|1998 Feb 26||13° 39' 15" North|
|18:16:23 UT||67° 27' 30" West|
1. Our Luggage Violates Murphy's LawJoan and I arrived at the airport in Aruba just before midnight on Monday 1998 Feb 23. Think for a moment about what a marvelous achievement that simple fact represents. We were there so see a total eclipse of the Sun, an event that modern celestial mechanics can predict centuries in advance with an almost unbelievable precision. Ancient people had a variety of reactions to total eclipses, mostly fearful and justifiably so. I'm sure a large number of virgins died on the alter in an attempt to ward off the evil consuming the Sun. We, on the other hand, paid thousands of dollars and journeyed a substantial fraction of the Earth's circumference just to see that no longer fearful event. And that we were able to so do for not much more than a week's salary is a testiment to power of modern technology. Even as recently as my father's generation, seeing a total eclipse was not something you could reasonably hope for. Only the rich or those backed by powerful institutions could make an eclipse journey. Ordinary people had to rely on chance (and the chances aren't good; a typical spot on the Earth's surface sees a total eclipse only once in three centuries).
It was a long day. We got up at 5am to catch a 7am flight from SFO to Miami and then on to San Juan Puerto Rico and finally to Aruba. My brain does not function correctly at 5am. Fortunately, we knew this ahead of time and drove to a hotel near the airport the evening before. Thus all we had to do was get to the airport parking lot, ride the shuttle bus and check in at the airport. The rest was just waiting while all that modern tech did its thing. Unfortunately, it was a long wait; my body does not find airplane seats very user friendly. Stepping onto the tarmac at Aruba (no jetways there :-) was a great relief. Being a dedicated amateur astronomer my first reaction was to look up in the sky. I must have looked pretty silly spinning around with my head tilted up and bags in both hands. But I did spot Canopus (Alpha Carinae). Our astronomical vacation had begun.
The biggest uncertainty in airplane travel, of course, is the actual destination of your checked baggage. One can manage without extra clothes and I had my Pronto in hand but its tripod and my binocular were in my checked bag. Fortunately, our bags arrived as planned and after a minimalist version of Customs inspection and a short ride to the dock we boarded the ship that was to take us to the centerline, the Radisson Diamond.
Bill Arnett; last updated: 1998 Mar 13