RESULTS FROM THE AUGUST 1, 2008 TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE IN CHINA
Due to variable weather conditions we deployed 5 teams of observers out of 65 participants into regions to the north and east of our base city of Dunhaung, Gansu Province, China on August 1 in order to maximize chances of at least one or more groups successfully viewing the eclipse. Persistent waves of low pressure passing through the province had created cloud and rain patterns that potentially threatened to curtail eclipse observation. However on eclipse day this weather had moved off to the east with a drying trend approaching from the west.
Three teams traveled north to Hami, dropping off 5 members who were to observe at the southern edge of the path of totality. Two vehicles then moved eastward into the mountains toward the centerline. Another group in bus A headed east toward the road to inner Mongolia while the bus C group headed toward site C near Jindinghu (north of Jiuquan). Path width of totality was about 244km. Each bus except one was equipped with an emergency camping toilet.
The eclipse edge group was composed of our science team with two video stations staffed by Richard Nugent (Houston TX) and Charles Herold (Round Rock TX). I had provided a separate camcorder to be used in an attempt to simulate a visual observation perspective that might simulate the views seen in the UK during the 1715 total eclipse.
SITE A: BUSES B AND D
The Site A bus B team was headed by Claude Nicollier (Switzerland) and included T.Kemper, J. Rosenstock, O.Andrade, T.Fulbright, D.English, D. Gomez-English, D. Braswell, L. Palmer, D.Flack, M.Otake, R. Frankenberger, and J. Frankenberger. Temperature measures were made by Janice Frankenberger and showed an 8 degree F. drop during the eclipse. Pat Reiff’s bus and Claude’s bus were together close to the Sand Dunes in the plateau between the Dahei Shan and the Tian Shan mountain ranges during much of the pre-totality partial phases. Claude decided to offer the possibility, for whoever wanted, to move south a few miles with one bus to gain distance from a threatening cloud affecting the view of the sun from their location. This was about 30 minutes before second contact, or 6:40 PM local time. The first site, the one where Pat and a number of observers stayed, can be designated “Site A – Sand Dunes”. Claude’s team moved about 4 miles south, on the road towards Hami, until they were far away enough from that cloud with a good unobstructed view of the sun. This second site can be designated “Site A – Sand Dunes South”. They got there at 6:50 PM or 20 minutes before second contact, which was short, but still enough to set up cameras and instruments for the ones who had decided to join. Site A – Sand Dunes South enjoyed a totally unobstructed view of totality. Claude blew the whistle at the appropriate times when it was safe to look at the sun without a filter (2nd contact) , and then when it became unsafe (3rd contact). In the meanwhile, Site A – Sand Dunes became better, and fortunately also had a good view of the totality, although clouds were close. Everyone going along this area was charged 200 yuan (about $30) by the local government as an ‘eclipse access fee’. If you went farther north that price increased by 50%.
Coordinates for the Sand Dunes and the Sand Dunes South sites: Site A – Sand Dunes N43 25′ 16.1″,E93 44′ 27.5″,Altitude 6843 feet; 38.7NM from centerline = 1:38 min totality. Site A – Sand Dunes South N43 21′ 28.7″,E93 42′ 17.2″,Altitude 6831 feet;42.5NM from centerline = 1:30 min totality
The Site A bus D team was led by Dr. Pat Reiff (Houston TX) and included D.Kredel, M. Kredel, R. Perez de Paulo, J. Wilson, S.Wilson, M. Scherbina, P.Scherbina, S.Young, T. Cave, R. Hammarberg, D. Holisky, D. Droddy, B. Droddy, D. Rousso, J. Rousso and P.Morris-Smith, D. English, D. Gomez-English, T. Kemper, J. Carbajo, P. Plante. There were 2 bus drivers, and local guide was Robin (Su-Ming, which means Sun-Moon which was very appropriate.)Knowing that the travel might be slow, we chose to leave very early in the morning (05:30, compared to Claude’s 0600). That gave the group a sit-down lunch after a box breakfast. As bus D left Hami, given the slowness of the travel, multiple checkpoints, etc, the group looked at sites in the valley just between the two mountain ranges, with a good view of the West, with sites east of the first range (closer to Hami) as fall-back choices. (Darrell assured the group that the clouds would build over the mountains but the valleys should stay clearer). There were police stationed every few km along the road east of Hami toward Yiwu.
Accordingly, as bus D traveled eastward they marked several potential sites. They had just decided to try to go back west on the south side of the second ridge when another checkpoint was encountered. Despite having paid the payment for the eclipse permits for all, they were stopped. Claude and his bus turned back at that point but bus D prevailed on the local police to go forward two km to the intersection to the road that headed back to the northwest, where there was a small town (Na Lin Ku)–N 43° 25.985’, E 99° 55.836’. At that point it was 1.5 hours before first contact so the team picked out viewing sites, set up the toilet tent, and then interacted with the locals, giving them eclipse glasses and UV beads, and generally making friends. Paul Scherbina got a motorcycle ride with a local. Several headed off for hikes before first contact.
However, after about an hour the police with an army officer came by and told they group that they were in a sensitive border area and needed to head back west. Reluctantly they packed up and headed back towards the Sand Dune where Claude’s group was located. They arrived back at the Dunes (43°N 25.273’ 93°E44.427’) about 6 minutes before first contact, hurriedly set up and watched the clouds build over the ridge and then partially cover the sky. After some discussion about clouds, etc., a decision was made for Claude to take anyone who was mobile and head south down the road to look for clearer skies. Those who stayed saw the eclipse with minor cloud, but those who moved got clear of the cloud cover. After third contact group D got word from Claude that they wanted them to join up with group B (bringing the stuff they left behind) and people and equipment were sorted out at their site. Afterward, both teams drove back to Hami, had a sit down dinner at the same hotel in Hami, and made it back to the hotel in Dunhuang by 530 the next morning, totally exhausted but happy that they had a good view.
The central team was led by Paul Maley and included D. Deshon, B.Vobach, D. Nye, D. Weber, C.Triessl, B.Geary, R. and L. Richards, R. and D.Anderson, E. and M. Brennan, I.Nennesmo. This was deemed to be the most risky area because the Chinese government had lifted permission to travel up the singular road toward Inner Mongolia about a week earlier. Even if the group could proceed toward the center, they would not be allowed farther than a military checkpoint about 60 km into the path. An advance look by Maley that day found a channel of dry air that seemed to preserve itself for about 8 hours prior to totality just north of the southern edge of the eclipse path. Watching the progress of clouds Bus A remained poised just north of the edge up until 15 minutes before totality. A few buses passed the group on the way to Gongpoquan. The buses only contained Chinese eclipse observers who were not prevented from moving to the center line. Only foreigners were banned. North of our waiting point, we could see an extensive line of broken cloud, so there was no point to move until a new trend was observed.
This group was led by Dr. Jacques Guertin and included D.Moran, C.Moynihan, A.McNair, N. and P. Braithwaite, J. and L. Ferro, V.Prevosto, S. Stewart and M. Whitman. The bus was not able to exceed 45 miles/hour on the very good highway even though cars were passing at over 70 mph. The numerous checkpoints and toll points slowed the group down even more. Also the guide, Amanda, did not seem to comprehend the urgency of arriving in enough time to set up all equipment. Based on a phone call Tony made to Jiuquan it appeared that this location might have the best chance of seeing the eclipse of all of our sites. This was confirmed when the group arrived. At the final police checkpoint a potentially long delay was avoided when eclipse glasses were provided to the cops stationed there. Lesson learned: always carry extra eclipse glasses since you never know when the goodwill they generate might save the day.
Below we present some excellent photos taken on actual film (not digital) from the Jindinghu lake site.
The long road back to Dunhuang gets the group to the hotel at 430am (local eclipse time was 7.13pm) which featured a dinner break in Suzhou and brief Milky Way viewing in dark skies! The coordinates for the site were latitude 39 deg 53m, longitude 98 deg 50m based on Jacque’s GPS.
Our 5000 meter fun run/walk was held July 31 in the city of Dunhuang. The run began in the town and ended at the Mingsha Sand Dunes, starting just before sunrise. A record 23 people participated including N. and P. Braithwaite, A. McNair, C. Moynihan, D. Weber, R. Richards, M. Price, J.Schuck, C. Nicollier, B.Braswell, C. Triessel, B. Geary, R. Nugent, R. Anderson, B.P.Sharma, B.Vobach, M. and D. Kredel, P. Maley, L. Palmer and our guide Tony. Supporting members were D. Ombrello and D. Deshon. The top 3 male finishers were P. Braithwaite, R.Nugent, A.McNair; top 3 females: L. Palmer, C.Moynihan and N.Braithwaite.
Since we are not able to host all of the shots taken by the team, we want to give you the opportunity to view many of the other images that were collected during the trip.
Olave Andrade: CLICK HERE.
Bob Hammarberg: CLICK HERE.
Debbie Moran: CLICK HERE.
Dick Richards: CLICK HERE.
Richard Nugent: CLICK HERE.
David Ombrello: CLICK HERE.
Pat Reiff: CLICK HERE.
MISCELLANEOUS TOUR PHOTOS
The report above is mainly devoted to the eclipse but the following are some representative snapshots of other aspects of the tour.