I traveled to the Total Eclipse of the Sun on March 29 with a group of 26 organized by Ralph Chou of the Toronto Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (www.rasc.ca).
Ralph decided to take the group to the Sahara Desert just south of the oasis town of Jalu because it had the best prospects for clear weather combined with a reasonable degree of accessibility. The trip included a week-long tour of Libya plus an optional week’s tour of Italy. After three days in Tripoli, where we visited two of the best-preserved Roman cities in the world, Sabratha and Leptis Magna, we traveled to Benghazi in eastern Libya. The day before the eclipse, we spent all day driving south into the desert, arriving at “Eclipse City” around 4 pm. This was a tent city setup for the thousands of visitors who came to Libya for the eclipse.
After a chaotic dinner, the only time the Libyan infrastructure really broke down, we retired early to our tents only to be awakened soon after by fireworks, loud music, and the roars of ATVs. For the Libyans, the eclipse had become something of a national holiday!
Eclipse day dawned bright and clear, and was cool, as to be expected in the desert. As the Sun rose in the sky, the day became warmer. Soon, a narrow bite appeared in the limb of the Sun, as the Moon began to move across it. I had brought with me my Coronado Personal Solar Telescope, a 40mm refractor equipped with a narrow-band Hydrogen-Alpha filter in order to view solar prominences and detail on the Sun’s surface. This showed us that we were in for a treat: no fewer than eight prominences were arrayed around the limb of the Sun.
As the Sun was gradually covered by the Moon, the detail on its surface seemed to become more intense. Finally only the tiniest sliver remained, and I was treated to the unique sight of Baily’s Beads in Hydrogen-Alpha: a glittering necklace of glowing embers!
With totality upon us, the Sun disappeared in the heavily filtered scope, and I switched to 10x50 binoculars to observe the total phase. As often occurs near solar minimum, the corona was quite compact but full of amazingly complex detail. Its whole shape was rather rectangular because of the arrangement of coronal streamers. From time to time I’d put the binoculars down and just take in the whole sight: the eclipsed Sun high in a very dark sky, with Venus obviously visible to its lower right, and the thousands of spectators arrayed around me in the desert floor, otherwise flat and apparently lifeless all the way to the distant horizon.
In my previous total eclipse trip I spent too much time on photography, so I had decided to take no photographs this time around and just use all my senses to observe the great event unfolding around me.
Too soon (actually a little more than four minutes), the Diamond Ring flashed into view and the Moon began to move clear of the Sun, and soon we were back on the bus for the six-hour ride back to Benghazi. After a night there, we were off to Tripoli and then Rome for the Italian leg of the tour.
I’d like to thank Ralph Chou of the Toronto Centre and Mahmood Poonja of Bestway Tours and Safaris for organizing and facilitating what was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But even more, I’d like to thank the Libyan people, who were friendly and helpful everywhere we went. It was a special treat to “share the view” with many of them who drove down to the eclipse site for the day.
Geoff has been a life-long telescope addict, and is active in many areas of visual observation; he is a moderator of the Yahoo "Talking Telescopes" group.
My colleague Geoff Gaherty and I traveled to Libya for the total solar eclipse on March 29. We observed from south of Jalu, in a totally remote area of the desert where all you could see to the horizon was sand and the tents set up at our site. There was no vegetation in sight. We traveled with a group organized by the Toronto Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (www.rasc.ca), and joined up with several thousand others at the eclipse site.
I made temperature observations during the eclipse. During the morning, the temperature was rising, and reached a high of 30.5C at about 11:30AM local time, about 20 minutes after first contact. The temperature then gradually dropped to a low of 22.4C at about 12:45PM, about 15 minutes after totality, a total drop of about 8 degrees. I have recorded temperature changes at previous eclipses, and this was typical. There is always a lag in reaching the lowest point until after totality. Observations continued until after last contact, when the temperature reached 31.4 and was still rising when I was required to pack up to leave with my group.
This was my tenth total solar eclipse since I started the chases in 1963. I have also observed three annular eclipses and a number of partial eclipses. I regarded this eclipse as average in darkness. Venus was easily visible before and after totality. The entire horizon had the appearance of a sunrise/sunset glow at mid totality.
Looking forward to chasing down number 11!
Jim is a member of the Starry Night® Team and warns that even witnessing a single total solar eclipse can lead to a lifetime of eclipse chasing.