The clock strikes 4am and the sky is perfect, the Milky Way is in full view, our hope is intensified. By 5:30am, clouds start to cover the sky once again. By 6:30am, we sit at the breakfast table talking about the situation but not really saying much. We stay positive and decide to carry out the observations and experiments as planned. By 8am, our worry increases. The Sun is hidden behind thick clouds. Only for a minute or two at a time are we able to see enough of the Sun to use our eclipsing glasses. It is a waiting game, best put by Pavel who compares the eclipse to a lottery. We purchased a very expensive lottery ticket and we must wait to see if we have the “winning numbers.” First contact at 8:37am (local time) means the curtain is lifted and the Moon has begun its way across the stage. During moments of less cloud density, we put on our eclipsing glasses and watch the crescent that begins to form. A beautiful spectacle so amazing that no cloud coverage can take it away.
We’ve provided the staff with eclipsing glasses so they can enjoy the show from beginning until totality. One girl’s reaction, Nurul, was absolutely inspiring. Her breath was taken away when she first saw the crescent forming. She was shaking with excitement. What a beautiful moment to witness! As scientists, we look for the clear skies and the perfect picture and data. We sometimes forget that we are looking at nature at its best. Two celestial objects have lined up to give us this beautiful picture. Nurul reminded me of that. What an honor to share this experience with her and the others.
At 9:53am, we reach 2nd contact. The Moon has taken center stage. Totality is then reached. The solar disk is completely covered. Pink/red prominences appear. There is much cloud coverage so we are only able to observe the low corona. The clouds have deprived us of the extended corona. However, Peter A. and Martin take some H-alpha images right after first contact and a few white light images during totality. They get a gorgeous picture of the prominences. Adi gets some spectral data. Pavel takes Fe XIV and Fe XI images. Shadia captures the eclipse on her DSLR camera. Duncan and I take care of the video of the eclipse and the surroundings. We capture the crescent shadows on the ground and the leaves after totality. We capture the surroundings as it gets darker for ~3mins. We capture the people around us. We capture our team. Our team members at Buli are unable to capture anything since they had more cloud coverage than we did. At Maba, our team members were able to capture the lower corona. Despite the lack of images of the extended corona, we have data for the inner corona. We are not leaving empty handed!
During totality, you could hear the excitement from the people around us. For most, it was their first time seeing an eclipse and they truly enjoyed it. To us, it was another remarkable eclipse from which to extract the best data in order to carry on with our research. Shadia and I present the staff with eclipse t-shirts as a token of appreciation for their hard work in helping us all week. They presented us with two beautiful handmade seashell lamps to remember them by. It has been a very moving experience being here, getting to know them and sharing our adventure with them. They will be missed!
Now that we have perfect skies and the eclipse has passed, the task of disassembling the equipment and packing it is underway. We have until tomorrow to finish packing, as we will make our way back to Buli.
ECLIPSE EXPERIENCES – OUR TEAM MEMBERS AT MABA AND BULI
In Ben’s own words (Maba) – As the sun rose on the day of the eclipse the clouds moved in and it began to rain. I was sure that we would be unable to see anything during the time of totality. Only a half hour or so before the clouds began to break. There was still cloud cover but the sun began to be visible through the light clouds.
Jan and Petr decided to leave our site in the government building around one hour before totality in order to find a break in the clouds. They drove around between the ocean shore and the edge of the nearby mountains, in the end they set up only a few hundred meters from the original location. In the meantime I remained at our site (the equipment was far too complex to move that quickly) and took images. While the sun was covered with clouds I was able to capture some decent images of the inner corona with all four cameras. Petr H. was also able to capture some white light images. Hopefully with processing we will be able to get some good information about the sun!
In Petr H.’s own words (Maba) – The eclipse from Maba was seriously disturbed by heavy clouds and rain. While Ben stayed at the Maba site with the Atik cameras for precise experiments, Petr H. and Jan decided to move away for clear weather. They asked the local driver Is, who was so excited and so helpful. After a wild chase of clear skies around Maba, the group was able to see the eclipse through thin clouds. The eclipse took 3m 17s from the site and Petr H. had only 40 seconds to set up the heavy equipment before the total eclipse started. Fortunately, thanks to lots of practice in the days before the phenomenon, he made it in time. The solar corona was amazing even in the not so clear sky and the huge pink prominence was visible even to the naked eye like a shinning pearl on the edge of a “black eye in the sky”.
In Jana’s own words (Buli) – The afternoon before the eclipse, we expected rain to move in and clear up by the next day. Throughout the night, we wake up to check the sky. Unfortunately, the clouds continue into and throughout the morning. Rain begins to fall half an hour before first contact.
At the Kartika Buli Resort where we were set up, children, teachers and others from the area came in local costumes for a ceremony they had prepared. At this time, there were approximately 200 people in the lobby area of the hotel. They wish to begin the ceremony at 8:30am local time (approximate time of first contact), not realizing how engaged in our work we must be before and during the eclipse. I must tell them no for the time being. I spend some time explaining to the teachers the phenomenon that is about to unfold in the sky. They are surprised when I tell them they can take off their eclipsing glasses during totality. This seems funny to me but it would have been a shame for them to miss the opportunity of witnessing eclipse totality because they didn’t have the proper information. Petr H. has a book about solar and lunar eclipses. I use this as a reference tool to help me explain the eclipse. Everyone looks forward to the show!
There are a lot of people outside the hotel and inside around the courtyard (where we are set up) but we don’t see any issue since at this point, we don’t think we’ll be able to take much data. Besides, it is nice to be surrounded by such happy people and to feel the positive energy from them. We see some clear sky but not where we need it to be. With such heavy clouds, the people inside the hotel don’t know exactly what they will see in the sky. I countdown and shout, “3 minutes to start” and again at second contact, “it starts now.” It gets dark. After about a minute into totality, a small area to the right of the sky clears up enough for the planet Venus to appear. I shout to the crowd, “Venus!” The eclipse goes by so quickly and it’s now over. We didn’t see the corona, just a few seconds at the end of totality. Maybe it was Baily’s beads (as the moon “grazes” by the Sun during a solar eclipse, the lunar limb topography allows beads of sunlight to shine through in some places).
I, Petr S. and Garry (Buli Group) are disappointed. We look at each other and know that we lack any data. We are hopeful that observations on the other two sites were successful!
Now that the eclipse is over, the show must go on! Outside the hotel, the ceremony starts. It is very much like an invitation ceremony and a war dance! People are having fun. The young teacher, Alan Maspul, translates to me during the ceremony and explains the importance of it. We have the opportunity to participate in the war dance! I decide to go for it then Petr S. while Garry takes a video of it. People are smiling and we all enjoy the day!
And, of course, there is almost a clear sky a few hours after the eclipse!