Letter to [SEML] from Michael Zeiler, November 6, 2013

Letter to [SEML] from Michael Zeiler, November 6, 2013

We’ve just returned home from Gabon and I’d like to share just a few highlights.

Professor Pasachoff led our group and several astronomers made observations including detailed photography of the corona and flash spectrum photography. You’ll be hearing later about these results from those astronomers whom Jay listed in his email.

Our observation site was a small remote village called Mikongo about 50 km to the southeast of our hotel in the Lope National Park. This was in approximately the geographic center of Gabon and in mixed equatorial rainforest and savannah. We were greeted warmly by the villagers of Mikongo and treated to traditional dances before the eclipse. We were situated just one kilometer north of the local longest (corrected) duration and enjoyed almost 59 seconds of totality including a beautiful split diamond ring at C2.

As reported by others, we enjoyed a perfectly clear sky during totality. Each day in Gabon, we experienced a weather pattern of rain and clouds concentrated during the morning and evening hours but every afternoon was at least partly sunny. On eclipse day, we believe that our clear skies were at least partly due to the eclipse cooling phenomenon.

While most of our scientific group had to focus on their instrumentation and cameras during totality, my wife and I had the luxury of using our time to inspect the corona with binoculars. I’m surprised that no one else on this list has mentioned the remarkable structural features of this corona yet, but perhaps that’s because others had to allocate the short and precious duration of totality to photography and measurements.

As we scanned the corona with binoculars, we saw several unusual features: an extremely long streamer at about 7 o’clock (from our vantage) and a detached ‘blob’ at about 2 o’clock at a separation of about one solar radius from the limb which I’m suspecting was a coronal mass ejection in progress. There was also an interesting short and curved streamer also at 2 o’clock but this was seemingly not attached to the detached ‘blob’. I’m interested to learn whether solar spacecraft observations corroborate the nature of this detached feature and I’m sure that when the imagery is integrated by Miloslav Druckmueller and others, we will see a most unusual and beautiful coronal structure.

As my wife and I looked at the photographs taken by others in our team in the aftermath of the eclipse, we felt that the coronal features that we saw were not yet clear on these photos and we were left with the idea that binocular viewers should make a sketch immediately after totality to record the general coronal structure that we saw so vividly. Sketching the corona could serve as a preview to others before photos at progressive exposures are integrated into a high dynamic range image. Sketches will also help connect our experience to those earlier observers such as Trouvelot who executed the beautiful drawings in the era before high-quality photography. On our flight home, Jay reminded me of the magnificent eclipse paintings done in the early 20th century by Howard Russell Butler.

Sketching the corona would be an excellent education activity for new eclipse observers to preserve their memories of the eclipse and to compare their impression with others. I’m thinking that a technique that could be used would be to make an audio recording during eclipse to call out the observed features (like ‘long streamer of 3 radii at 7 o’clock’). I’m interested to know if others have made these sketches and what techniques work. I know that I will prepare sketch template sheets and try this at my next eclipse.

In the coming days, I will be posting photographs, a wide angle time-lapse video of the eclipse, and short stories on my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Eclipsemaps and in a few weeks, I will compile an eclipse summary page on my website.

This was an incredible adventure and I thank Professor Pasachoff for his leadership, passion, and wisdom. Every aspect of this trip was memorable and it was a privilege to be with this expedition.

- Michael

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