Eclipse Day

There were many cruise ships in the Caribbean for the eclipse. We chose the Dawn Princess. After several days at other locations, we arrived at Aruba the morning of February 26. Those who wanted to go ashore and watch the eclipse from land did so, then the ship left Aruba and headed toward the eclipse center line.

As we headed northeast, the skies grew cloudier and cloudier. About an hour before the eclipse was to begin, it began to rain. This was, of course, the first and only rain the ship was to experience during the cruise! However, we left the rain and clouds behind with 30 or 40 minutes left to go before first contact. What a relief!

After getting through the clouds, Captain Bernie Warner kept putting distance between us and them. We watched the first hour of the partial phase during this time. About 30 minutes before totality the ship turned around and headed southwest. The skill of the captain and crew really started to become evident now. Not only was the wind now at our backs so that it wouldn't be blowing our cameras & telescopes around, but we also were angled such that the exhaust smoke did not blow across the deck, either. A cruising speed was selected that was fast enough to keep the stabilizers working, but slow enough that the engines wouldn't cause the decks to vibrate. The result of all this was that the ship was a far more stable camera platform than I ever guessed it could be. I never thought I'd be photographing using an 800mm focal length from a tripod on a moving ship!

This was my first total solar eclipse. "Stunning" is probably the word that comes closest to describing it for me. I watched the first minute or so through the viewfinder of my camera, rapidly firing away photos. The corona was beautiful - I could see detail in it from the top of the viewfinder to the bottom. As I had always heard, it is true that photos of solar eclipses don't even come close to what you really see.

Through the telescope I could see a prominence at about 12:00. Neat! I took a couple dozen pictures, then forced myself to quit using the camera and just sit back and enjoy the spectacle. When I looked up at it with my naked eye, I was blown away. I was now seeing the eclipse in context - the sun was just plain gone! And in its place was a black circle, surrounded by a bright glowing corona. In close was Jupiter on one side and Mercury on the other. Venus was quite bright a little farther away. Absolutely beautiful. When totality came to an end, a single brilliant point of white sunlight came shining through, creating the marvelous "diamond ring" effect.

I had expected the sky to darken more than it did. I didn't see many if any stars, just the planets. There was some color in the sky around the horizon, but I didn't really see the "360-degree sunset" that I had been told to watch for. Also, the approaching shadow was not very obvious. I heard some speculation that these effects were reduced due to the haze that comes from observing on the sea. This haze was apparently scattering light, causing the sky to appear brighter and the shadow to appear more diffuse. I don't know if this was the reason or not, but it sounded good to me.

According to the ship's GPS we saw totality at 12 degrees 31.265 minutes north latitude, 69 degrees 19.532 minutes west longitude. Duration of totality was 3 minutes 42 seconds.

In summary, let me just say that the few minutes of totality was worth every penny and every minute invested in getting there to see it. This was my first total solar eclipse, but I don't plan on it being my last!

(Oh, and if you were wondering what happened to the folks who stayed behind on Aruba, they too got some clouds and rain but it cleared up in time for them to view the spectacular event.)

For other people's reports on this eclipse, check out Fred Espenak's collection.

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