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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.
Letter to [SEML] from Terry Cuttle, November 5, 2013
Congratulations to all those with success especially the two dramatic flights to totality; and commiserations to those less fortunate. Now back in Libreville with a little more time I can explain the view from the edge at Cape Lopez.
The morning was generally cloudy with sunny patches as I set up the equipment on the beach at Cape Lopez about 50 metres back from the northern end of the Cape. This was about 250m in from the limb corrected southern edge of the path. The beach extended a little further than the Google Earth image (which was 10 years old) suggested. The weather prospects looked decidedly better than the previous day when it had rained in Port Gentil most of the day. However the clouds thickened and I did not see first contact with only one short break in the clouds about an hour before C2. As totality approached the clouds began to dissipate. The Sun was initially visible briefly unfiltered through the clouds as a very thin crescent. The area around the Sun cleared quickly and it became clearly visible no more than about a minute before C2. There was no doubt that it was substantially influenced by eclipse cooling.
I scrambled to locate the Sun in the TV-76 scope but with the Sun so dimmed I could not use the Sol Searcher and alternately looking at the spectacle and trying to line up on the Sun, finally giving up and sitting back and watching the spectacle unfold.
The display of Bailys Beads was simply stunning. It went on for almost 30 seconds as the Moon skimmed the left side of the Sun with the beads moving and sparkling like a diamond necklace along the left side of the Sun, finally reducing to a spectacular double diamond ring. The bead display continued on for so long that I considered for a while that those who were sceptical that Cape Lopez was in the path at all, may have been right and I would miss totality. But totality finally came right on time in clear sky with a beautiful solar max corona made all the more spectacular by the chromosphere which appeared to be visible down the left side of the Sun for the whole of the about 27 seconds of totality. The display at C3 was similar but not quite as spectacular as at C2.
The view of the approaching shadow was equally dramatic. Being right on the edge, the approaching shadow was quite different from a centreline view when the shadow approaches spreading out and enveloping the observer. Here looking west, the shadow was all to my right side and it looked just like a deadly serious thunderstorm approaching very rapidly from the horizon over the ocean. All this time the view to the south was relatively bright. I expected to see the edge of the shadow extending at 45 degrees down from the Sun I but did not see that, probably because the edge is so diffuse and the air relatively clear. The edge of the shadow during totality was quite visible projected on the cloud to the south not clearly defined but brightening from my position outwards. A lighthouse that I could see more than a kilometre away to the south appeared to be slightly brighter. I did not specifically look for nor did I notice any shadow bands.
The beach at Cape Lopez was almost deserted. There was only one other group of three observers located further along the beach. I was frequently visited by groups from the local village where I had earlier distributed eclipse glasses. Initially I was surrounded by kids watching and wanting to help. A group of about 20 adults and kids came out and shared their excitement and sheer delight at totality.
A big thankyou to Xavier and Dave Herald for providing the tools for me to confidently go right to the edge. The display was so spectacular and dramatic that I would certainly consider being right on the edge at a future eclipse. But I would certainly appreciate better weather than the heart stopping last minute clearing.
This gallery contains 10 photos.
This gallery contains 9 photos.
These close-ups taken by Liesa Schwarzenbek at La Lope Park show elephants and a very baby elephant crossing the road. She had the clearest view from the back of the bus. Also, at the the top of this gallery, Lisa … Continue reading