Eclipse 98

1998 Feb 26

My brother Jerry and I arrived in Aruba on late Tuesday afternoon, after 5 1/2 hour flight to New York, a 4 hour layover and a 4 1/2 hour flight to Aruba. We had no baggage problems, and the only customs we had to go through was at arrival in Aruba. It turned out to be a snap: we were the last ones through, because we took our timeloading all our equipment onto my new luggage cart, but there was no line at all. We went by shuttle to our hote.\l, a two-story place with Spanish roof, and after a short rest, we took the public bus to town for dinner. The bus was late, and dinner service was slow, so we were starving. After dinner and the quick bus ride back, we called it a day.

Yesterday, we observed early morning stars, rented a car, had a fine Chinese lunch, shopped, took a 4 hour drive all the way around the island, finished the Chinese lunch for our dinner, and observed some evening stars, including Sirius, and Canopus, which is south of Sirius. (Once, I suggested that Karen try to observe Canopus from San Diego, telling her the Canopus was "South of Sirius, on the horizon". Karen liked the flow of the phrase, and wrote a poem by that name).

We started this morning Thursday, eclipse day) at about 3:45 am. As we decided yesterday, we set up our equipment (telescope, computer, camera, and Denny's camcorder) right outside our kitchen window. We used the telescope for observing and taking pictures of the sun, the camcorder for pictures of ourselves and environment, and the camera mainly for pictures of the sun. We spent a couple of hours getting the equipment set up, the telescope electronics aligned with the sky, and the computer synchronized with the telescope. It took so long partly because I mistook Venus for Antares, and wasted half an hour or so before descovering the mistake. We ovserved Venus, Uranus, Vega, Altair, Deneb, Arcturus, Spica, the Big Dipper, Antares *the real one). Jerry saw a sliver of the moon, but I missed it, and forgot to check later. I didn''t see the moon again until the eclipse was starting. Since the telescope was alligned, we could and did continue to view the very bright objects like Venus and Vega during the day. We also observed Mars, and probably could have observed Arcturus, but didn't think of it. Jupiter and Mercury were probably bright enough, but we were afraid to try observing that close to the sun without a solar fileer. We did try to observe Saturn, but it was not bright enough to see.

Next came the sun. We carefully covered the finder scope, so it would not be exposed to the sun, and put the solar filter on the 8 inch Ultima 2000 telescope. Then we clicked on the laptop button to slew the telescope to ponnt to the sun. We saw several sunspots on the big yellowish white image of the sun. As we were observing during the day, we showed many people the view of the sun and Venus on the telescope. One of the group of German astronomers here to view the eclipse informed us that the eclipse was an hour later than I had thought. I checked, and found that I had set the wrong time zone into my star map program, so we had to change all the times of events connected with the eclipse on our script. Meanwhile it continued cloudy, with clouds sometimes covering most of the sky.

First contact, when the moon first appears to touch the sun, occurred a few minutes earlier than I expected, as the sun was emerging from the clouds, and I missed the first few seconds of partial eclipse. Jerry and I continued to observe, and we continued showing the view to passers-by. Everyone was thrilled. As more and more of the sun was covered we used breaks in the clouds (which were rapidly moving) to view the eclipse and take photos. Once we tried to view Venus again, but, because we were too close to the building, Venus had already set behind the roof. We switched to Mars, and were able to observe it, but could not see Saturn. As the eclipse approached totality, the sky was about 50% covered by clouds, but there was a big break coming toward us, racing the moon.

The break arrived first, so we saw the first instant of tatality, and it was spectacular. We heard cheers from all the surrounding buildings, and fire works went off. A woman told us later that she was unable to focus during the first few moments of totality because it was so beautiful she started crying. First we saw the blacked out sun, with the bright corona around it, and Mercury and Jupiter on either side. I looked for Saturn, and could not see it. Jerry was taking pictures. I removed the solar filter, and observed the sun through the telescope. I saw a huge red prominence extending thousands of miles above the surface of the sun at a position about 12 o'clock, and hundreds of small red prominences at about 9 o'clock. Jerry was taking pictures, so I told him to drop everything, and look at the prominences. He wanted to take a picture through the telescope but took a quick look at the prominces first. Totality ended as he was setting up the camera and there wasn't time to place the solar filter, so he pointed the telescope away from the sun. We had had about 10 seconds of totality (really 3 minutes and 10 seconds, but it passed SO fast). Others in the area saw the approaching cone of totality in the distance and the shadow bands: we did not.

I continued to observe through the last contact of the sun and moon. At this point, exhausted, we carried our equipment back into the apartment.

Tom Frayne 1998 Mar 2