RESULTS FROM FRENCH POLYNESIA EXPEDITIONS
JULY 11, 2010
This year we fielded three expeditions to French Polynesia in order to maximize the chances of seeing the total eclipse. The largest (62 persons) went to Hao Atoll, the next largest (41 persons) to Hikueru Atoll and the third (12 persons) on the freighter Aranui 3 which was positioned south of Reitoru Atoll as a result of a weather decision. Skies on Hao were clear for the eclipse, cloudy at Hikueru and clear on the Aranui ship during the critical part of the eclipse process. The ship had mobility but this time it was not possible to build in such an option for the two atolls because of cost reasons. Even though both Hao and Hikeru are small atolls, parts of each saw the total phase of the eclipse and other parts did not.
This eclipse was characterized by a small drop in temperature, relatively dry environment for all observers, the appearance of a 3rd magnitude star within 45 arcminutes of the sun on some photos (see Li-chun Chen’s photo below!), and the first sighting (as far as I know) of an Iridium satellite flare during a solar eclipse process (I made the sighting 24 minutes after 1st contact). In addition you will also see some beautiful images of the southern night sky stars. We received wonderful hospitality on both Hikueru and Hao by local people as well as excellent performance by Air Tahiti’s chartered inter-island aircraft which got us to both atolls and back safely and on time. The following are selected photos from all three groups.
Our core land tour was headquartered at the Sofitel Hotel in Papeete and participants enjoyed an island tour and the opportunity to observe the southern hemisphere night skies on two occasions. We chartered two aircraft from Tahiti, one traveling to each atoll; the Aranui 3 spent two weeks cruising amongst the islands of French Polynesia as part of regular freight runs.
The photos were selected based on being of interest and also how well focused they were. Some eclipse images appeared at low magnification to be in focus when in fact they were not.
Our escorts were myself (Paul Maley), Jacques Guertin and Pat Reiff. Unfortunately Claude Nicollier could not attend as he was involved with the solar aircraft test flight in Switzerland.
The group who ran the E5K Run for the Sun. This is a regular feature of Ring of Fire Expeditions begun in 2003. Left to right are Paul Maley, Richard Nugent, Hui Yang, Brian Pistolese, Lynn Palmer, Tim Fitzhugh, Doug Hube, Janet couch, Bob Rea, Michelle Weller, Kim Robertson, Jenns Robertson. William Paciga is not pictured. The run was from the Sofitel to the airport and back on July 10. Photo by D.Weber.
Proper safety warning posted on Hikueru atoll. Photo by P.Maley.
The initial briefing on July 7 held at the Sofitel Tahiti. Photo by L.Palmer.
Fritz Kleinhans at a sunset beach viewing session with eclipse equipment. Photo by L.Palmer.
1. HAO ATOLL (J. Guertin group)
This was the successful land – based team which experienced clear sky throughout the period of totality but with some passing cloud during the partial phases. The team traveled in an Air Tahiti ATR-72 from Papeete to Hao. Both atoll air charters had very limited in-cabin carrying capacity and everyone was severly restricted weight-wise. Jacques Guertin reports the following:
Hao is about 53km long and 300m wide with a native population of about 1000 where the main occupation is the cultivation of pearls. On getting off the lane the group was met by the mayor’s representative and lively polynesian dancers. The mayor indicated the group could set up on the grass or airport parking lot, similar to what was encountered at Hikueru. The airport had toilets (as did Hikueru). A small Italian group set up nearby as was another Japanese group in the village. By 700am and well before first contact everyone with equipment was comfortably set up.
First contact showed partial cloud cover and there were two small sunspots visible. Shortly after 800am a Boeing 737 landed with speculation that John Travolta was onboard (not confirmed). By 831am Jacques had started his pre-recorded countdown which counted from 30 minutes down to 1 minute prior to totality. A few seconds after every time announcement the nearby Italian group yell out the time remaining (in Italian). Just 10 minutes before totality a cloud covers the sun which moves off, but very slowly.
Twenty one seconds before totality filters are removed and a double diamond ring is visible corresponding to two deep adjacent lunar valleys. This ‘ring’ only lasts a few seconds and then quickly breaks up into Baily’s Beads. At totality loud cheers and expletives ring out. A small pink chromosphere appears and a fantastic asymmetrical corona pops out. The conditions are so good that polar brushes are perhaps the strongest Jacques had seen ever with his naked eye. Mercury was easily viewed not far from the sun.
At 845am the ground begins to lighten up and totality is declared over. A total of 3m40s has elapsed in a time frame much shorter than in reality! Jacques approached several teenagers in our group who could hardly speak and were literally crying with joy. Jacques notes that those in the village about 4km away were mostly clouded out. Tahitian TV was set up next to Don Gardner; this was shown on the news later that night.
2. ARANUI CRUISE (P.Reiff group)
This group of 12 people were aboard the inter-island freighter called the Aranui 3–both a cruise ship and cargo ship with 180 passengers and about 60 crew.
Our team was composed of the team leader Dr. Patricia Reiff and assistant/daughter Amelia Hill, and five additional couples.
“The day before the eclipse it was a major concern that weather would be unfavorable on Hikueru. We spoke with the lead for the largest group aboard, Melita Thorp of MWT Associates, and she was in contact both with weather forecasters and the ship captain. We agreed that mobile operations, even on a moving ship, was preferable to being ashore and in clouds. She then made it clear she wasn’t interested in my opinion any more and took over the lead of communicating with the captain. They actually did a good job of finding a route which would both get us farther east (away from the clouds), but which would allow sailing southwest (away from the Sun, allowing a good view from the fantail), and would also not take us too far away from Papeete (many of us had flights or ferries to catch on the evening on the 12th).
Our group decided on its position on the rear port corner of the Sun deck the afternoon before, and Ame obliged by stringing her hammock up, spending the night saving our place. That morning early we all came to give her a chance to take a break. We were one of the first on deck to set up. Breakfast was served on the boat 5:30 to 7 am. We ate in shifts while setting up, so all were ready by first contact. Still many of the boat passengers skipped the partial phases and just came for the few minutes around totality, which began around 8:39. We were surprised that the decks weren’t as crowded as we feared, and we were very pleased with how well the captain could hold a heading, making photos a lot easier.
We had clouds in and out of the partial phase, with the last cloud uncovering the sun at second contact. We heaved a collective sigh and busily took photos and videos. (No marriages during totality at our site).
Mercury was easily visible, I heard some say they saw Sirius (I don’t recall seeing it). I captured Jupiter in the west in my full dome image. Clouds along the horizon with a nice glow.
I didn’t use a whistle because we were in a crowd. We didn’t get a volunteer to record the temperature, so we skipped that, although we heard from others on the boat that the temperature drop was 5 degrees. Because I didn’t take a whistle, though, I’m unsure from the video tape the exact time of totality. From the oohs and aahs, it appears just over four minutes.
GPS reading (taken 7 minutes after third contact) was S17°55.97’, W142°26.19’
All it all it was a lot of fun, and we enjoyed all the cruise aspects as well as our successful viewing!
The night before we were blessed with a great green flash, which we took as a good omen. Because the lower decks “oohed” a few seconds before the upper decks were able to see the green, several folks had good photos of the flash. ”
3. HIKUERU ATOLL (P.Maley group)
My group flew to Hikueru only to encounter heavy cloud cover on arrival with rain showers in the area. The prediction showed that at eclipse time the atoll would likely be at least partly cloudy. A representative of the mayor greeted us and we were informed that food would soon be available in case people wanted to eat during their 5 hour stay on the atoll. The attitude and friendliness of the local folks was very much appreciated in what turned out to be a beautiful and tranquil setting. Pristine beaches and clear waters, brilliant green foliage were the characteristics of Hikueru.
The much anticipated time of totality was to occur between 837 and 841am local time. As clouds and rain peppered the area, I had to cover my equipment with a tarp on one occasion. Kneeling down on the shell base adjacent to the airport ‘terminal’ was difficult and a towel was used to protect my knees. There was ample time to set up, align and focus telescopes on the sun. As the minutes ticked by the mood alternated from pessimism to optimism and back again. Those of us watching the movement of the clouds from southeast to northwest were teased by what appeared to be a very long if not unending gap in the cloud cover. That gap began at 811am allowing the team to refocus on the sun and obtain views of the partial phases for the 26 minutes leading right up to second contact. But just as 2nd contact began heavy cloud obscured the sun. My thoughts: the people just to our southwest in the village where originally we were told the whole group would be transported, would get a good view. Most of our observering team lined up just in front of palm trees adjacent to the runway; there was plenty of room for all to get a good view of the area where the sun was supposed to be.
I had planned to use a sensitive black and white TV camera to capture Baily’s Beads at second contact. A near fatal problem with my video was salvaged by quick action from Murray Paulson and a solid 10 seconds of Beads were captured. Though not visible through the cloud to the eye, the Beads appear distinctly after I played the VCR back after the eclipse. David Weber, located just meters away could make out the corona briefly in binoculars. The experienced eclipse observers in the group all commented how dark the eclipse was in the sense of ambient light. I could barely read my digital watch dial without using the light button. The approach of the moon’s shadow and recession was not easily noticed and there was minimal coloration along the horizon as we have seen during prior eclipses. It seems that in the parts of the sky where no cloud existed you could make out a bright star or planet. This was the only eclipse where I had the time to just look around to see what I could see. Cloud altitudes were generally at low to middle levels with almost not high clouds visible.
Others who could not actually see Baily’s Beads recorded them in photos. But the true visual spectacle that is totality eluded our entire team there. Only well after totality was over did the dark cloud clear and the remaining partial phases were seen without further issue. But the partials were not what we came for and it will have to wait until next time to try again to catch the sometimes elusive totality.
Although we had initially attempted to activate a backup plan to depart for Tahiti early if cloud threatened, any decision to take this step would have been extremely difficult had the plan been authorized by Air Tahiti. The only real decision was to remain in place and trust that the ‘gap’ was going to last. Temperature readings showed that a nearly identical 2 degree drop seen in Hao was also seen at Hikueru.
Beyond the eclipse the highlight of this expedition was the post tour to Bora Bora, by far an extraordinary vacation spot.
KUDOS TO URUGUAYAN TOUR ALUMNI
Ruben Perez de Paula, one of our distinguished ROFE alumni and his brother went to Patagonia to see the eclipse because its location is very close to Uruguay compared to the other main eclipse destinations. There they experienced a wonderful eclipse and took the following outstanding images with the sun only 1 degree above the horizon. This was the year for Uruguayans since the country was one of the final four in the soccer World Cup.