night leading up to the eclipse was clear, except for the morning of the eclipse
an overcast sky with no stars visible. Not a good omen. However, by the
time of totality (about 11 AM) most of the haze had burned off, thus providing
a spectacular view of the sun's corona, once moon had done its heroic job of blocking
the entire surface of the sun.
began at what is known as "second contact," which was immediately preceded by
the appearance the "diamond ring," an effect where the last bit of the sun's surface
shone through a valley on the moon's limb. At second contact the diamond ring
dissolved into prominences at the 9 or 10 o'clock position, which were then covered
up as the moon continued to pass over the sun's surface.
The corona was an unusually elongated affair this time due to sunspots being at
a minimum (which mutes the corona at the poles). Because of the haze, only Venus
was readily visible, among the stars and planets in the dark sky. There were no
shadow bands, no approaching shadow, no clear 360° twilight on the horizon.
dragged along a thermometer, which recorded an 86-degree peak an hour before totality
and dropped to 76 degrees during totality.
The sun's corona never seen outside of a total eclipse is the most
spectacular phenomenon of an eclipse. Although it is imperfectly captured on film
and video, such media does give a fair representation of what is seen. However,
what cannot be experienced secondhand is the unworldly eeriness of totality and
eclipse totality and the lead up to it was far more than viewing
of the corona. It was also a feeling that impacted many senses as the sky darkened,
the air became cooler, the nervous anticipation of observers, and the sudden appearance
of the diamond ring as the sun's surface blinked out of existence and the corona
breathtakingly appeared, as if someone had just flipped a switch.
many feel the most striking aspect of totality is the sun's corona, others feel
the rushing shadow chasing across the Earth's surface at more than 1000 miles/hour
and engulfing the observer is akin to a religious experience not something
I can vouch for. Still others are mesmerized by the prominences, diamond ring,
and Baily's beads. While a few feel the sensory whole of totality is the ultimate
begin to notice something is happening roughly half an hour before totality. The
sky has become darker, in a twilight kind of way. A quarter of an hour or so before
totality, the drop in temperature has made its presence obvious, and a glance
from the corner of my eyes even without the protective eclipse glasses
it is clear that the sun is but a sliver of its former self.
observers are in anxious anticipation and are even becoming a bit jittery with
excitement. A lot begins to happen in the last ten minutes before totality. Much
to observe, to take in, much too much in fact, because various phenomena happen
Many of us are prepared to look for all these things pinhole-like projections
of the crescent sun through the leaves on the onto the ground, the illusive shadow
bands (which did not show up at this eclipse), birds and other animals heading
back to nest (didn't see many at our site), the sky blackening, stars appearing.
At third contact,
prominences appeared, totality ended, and the corona was switched off as a diamond
ring once again reappeared, planets and stars disappeared, the sky brightened,
observers reacted and exhaled in a celebratory atmosphere that included swapping
stories, "did you see [that]!?", comparing notes, recounting phenomena.
ignored now is the sun as more and more of its surface is reclaimed from the moon's
cover. The eclipse goes from third to fourth contact, when the moon and sun become
completely uncoupled a process that took about an hour and 20 minutes.
Completely gone was the anticipation that preceded totality. A few people continued
to photograph and observed the final phases of the eclipse but most packed up
their equipment, photographed each other, reviewed video and digital images of
the four minutes and five seconds of totality (observers in southern Libya had
two more seconds), and talking about the next eclipse. "Seen one and you've seen
them all" was not the mantra of this group. Not only is each total eclipse different,
the experience doesn't last long enough or happen often enough for one to become
arguably the most spectacular and one of the rarest phenomenon in nature.