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Sun-Earth Day Presents: Eclipse, In a Different Light


October '97 EclipseBy Philip J. Sakimoto

October 12, 1977, somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. My eclipse chasing buddy, Stephen Edberg (now an employee of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory), and I were on a cruise ship chartered by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, heading for a morning encounter with a total eclipse of the Sun. Around midnight, I felt the ship suddenly lurch and go to full power. We learned later that clouds had closed in over our intended viewing location, and so the Captain had literally gunned the engines to make for the one place along the eclipse path that might be clear--hundreds of miles away.

At our new location, the ship not only went to all stop, but the Captain shut off the engines completely. No vibrations would spoil anyone's eclipse photography. Just before totality, he ordered the ship's boilers to be capped. No steam escaping from the stacks would block anyone's view. Everyone on board was on deck: not only every paying customer, but every steward, deck hand, and crew member who could possible leave his or her station was there watching. Scattered clouds ringed the horizon, but overhead, except for one tiny stray cloud, it was--remarkably--clear.

When totality came I remember two unusual mid-ocean features. First, we SAW the Moon's shadow coming towards us. It was an unmistakable dark streak racing over the ocean. Second, once the Sun was blocked, a spectacular blood red "sunset" appeared 360 degrees around the horizon. Sunlight skirting the Moon was striking the clouds on the horizon and then reflecting from those clouds to us. The long journey that light took through the Earth's atmosphere turned it a deep, deep red--like a sunset that you could see in every direction you looked.

Everything else went as advertised. Bailey's beads were clearly visible. The Sun's red chromosphere, with a few large prominences could be seen against the edge of the Moon. The air cooled noticeably. Everyone stared in rapt, reverent silence. Part way through the two and a half minutes of totality, that one stray cloud crept over the Sun, causing an audible sigh to pass through the whole ship. We watched the eclipse come to an end through dreamy filaments of clouds.


Eclipse Fact

Eclipse shadows travel at 1,100 miles per hour at the equator and up to 5,000 miles per hour near the poles.

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