Saros Series lasts 1370·3 years and has 77 eclipses of which 41 are total. Most Saros Series have around 70 eclipses. The relationship of eclipses to each other was discovered by the Babylonians over 3,000 years ago and was used by them to predict when the next eclipse would occurs. At any one time there are a number of Saros series in operation over-lapping each other. Each Saros lasts 223 lunations or 6585.32 days (just over 18 years). After which time the Sun, Moon, Earth and the nodes of the Moon's orbit return to almost exactly the same relative positions, but the Earth will have turned through 1/3 of a day. So after 3 Saros periods an eclipse will occur over the same part of the Earth again. For instance, England's last eclipse of 29th June 1927 was 3 Saros periods ago. This one on August 11th was at a little lower latitude and the next will be lower still and so on until they miss the south pole region and the series ends. The next in this Series occurs on Aug 21st 2017. It starts in the north Pacific and swings across the USA from Oregon in the northwest to South Carolina before heading out over the Atlantic towards Africa. Of the next 4 total eclipses, Africa gets 3, so is the place to head for, Southern Africa on June 21st 2001 and Dec 4th 2002 (this eclipse also touches South Australia at dusk), north Africa on March 29th 2006, also Turkey and the eastern Republics.