The Hottest – 1999 Total Solar Eclipse: Turkey

Paul D. Maley, NASA Johnson Space Center Astronomical Society, Houston TX USA

At site in Batman, Turkey

 

1 second corona with ASA 100 film, Meade 2045D

The 23rd total solar eclipse expedition of the NASA Johnson Space Center Astronomical Society (RING OF FIRE EXPEDITIONS) traveled to Turkey to view the last solar eclipse of the millennium led by the author. The high point was the incredibly successful observation of the eclipse process, and the low point was the occurrence of a devastating earthquake in the region which killed more than 12,000 people. Luckily, most of our group left Istanbul only 16 hours before the quake struck.

The group departed from both Chicago and New York on August 6, 1999 on two separate Turkish Airline Airbus flights and landed near lunch time the next day. Only one person failed to make the flight as she arrived at JFK only 45 minutes before departure. While all our group had been assigned seats, Turkish Air cancelled seats 1hour 15 minutes before departure. Since the New York flight was overbooked, L. Tandy was put on another later flight and arrived the next evening. Unfortunately, our Istanbul hotel was fully booked out and she was placed next door in an overflow property. We spent 3 days in Istanbul and toured numerous palaces, mosques, cruised along the Bosporus strait and toured the Grand Bazaar. At one tour site I ran into a group of Japanese I had met at a previous eclipse in Africa. On one afternoon we traveled to the Asian side of Istanbul to tour the Kandilli Observatory. There we saw sunspots projected with their antique 10-inch refractor and wandered through the seismic monitoring facility. There were no English speaking people capable of making effective presentations but Mike Shara was able to get some information on the equipment which he presented to the group. All 73 members of the group were together by August 8 and were treated to a presentation by Dr. Michael Shara of the American Museum of Natural History (formerly with the Space Telescope Science Institute) on star formation. The following night I conducted the pre-eclipse safety and operational briefing and led two simulations of the totality timeline. I also provided packages of the new Eclipse gum being manufactured by the Wrigley corporation designed to reduce stress on eclipse observers.

We departed Istanbul by air for Diyarbakir airport on August 10 with our two guides, Erkal and Selim who divided the group into two buses. Our first act was to wait for the baggage to get off the plane which took longer than the 1.5 hours flight itself. I had an interview with Turkish TV which was broadcast the following day. I also visited briefly with Leif Robinson, Editor of SKY AND TELESCOPE magazine. We finally left the airport and dropped Chuck Herold at the Dedeman Hotel where he and Richard Nugent would independently travel to the edge of the path of totality to videotape Baily’s Beads. The rest of the group toured Diyarbakir, ate lunch (where there was a dispute over prices) and proceeded to the provincial town of Batman about 45 minutes away. After splitting the group between the Altinochak and Harran Hotels, myself, Lynn Palmer, Mike Shara and Rick Frankenburger using Rick’s GPS receiver traveled by bus with the guides and the director of tourism to the site that had been prepared by the government for eclipse viewing. It did not take long for me to determine that this site was not suitable even though it had a lot of amenities. While snugly located inside a petroleum company compound and well guarded from possible terrorists of the PKK, the site was small and there were plans for nearly 1300 people to be situated there. It was also nearly 6km from the centerline, but that was not very important. Though there was concern about terrorist activity, none was experienced and there were no reported incidents in the region during our time there.

I directed the bus northward through town until I located a bald hill about 1km off centerline basically in the middle of nowhere. It was next to the NATO base and there was some problems with AK-47 toting guards who did not want us on their property. After some negotiating and scouting, the site was deemed suitable even though the director of tourism was probably offended at our not wanting to use his site. We explained clearly the reasons for this unsuitability and after several translations it appeared he was willing to help anyway. Rick measured the coordinates as 37 degrees 54 minutes 56 seconds north latitude, 41 degrees 08 minutes 29.2 seconds east longitude.

After returning to the hotel, I had a planning session with our guides to finalize details for eclipse day (August 11). I was lucky enough to negotiate the presence of an ambulance in case of problems with the afternoon heat. The temperature was predicted to reach 110 degrees F on eclipse day which was much warmer than usual. That evening we had dinner in a very hot restaurant and retired to the hotel. Outside we were constantly confronted by young children asking for money. The roof of the hotel was also studied and it was not capable of holding all 73 persons, so I finally settled on the bald hill site. Overnight, a power failure occurred in the Atlinochak Hotel and many people were without air conditioning leading some to soak towels in water and place them on their bodies for cooling.

We checked out of the hotels and proceeded to a local restaurant where we had lunch. I had made arrangements to have Michael Glass, General Counsel of Fairleigh Dickinson University driven to the Batman airport where he had a flight to Romania leaving at 3:00pm, barely 20 minutes after the total phase. Due to a time change in the region, it was first thought that totality would occur at 1:41pm when in fact, it occurred one hour later at 2:41pm. First contact would start at 1:17pm. Our early lunch ended at noon. Then, with a police and military escort we proceeded on the short 10 minute drive to the bald hill site. Police and military personnel were already deployed. An armored car sat atop the hill and I had to ensure it was moved to make room for the group. The buses deployed and most of the group trudged up the hill. I carried a table borrowed from our hotel which I had planned to set Lynn’s Meade 2040D. A brisk wind caused the table to vibrate slightly and I finally elected to place the short legged mount on the rocky ground where it was very stable. The table came in handy as a wind break. The hill had a commanding view of the countryside and the roadway about a mile away where traffic continued unabated. The police guards circled the hill midway up to keep onlookers away. Several people stayed in the buses rather than go up the hill and the air conditioner of one bus was operating at all times. We also made arrangements to use bathrooms at the NATO base as well as from the village not far away.

The first temperature measurement by Charlie Heebner was made around 1:20pm (10:20UT) and even though the thermometer was in shade and off the ground, the temperature was a baking 120 degrees F. Another thermometer worn by Dick Mischke gave readings about 5 degrees lower. Clouds had been absent all during the trip and on this day there were a few very tiny little clouds off to the west. The position of the sun was to be 53 degrees elevation above the south west horizon. The moon was seen to bite into the sun as predicted. We issued mylar glasses to everyone so they could follow the progress of the partial phases. Around 2pm, a softer hue was noticed on the landscape even though totality was 40 minutes away. The rocky surface of the hill made it difficult for me to crouch down and operate a right angle viewer to take partial eclipse shots every 10 minutes. But there were no fire ants or bugs to contend with. About this time it was obvious that the eclipse was beginning to moderate temperatures slightly.

At 2:35 pm it was only 6 minutes to totality and I was able to make out Venus to the southeast of the sun by putting my hand between my eyes and the sun. By this time it was really starting to cool off. The temperature was at 100 deg F, but for the group it was as if God had turned on the air conditioner.

Temperature measurements as plotted by Chuck Herold from data provided by C.Heebner.

 

Shadow bands were sighted at 2:38, running along the ground and projected on a white sheet. The shadow bands became intense and obvious to some. I could not see them at all. The cloak of the moon’s shadow descended. It was not visible as a cone even though we had a 360 degree view of the horizon. Yet it gradually got darker. Bev Heebner read the newsprint chart that we use to measure degrees of darkening and she agreed it was the same level of darkness as in Curacao last February. Lynn Palmer used an 8mm fisheye to record the entire sky view at intervals with ASA100 Royal Gold film. Greg MacNealy used an Orion 90mm lens with a digital camera to get eyepiece projected snaps of the eclipse. Dan McGlaun’s birthday was today, and after missing his flight to Curacao (and the eclipse) tears welled up in his eyes as all of his cameras began to click off shots of the eclipse. There were zero clouds to be seen all the way down to the horizon.

Venus was shining brilliantly to the sun’s left. Mercury was dimly seen to the right. John Aldridge reported the faintest objects he could see were Castor and Pollux (both around +1 magnitude). I had set my camcorder on the ground to record the approaching shadow but accidentally placed it on standby mode. I realized this during totality but was able to still point it for a few seconds at the sun. I also clicked off shots with the Olympus 35mm camera attached to the Meade telescope. The Olympus view screen made it hard earlier to focus on the sun with a Thousand Oaks filter, but once the sun was fully eclipsed, the clarity of the prominences and corona was really evident. I could easily focus and the resultant pictures once developed, showed I did a good job of it. The corona was beautifully symmetric evidencing the round shape often seen at solar maximum. About the sun there were a number of intensely pink prominences. One prominence in particular seemed to be completely detached from the sun. We had diamond rings at both 2nd and 3rd contacts. Lynn blew the “totality whistle” at the end of diamond ring #1 and blew it again at 3rd contact to signal the safe observation period. After listening to a tape of this, it confirmed that we had seen 2m 09 seconds, just as expected.

 

Composite corona courtesy of Dan McGlaun

Baily’s Beads and chromosphere courtesy of Dan McGlaun

 Fireworks were seen off in the distance as totality ended. Cars drove down the roadway with their lights on; in fact, the lights in the town of Batman came on during the eclipse. This had been one of my concerns at the pre-designated site since there were a whole row of street lights nearby. After totality shadow bands reappeared on the ground. The shift in lighting was obvious as the moon’s shadow moved southeast toward Iran. The sky was notably darker in that direction and I attempted to capture the recession of the shadow.

Not long after 3pm we saw Michael Glass’s flight take off from the Batman airport, not far away. We could not get permission to have the entire group watch the eclipse from there even though it was located directly on centerline. I later ran into him in the Istanbul airport where he reported on his attendance of a reception with NASA administrator Dan Goldin at the American Embassy. Apparently the eclipse was well observed in Romania also. But he recounted that he was able to photograph the eclipse from the Batman airport and made his onward flight since the flight was delayed as everyone was outside watching the eclipse.

We posed for group pictures atop the hill and later at the bottom with the entire group. Everyone drank plenty of water in order to remain hydrated. The success in seeing the eclipse was gratifying. I did not hear of anyone having complete equipment failure. Excellent video was taken by Rob Lyles with his new Canon camcorder and also by Kotaro Doyama with his DVD camcorder. We saw both of these tapes on the bus later on. Dr. Ghaus Malik described his having heart palpitations as totality approached and he was genuinly moved by the experience. A lot of hollering and screaming occurred when the sun disappeared. Emotions always run high at this point. I am waiting to hear how others fared when their photos are developed.

At 4pm our group finally left the site and our police escort accompanied us until we reached the Batman city limits where we continued back to Diyarbakir. By 6:30pm we picked up Chuck Herold and drove towards our next stop at Sanli Urfa. Chuck described a successful set of edge observations. They had observed about 15 seconds of totality there at sites I had surveyed back in February, and Richard captured excellent Baily’s Beads data thus adding to the science effort. GPS data was collected at the sites there and I will be reducing the positional data once other information is received from a Trimble base site in Israel. The merging of known base data with unknown eclipse site data will enable us to establish better positions to perhaps within a few meters accuracy.

Prominences, 1/500 sec, ASA 100

Our group

How did others fare along the eclipse path? Most sites in Turkey were reported clear as was the Black Sea. Some cloud in Romania but mostly clear, mostly cloudy in the UK and France with varying degree of cloud and clear sky from Germany to Hungary. We heard a report that a group of tourists in Iran was beaten; these people were in a remote conservative part of the country and were not conforming to the Islamic dress code.

 

 

A photo of the Moon’s shadow on Earth taken by French cosmonaut Jean-Pierre Haignere aboard the Mir during the solar eclipse.

 

There were more touring adventures ahead. First we were able to gather stacks of three different Turkish newspapers which displayed accounts of the eclipse. Unfortunately none are in English but they show good pictures including one enterprising observer who attached mylar to a toilet seat and mounted it on his shoulders to serve as a pre-totality viewing device. Turkish TV showed major coverage for hours the following day. The following day we took a very long trip to the 6000 foot top of Nemrut Dag mountains to see the giant god statues at sunset. Though we returned to Urfa late, we were able to organize an observing session to watch the expected maximum of the Perseid meteor shower. Leaving at 1230am we arrived shortly after 1:15 at an impromptu located site (due to difficulty in getting clearance to travel at night on the roads). We were not all that far from the Syrian border. The site was in front of a small bee keeping area and at the edge of a highway. The 27 member observing group deployed on a concrete bridge covering a canal where water kept up a constant but gently flowing sound during our three hour observing session. I saw someone walking about with a white light flashlight and confronted him. I thought he was one of the bus drivers but when he pointed a long rifle at me I realized he was from the local village. Luckily, he backed off when one of our interpreters was able to explain what we were doing there and we had no further trouble on the canal. The sky was such that I could see down to magnitude 5.5 with the naked eye, and if we were truly waiting for meteors, we were not going to be disappointed. Between 1:30 and 4:00am we saw 337 meteors (collectively identified by different group members in real time) that were Perseids and a few more (not part of this total) that were not. Young Jon Kamenetzky was able to spot 4th magnitude meteors while the rest of the adults spotted those brighter than +3. The brightest meteor seen was a -5 magnitude fireball which was detected just after the end of the formal observation period. There was also a slow moving sporadic that gave two bright pulses before disappearing, and also one bolide.

The breakdown for the Perseids seen is as follows and was recorded by Bev Heebner. Times are expressed in local time which is UT + 3 hours on August 12. Most meteors were spotted by John Aldridge, Matt Delevoryas, Debbie Moran, myself, and Jonathan Kamenetzky. Some observers did not actually report a specific magnitude so we list those as undetermined. Many left short smoke trains but none involved sonic phenomena.

 

MAGNITUDE

0130-0200

0200-0230

0230-0300

0300-0330

0330-0400

SUMMARY

-4

1

1

-3

1

1

-2

1

2

2

4

5

14

-1

7

7

4

3

8

29

0

5

6

7

7

8

33

1

5

7

8

8

13

41

2

6

9

7

13

12

47

3

5

8

10

11

16

50

4

4

3

3

2

10

22

not reported

17

35

19

17

12

100

totals

50

77

60

67

84

337

 

A highlight of that interval was not a meteor. It was the stealthy appearance of three naked eye satellites that are part of a group of secret US satellites known as “White Cloud”. The trio flies together in formation and this particular group passed directly overhead and were visible to the unaided eye. This was quite a rare and unusual sight. My previous sightings of this class of satellite have all been with binoculars or telescope and never with the unaided eye.

The rest of the trip was still packed with touring including the fairy chimneys and dramatic caves and scenery of Cappadochia. Our final night in Turkey was spent in Ankara, the capital of the country, where Mike Shara gave a presentation on the latest dramatic discoveries from the Hubble Space Telescope. Most of the group left the next morning, with 12 continuing on to Kusadasi and others leaving independently. It was pleasant to find a Burger King in the Istanbul airport and the quality of the food there was outstanding when compared to the average fast food joint. At least three members of our group were in Istanbul when the magnitude 7.8 earthquake occurred. But none of our group was affected. The euphoria of the eclipse is still with many of us and my plans now focus on the June 21, 2001 total eclipse in Africa.

Wish you had seen this 1999 total solar eclipse? Don’t miss this upcoming 2016 Solar Eclipse Cruise!

Back to Top