A Report from the 11. August 1999

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(last update: 10. Sep 1999: a video animation)

total solar eclipse in poor conditions...
Picture taken by Albert Sciesielski, Verein Schwäbische Sternwarte e.V., more of these you find at Erste Finsternisergebnisse 1999 , conditions were similar poor not far from Stuttgart and Ludwigsburg as at mine observation place...

Hint: MPEG (3.8 MB) from ZDF (German TV channel) in this version created by Webzauberer , until now better known as Wischtan Wuselwind/uncompressed and streamable on another server (it's a little greenish, but the protuberances stay red)


This was the first time I observed a total solar eclipse - but this is for sure, it was not the last! But the only one, which I could see without a long voyage.

Preliminary remark: at the preceding evening I asked myself, if I should take a train to Karlsruhe, not far away but with a better visibility chance. I decided against it, because of the vague weather forecast. Eventually correct in light of the overload trains, but otherwise Karlsruhe were the best place at least in Baden-Württemberg in terms of weather conditions.

At the morning of the 11.: clouds over all. My mood darkened more and more, as no improvement of conditions happened and the hours passed by before the first contact. When the partial phase began in Ludwigsburg, it was relatively dark, but not due to our moon. Therefore first I stood at home, but as ten minutes later the sun breaked through the clouds, I went immediately to my already chosen point for observation. It is an higher place in the landscape and offers free sight in western direction, this way I had prepared for the approaching central shadow of the moon.

Getting more Nervous...

Few minutes later - even the light protection "glasses" were used by me, a seldom exception - I was able to observe the partial eclipse, nothing special anyway, I had already seen bigger partial ones. Then the clouds grew again denser and the waiting began...

One quarter hour later sun and moon reappear, more or less faintly visible due to the clouds. Now the eclipse is comparable with the biggest, I have seen before and now it's also visible, that the moon indeed aims exactly onto the center of the suns disk.

Then the conditions become quickly poorer, a short shower occurs but I use shortly again the protection "glasses", because in this very moment the sun peaks through the clouds. Typically "moderate" central European weather: chaotic to no end. This holds especially true for the cloud movements, differing in heights, directions and velocities. Even experienced meteorologists have to give up at such conditions with predictions. Despite the few minutes observation so far, I begin to feel the neck muscles, but the clouds guarantee relaxation of them!

Now it's getting harder: more then twenty minutes nothing is visible, and my mood drops against zero rapidly. Than, more then a quarter hour before second contact the now in big parts occulted sun is visible again. Caused by the many clouds it's already relatively dark. 

Surely there will nothing be to see!?

And it became dark again - but too early and for the wrong reason. Another fifteen minutes elapse and the only chance of divertion is looking on the watch, nothing which calms down the nerves. The time passes over and the mood is nearly at absolute zero, than a little wonder happens: about one minute (!) before totality the now narrow crescent sun appears again behind the less dense clouds! 

To clear it already: now the event can be watched - even weakened by the remaining clouds - for 4 to 5 minutes...

Besides at least the crows seemed to want to go to rest, when the "dawn" was deepening. Otherwise I couldn't recognize any obvious reactions from animals. And a few kilometers remote observers saw nothing from totality!

The two most important Minutes...

Now it happens very fast: by the clouded sky the central shadow of the moon can't be watched precisely on the landscape, but the moon moves the final distance: suddenly it becomes dark and unless even the Venus can't penetrate the clouds, the desired event has arrived: the losely distributed spectators clap as the "glory" appears around the moon. Even only the brightest part of the corona is visible, principally due to illumination by the bright photosphere - I've nothing comparable seen the decades ago. Vaguely visible are protuberances at the occulted suns rim. It is very quiet, evidently all people in vicinity stare directly onto the "black sun". At 12:35, about 10 seconds before the end of totality, my programmed watch beeps - a safety measure especially for a clear sky, to avoid surprise and being blinded by the reappearing solar photosphere. This is required especially for instrumental observations of the total phase. The ready-to-use binocular was not used by me, the clouds were simply to dense to gain from it - I took it primarily for the outer corona.

Then the first beam of the solar photosphere breaks through the clouds and a glimpse on the landscape reveals the sudden rise of brightness, clearly visible and a surprise for me.


Of course the interest of all observers is now quickly decaying and the clouds became also denser again - but the emotion remains. And indeed, despite I couldn't see the faint outer parts of the corona, this single event suffices, to make me some sort of "addict"... So as professor Kippenhahn announced to us "first timers" in Stuttgart at the 22. July.

Among the next solar eclipses primarily one is suited for "eclipse chasers" (the others are not good enough in my view: one antarctic, one very short in Australia or one annular in Iceland...): June 2001 in Africa. The longest totality of about five minutes occurs some 100 kilometers western from Angola. Because Angola is an unsound location, Zimbabwe has to be considered first choice on the continent - even despite the totality there will last only about three and a half minutes. Being ready for voyage and equipped with vaccination and light protection "glasses" and other means is recommended long before!


2001 eclipse report!   

Solar Eclipses Overview    back to main

questions and comments to:  stefan.urbat@apastron.lb.shuttle.de

(URL:  http://www.lb.shuttle.de/apastron/ecl99rep.htm)