Eclipse 98

1998 Feb 26

My wife Jane and I took a 10-day cruise on the Holland-America Line MS "Veendam" to see the February 26 solar eclipse. Also aboard were our daughter Leslie Kohman and her husband Jeff Smith from Syracuse and about a dozen other Pittsburghers.

The tour was arranged by Scientific Expeditions and Sky & Telescope. The ship, facilities, accommodations, food, service, entertainment, and astronomical programs were all excellent.

We started from Fort Lauderdale and headed directly for the viewing site between Aruba and Curacao. Captain Jonathan Mercer, with the assistance of meterologist Alan Whitman, maneuvered us into a position a few nautical miles north of the center line where we could view the eclipse in a clear sky with about 3-1/2 minutes of totality. By moving slowly downwind with the stabilizeers out, he provided us with a surprisingly stable platform for photography. Long before totality Venus appeared brightly in the southwest. While aligning my camera just before totality I saw flickering lights and shadows on the deck, probably related to shadow bands. As soon as totality began Jupiter and Mercury shone brightly on opposite sides of the Sun, Jupiter 3 degrees below (west) and Mercury 4 degrees above (east), both at V = -1.5. Some prominences were visible, and of course the corona was spectacular. Totality ended with a brilliant diamond ring.

The crew left all lights off on the upper decks at night, so the sky was dark and the stars brilliant. Just after dark Canopus was high in the south below even higher Sirius. At latitude 12 degrees N, Polaris hung very low in the north. The winter Milky Way, which I have never seen near Pittsburgh, was prominint from Auriga through Gemini, past Orion, Canis Minor, and Canis Major, and on down as it brightened into the Southern Milky Way in Puppis, Vela, Carina, and Crux. With or without binoculars I saw M 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, and Mel 25, and in the south the brilliant clusters IC 2391 and NGC 2516, 3114, and 3532, and the nebulous Eta Carinae complex, NGC 3372. In the early evening the Large Magellanic Cloud was several degrees above the southern horizon; I couldn't see the cloud itself but with binoculars I could see several foreground stars and the Tarantula Nebula, NGC 2070, which is in the Cloud.

During twilight of the day after the eclipse the thin 31-hour-old crescent Moon appeared. One evening the western sky was so clear at sunset that a brilliant green flash was visible. The evening of March 4 we observed the occultation of Aldebaran; with binoculars I was lying on my back on the deck because the Moon and star were nearly overhead; with his younger eyes Jeff was able to see the disappearance with bare eyeballs.

After the eclipse the ship made stops at the islands of Curacao, Bonaire, Grenada, Dominica, St. Thomas, and Holland-America's private island Half-Moon Cay, with ample opportunities for nature walks and tours, swimming, snorkeling, biking, whale watching, shopping, etc.

Altogether, it was a most enjoyable experience. Holland America, Scientific Expeditions, and Sky & Telescope deserve highest praise for the excellence of the arrangements.

Truman P. Kohman; 1998 Mar 23