THE 360 DEGREE TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE IN THE LIBYAN DESERT MARCH 29, 2006

BY PAUL D. MALEY 

 

Most, but not all members of Groups 1 and 2 in the Sahara desert eclipse camp. Left to right Ondrej Krivanek, Denise Gomez-English, Matt Delvoryas, Jim Rosenstock, Robyn Hess, Debbie Moran, Irene Talbott, Dick Mischke, David Weber, Carole Hollaman, Terry Kemper, Lynn Palmer, Olav Andrade, Bob Walch, Margaret Scherbina, Dan Deshon, Paul Scherbina, Betsy Vobach, Alex McNair, Dick Dietz, David Flack, Michelle Otake, Claude Nicollier, Wynne Lienhardt, Anne Reuter, David English, Paul Maley.

 

Here is Pat’s fish eye shot of group 3 at Sabratha. Left to right: Pat Reiff, Standing, from left: Pat Reiff, Susan Lyday, Wendy Milton, Kaethe Stella, Monica Carbona, John Decker, Billy Miller, Weston Anderson, John Pendleton, Jan Lewis, Bob Hammarberg, Glen Lewis, Carl Lyday (tallest), Dee Holisky, Lurline and Arthur Sims, Beverly Nesmith, Anil Sain; Lower level: Michael Wehner, local Sabratha guide, Abdul Swesi, Kyle Carmona.

 

Stamps issued in honor of the total eclipse.

 

A RING OF FIRE EXPEDITIONS tradition is to fly the Texas flag; it was first flown at Lake Guatavita, Colombia in 1977. Here it is at our camp in the Sahara desert. The Libyan flag is above it. Debbie Moran photo. 

The 32nd RING OF FIRE EXEDITION to observe a solar eclipse once again experienced a highly successful trip. Three teams of eclipse seekers traveled to the same spot south of Jalu, Libya in order to observe a completely and wonderfully successful total eclipse expedition. Teams 1 and 2 were handled by Wings Travel, while team 3 was handled locally by Numidia Tours. It was Wings that did our principal coordination and the results of this were truly outstanding. Teams 1 and 2 toured only in Libya while tour 3 continued on into Egypt, some members enjoying a cruise along the Nile River. There were no visa problems and the tours were carried out as planned although there some logistical questions that were not understood until the groups arrived. The hospitality of the Libyan people wherever we went was very open and helpful making this one of the best travel experiences.

Here are a few notes before the photos. Due to limited server space only a representative group of photos is reproduced here. It is perhaps a little slanted toward Group 1 since most images were received from my group. Group 3 photos are mainly hosted on Pat Reiff’s web site and all those links are listed at the end of this page. Group 1 engaged in our 2nd Eclipse 5000 meter run/walk which took place around the July 24th Lake in Benghazi at sunrise the day after the eclipse. In addition a brilliant -8 magnitude flare from a polar-orbiting Iridium spacecraft was spotted by group 1 outside the Uzo Hotel just after sunset on March 27 in Benghazi. It was really spectacular. The International Space Station was seen a couple of times but on the morning of April 1 a Soyuz spacecraft carrying a Brazilian cosmonaut was 15 minutes away from docking when the ISS was spotted from the Yosser Hotel in Tripoli. Michelle Otake and Lynn Palmer saw it from the roof of the hotel while I watched it from my room window.

On eclipse morning I was able to use David English’s Iridium satellite phone to communicate to our NASA weather expert Steve Sokol, who also provided great near real-time recommendations in Panama last year. Steve confirmed what we could see ourselves—severe clear skies and no reason to travel anywhere. It was the best possible option for our three teams.

Now for the best part. The eclipse had to have been one of the best visual experiences of all time. Under the transparent desert sky, the corona was very bright. This was solar minimum but it was easy to read camera dials and I thought the overall darkness was less than at recent eclipses. The sun’s high altitude also was a plus and the extent of the corona was at least 3 solar radii visually. Anne Reuter observed Mercury and Canopus. I was able to see Venus 1 hour 6 minutes before totality–the earliest ever. The wind had been predicted to blow from north – south but actually blew in the reverse direction causing any dust kicked up by drivers to be blown away from observers.

Shadow bands! The ‘star’ of the pre- and post-eclipse show were best observed by David Weber who noted that he was awash in a sea of them. Three to four minutes before 2nd contact they were about 12-18 inches apart and moving along at 10-15 feet per second. After the eclipse they were seen up to 5 minutes following 3rd contact; spacing appeared to be wider. He described them as visible 45-50 feet distant and showed better on the sand surface than on white cloth. The shadow of the moon appeared as conical but also had a dome-like appearance as it enveloped the site 5-10 seconds before 2nd contact. Shadow bands are generally perceived in a different way by almost everyone. Pat Reiff noted that the shadow bands seemd to pass in batches and were not at all continuous. The diamond ring was seen at both 2nd and 3rd contact but more prominently at 3rd. Anne thought she saw shadow bands or something akin to them silhouetted in the dust cloud raised not far from where she was standing. I have only seen shadow bands once and if were not for the fact that I dropped a battery on the ground, I would not have noticed them–incredibly easy to see skipping across the flat sand in front of me essentially moving in the same direction as the moon’s shadow. When reviewing the links at the bottom of this page do not miss Kyle Carmona’s shadow band video–one of the best I have seen. Movies showing the bands are quite rare. This one really shows how low contrast these bands appear.

Temperature measurements were logged by Terry Kemper, Wynne Lienhardt and Mamta Rajan. Unfortunately, the data was somewhat incomplete and inconsistent between the three thermometers. We will have to figure out a way to get better weather data logging equipment next time.

Dick Dietz repeated his Questar video of the edge of the sun, recording a videotape showing the coronal structure all around the periphery during totality. In addition he recorded some very high quality Baily’s Beads at both 2nd and 3rd contacts. The corona appeared saturated more so than at other eclipses and the Beads were far more pronounced at the centerline than in the past. I think both of these video responses were due to the clarity of the air at the desert site.

The preparation and execution of the camp and logistics were amazing considering the difficulties of the desert and the large number of tourists. We generally had privacy, access to toilets, a mess tent, AC power, the internet, and the local Red Crescent standing by for medical support. Vendors were in a different part of the camp. Overall there were actually several camps in one for a total of perhaps 1200 persons in our area alone.

Here are some highlighted images from this eclipse. Be aware that some eclipse imagesare slightly out of focus, perhaps due either to actual focusing problems during the eclipse or as a result of the reproduction process.

A EUMETSAT view of the moon’s shadow (centered over Chad) traveling northeast toward us in Libya.

Group 1 at the incredible historical site of Sabratha. Lynn Palmer photo.

Group 1 heads for the souk–the best place to go souvenir-hunting in Tripoli.

 Eclipse glasses fashion show? Dave Flack photo.

 Paul and the tent area for groups 1 and 2. Note the clear skies near sunset March 28. Lynn Palmer photo.

 David Weber in his tent. Groups 1 and 2 had 4 person tents with beds; group 3 unfortunately did not have beds. Everyone was given an ‘official’ eclipse badge to wear around their necks courtesy of the government. Photo by Alex McNair.

 Paul and Claude Nicollier–relieved that the camp had been reconstructed by the Libyan boy scouts as a result of the destructive sand storm that occurred three nights earlier. Photo by Lynn Palmer.

 Groups 1 and 2 had fantastic working flush toilets, sinks and lights. Lynn Palmer photo.

 An air ambulance ready to evacuate patients if needed at the camp! Lynn Palmer photo.

On eclipse day lights were on in the camp. It was my mission to be sure that no lights would come on during totality, so we called out the electricians. Lynn Palmer photo.

 An unexpected bonus was the presence of sources of AC power next to our tents. The Libyans seemed to think of everything. Lynn Palmer photo.

Fireworks went off, waking up everyone multiple times during the night before the eclipse; this and music and belly dancing were going on at night at nearby camps. Lynn Palmer photo.

 Olav Andrade’s innovative counterweight design. Note the small Orion portable mount, tools at the ready and towel on the ground between the observer and the sand. Paul Maley photo.

Dick Mischke keeps his gear thermally cooled with Mylar. Michelle Otake photo.

 Projecting crescents. Note the sand surface on which the shadow bands could be seen. Betsy Vobach photo.

 Libyans pray just before totality not far from my location. Note the wide open space and barbed wire fence that formed the camp boundary. Paul Maley photo.

 Matt Delevoryas’ convenient setup beside his tent. Paul Maley photo.

Paul’s gear set up on three tripods. Lynn Palmer photo.

 The moon’s shadow approaches. Betsy Vobach photo.

Great fish-eye shot during totality at the camp. Note Venus to the lower right of the sun. Photo by Pat Reiff.

 Totality. Photo by Olav Andrade.

 Hand-held shot of the horizon during totality. Lynn Palmer photo.

 Total eclipse and David Flack. Michelle Otake photo.

 An 8 second shot contrast adjusted to reveal maria on the moon. Note the spikes in the corona. Lurline Sims photo.

 Prominences after 2nd contact. Photo by Alex McNair.

 Baily’s Beads at 3rd contact. Photo by Alex McNair.

 Chromosphere. Photo by Kyle Carmona, Fuji S7000 camera.

 Photo by Kyle Carmona.

Photo by Kyle Carmona.

Photo by Kyle Carmona.

Photo by Kyle Carmona.

 Diamond ring at 2nd contact. Photo by Kyle Carmona.

 Diamond ring at 3rd contact. Photo by Kyle Carmona.

 500mm lens, 1/200 sec. Lurline sims photo.

 Prominent coronal spikes. Dan Deshon photo.

 500mm lens shot at 1/250 sec of the fading partial phase. Lurline Sims photo.

Some group 3 members set up. Kaethe Stella photo.

 Right to left, Dick Mischke, group 1 driver Jamal and Abdul, our ‘security companion’. Photo by Carole Hollaman.

 Participants in the RING OF FIRE EXPEDITIONS 2nd eclipse 5k run/walk held in Benghazi the day after the eclipse. Left to right: Alex McNair, Betsy Vobach, Dan Deshon, Carole Hollaman, Lynn Palmer, Paul Maley. Lynn Palmer timed photo.

 

Anne Reuter, Betsy Vobach, Dave Flack, Dan Deshon, Carole Hollaman, Dick Dietz (far right). Michelle Otake photo.  

Tripoli airport. Dave Flack photo.

 David Weber rides a camel.

 Great dinners! Dave Flack photo.

 The amphitheater at the Roman site of Leptis Magna.

 Smiling camel at the Ajdabiyah truck stop. Lynn Palmer photo.

 Libyan women. Debbie Moran photo.

 A Libyan cat. Debbie Moran photo.

 The Wings team: Jamal (group 2 guide)-far left, Salem (group 1 guide)-3rd from left, Abdul (security companion group 1)-far right. Debbie Moran photo.

 Internet in the desert. Debbie Moran photo.

 Matt Delevoryas and two Libyan onlookers. Debbie Moran photo.

 Kay Potter and Tom Cave. Debbie Moran photo.

 Many of us (including Alex McNair) posed with Libya’s leader the only way we could since he was not at our eclipse site.

The ‘mythological’ green flash was seen the night before the eclipse on the desert horizon. We then made two attempts in Tripoli and Alex caught it. Photo by Alex McNair .

Proof of the green flash; another camera going at the same time. Photo by Bob Walch.

 For links to other photos from our group members, try these links which were active as of April 20, 2006:

Olav Andrade: http://www.andrade.org/libya/

Pat Reiff/Kyle and Monica Carmona/Lurline and Arthur Sims/Kaethe Stella: Click here Note especially Kyle Carmona’s very impressive shadow band movie!

David Flack: Click here

Dan Deshon/Betsy Vobach: Click here

Wish you had seen this 2006 total solar eclipse? Don’t miss this upcoming 2016 Solar Eclipse Cruise!

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