2001 TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE: ZAMBIA
by Paul D. Maley, NASA Johnson Space Center Astronomical Society, Houston TX USA
All photos ©2001 by J. Lynn Palmer unless otherwise credited
On June 21, 2001 the JSCAS eclipse team observed its 24th solar eclipse, this time from southern Africa. The last time we were here was in February 1980 when another total solar eclipse covered a section of Kenya. This time a 3 minute 37 second long period of total sun blackout occurred at 3:09pm local time with the sun 31 degrees elevation above the northwest horizon. Our group departed from both Atlanta and New York and joined together in Johannesburg, South Africa. The eclipse team consisted of 32 members whose advertised occupations are as diverse as any prior expedition:
- Paul, Houston TX, aerospace project manager
- Lynn, Houston TX, biostatistician
- Darrell, Boulder CO, environmental scientist
- Kang, Lyndhurst NJ, computer programmer
- Dick, Greeley CO, professor of astronomy
- Susan, Greeley CO, geologist
- Carole, Concord CA, Call center supervisor
- Renee, Mountain View CA, writer
- Robert, Allston MA, computer scientist
- Barbara, Watertown MA, project manager (publishing)
- Erik, Port Washington WI, banker
- Carol, Port Washington WI, teacher
- Mary, Houston TX, economist
- Donna, Albuquerque NM, librarian
- James, Woodacre CA, electronics instructor
- Carol, Woodacre CA, election consultant
- Rheinhardt, Fairfield OH, manufacturing engineer
- Linda, Fairfield OH, restaurant manager
- Dan, Dallas TX, professor of marketing
- Renee, Dallas TX, social worker
- Dick, San Antonio TX, Colonel USAF retired
- Steve, Sydney Australia, IT trainer
- David, Marble Falls TX, optometrist
- Jim, Fort Washington MD, park ranger
- Diana, West Allis WI, educational project manager
- Susan, Wauwatosa WI, sales trainer
- Debbie, Houston TX, violinist
- Maryann, New Haven CT, arts administrator
- Robert, Fort Wayne IN, IT consultant
- Elizabeth, Fort Wayne IN, massage therapist
- Rodolfo, Montevideo Uruguay
- Pierre, Longueuil Quebec Canada, chemist
Most team members had observed at least one eclipse prior to this one with some having seen as many as 11 or 13. A few were first timers. Our tour lasted 10 days and went from South Africa to Zimbabwe to Zambia. The only consistent cloud during that period that we saw occurred on two afternoons in Zimbabwe, and these were scattered clouds. The rest of the time, severe clear skies prevailed both day and night.
Highlights of our tour prior to the eclipse included animal viewing on 6 separate game drives at Hwange Lodge in Zimbabwe. Here we were treated to wonderful accommodations, early morning (cold as heck) and afternoon game drives where we observed such game as: hyena, giraffe, wildebeeste, warthog, black backed jackal, elephants, lion, water buffalo, baboons, various exotic birds, crocodiles, hippos, bat-eared fox, impala, kudu, and other assorted characters.
At Victoria Falls we stayed at the Vic Falls Safari Lodge. Both lodges had their own waterholes where viewing could be done at all hours of day and night, excellent food and room accommodations, and atmosphere.
At Hwange we could see the southern skies at night with the Milky Way stretching across the sky. On one night roaring lions could be heard in the background supplementing our evening sky watching.
At lunch one day, I was standing in line and had my view blocked by food (of course) as a herd of 30+ elephants passed in view of the lunch crowd.
During the day we had a few brief chances to gaze at the exposed solar disk watching large sunspots migrate slowly from day to day. It brought hopes that perhaps large prominences might grace our view on eclipse day.
Another big highlight was our visit to Victoria Falls on the Zambia/Zimbabwe border and a cruise up the Zambezi River. I still recall seeing mists cover the Zambezi River just before sunrise, a large mongoose family scurrying below our balcony, and watching X-rated baboon antics at the Zambia border. Then there was our views of two female bungee jumpers who careened off the bridge over the Zambezi gorge 90 m below and survived.
Here at Vic Falls we bought 3 types of eclipse stamps at the Vic Falls Safari Lodge. For a couple of days only the hotel had made a deal with the government to offer double the normal currency exchange rate (from 55 to 115 Zim dollars to the US dollar) to its eclipse clientele. We all took advantage of it. I presented a pre-eclipse briefing and Dan Howard graciously prepared his camera setup for the simulation of the eclipse. As if foretold in advance, everything that could go wrong with Dan’s equipment actually did go wrong. In a way, it was a strong prelude for how it pays to have a prime and backup system. Dan used an Olympus OM-1 like I use and it jammed. However, we were able to free it up after the session. At the simulation, the eclipse seemed to last for an eternity.
While a forecasted 6.5 hour drive took almost 10 to get to Lusaka from Vic Falls, we also had one of our better shopping opportunities at the small town of Choma. Another stop allowed us to watch a bit of TV where health warnings were being broadcasted to warn people on the proper ways to view the eclipse in a safe manner. Eclipse glasses were in short supply. Some 14000 had been imported into Zambia for sale at about 3000 Kwatcha each (less than US$1. On the day before eclipse, they were selling at an astronomical price of 15,000 Kwatcha (about US$5). We arrived on June 20, the night before the eclipse, into Lusaka and proceeded to dinner where a native band performed ritual dances presaging the eclipse. Everybody got a decent night’s sleep before the big day. We loaded our 52 seater bus (that included a bathroom) with people, luggage, chairs, drinks and food and then departed the Chrismar Hotel at 10:45am as planned.
The site I had selected in April 2000 was situated to the northwest of Lusaka, capital of Zambia. It took nearly 2 hours before we passed through the eclipse center line and reached the Kamilonga farm shortly after noon. Upon arrival I noticed fires burning to the southeast with smoke beginning to drift over the site. Other than that, the skies were absent of cloud. As the next 15 minutes passed the fires seem to be getting a bit worse and after consulting with the group, we all decided to take our chances at Kamilonga rather than pick up and find another location in real-time. This site was quite broad and offered ample room for everyone to deploy and observe the eclipse with comfort. Farm operations stopped around 1pm and watchmen had been deployed to keep the hundred or so farm workers and their families from interfering with our set up and observation. Two of our team shared unused Mylar glasses with the farm workers so that they might watch the partial phases without danger to their eyes.
I kept an eye on the wind direction using the Texas flag as an indicator. The wind would blow from one direction, then another with no apparent pattern. Fires additionally were seen to spring up to the south west and also on the eastern horizon.
The original southeast fires became increasingly intense at times swinging to the right, then the left as the wind shifted. Smoke billowed up thousands of feet and eventually migrated in the direction of the sun (northwest). However, the density of smoke would seemingly have no effect on our ability to watch the progression of the partial phases. Two large sunspot groups were prominently placed on the face of the sun.
Twenty minutes before totality we began to feel the temperature drop at our site that was located 1163 meters above sea level. Crickets were heard clearly as predictors of an early nightfall. As 3pm approached the Texas flag became still. The fires still burned to the southeast and smoke could be seen in all quadrants of the sky but still, the sun was easy to view.
Mary Schiflett and Jim Staley independently documented temperature changes and found that it dropped some 25 degrees F from the moment we arrived on site until after the total phase was over. Mary also recorded humidity levels which inversely correlated with the dropping temperature.
As the time of totality continued to approach Pierre Arpin called out how many minutes and seconds were left…
Lynn Palmer activated a 15mm fisheye to attempt to shoot the cone while I shot photos through a Meade 4 inch f/10 that was propped on a borrowed table. This photo shows the east side of the shadow cone. The bright area along the horizon is the area outside of the moon’s shadow. I had miscalculated on the size of the table. Although it fit in the bus quite nicely,it was not wide enough to support polar alignment; so I had to be satisfied with a temporary elevation/azimuth mount on a tripod instead. The pinkish outline of a bright prominence in the 3:00 position was the most prominent feature we all could see along the limb. I also recorded the elusive flash spectrum using a diffraction grating and a Sony camcorder and it was this recording that enabled an exact timing of the length of totality. The flash spectrum appears as a string of crescent images created by the grating. In the pictures below, the star-like image is the planet Jupiter.
Appearing like a solar continuum, the spectrum appears as 2nd contact occurs. You can see Baily’s Beads as well, proven in prior years by Isao Sato who conducted similar experiments for solar diameter work. A white sheet borrowed from the bowels of the Chrismar Hotel in Lusaka and placed on the ground was used as a foundation for our guide Tom Fulton to watch for shadow bands. However, he did not notice them. Several others not using the sheets did observe the shadow bands for about 10 seconds before second contact and after third contact.
Dick Dietz using a Questar 3.5 was able to video record Baily’s Beads for about 5 seconds but did not notice prominences or coronal loops as in 1999. Darrell Droddy recorded people reactions on his camcorder tape in addition to the diamond ring and totality. The corona was full of spikes some extending at least several radii from the edge of the sun’s disk.
Ó2001 by Pierre Arpin. Photo taken with Celestron 5
and telecompressor, Fuji Provia 100F, ASA 100, 1/250th sec, f6.3,
processed with Adobe Photoshop.
As mid-totality passed, more prominences appeared along the western limb but these were short and unimpressive. Around the horizon a yellow-orange glow was noted indicating the outer periphery of the lunar shadow.
Maryann Ott sat close to the big tree at the south end of the rugby field site taking in the scene without anyone being close by–the best way to experience an eclipse. I was able to receive time signals on 15MHz from radio station WWV in Ft. Collins, CO. They were faint but distinct and the use of a 25 foot long wire to extend from my portable receiver enhanced the signal strength.
Carol Holloman reported seeing three bright stars during totality. These were Sirius, Canopus and Capella. Some of the group used digital cameras. Lynn completed 4 digital camera shots of the corona and Dan Howard did similar work. It was Kang Wang’s first eclipse and he achieved a couple of very good shots of the eclipsed sun.
Third contact signalled the end of the total phase. A big deep lunar valley created another brilliant diamond ring phenomenon. It is hard to believe that 3m 37s passed so quickly; it was the opposite of how the simulation worked. But that is the way it always is. Tom Fulton had listened to my eclipse briefing but he remarked after the eclipse was over that ‘nothing prepared him for what he actually saw’. The local Zambians seemed very excited but were respectful. It was clear they were not prepared for what none of them had ever seen before in their lives. All the photos in the world do not do justice to what the eye will behold.
Lynn went about and took some shots of crescent sun images on the ground created by a tree and also by a metal object with holes in it.
She also recorded crescents projected through interlaced fingers, a straw hat and Barbara’s postcard with the outline of Africa. It had been a warm day, even in Zambian winter, but the eclipse had dropped the temperature markedly and it was very comfortable for us. I am still thankful for the cold Diet Pepsi after 3rd contact and the fact that our site was not in the path of a herd of stampeding elephants or gophers, for that matter. Every person who had a camera seems to have gotten his/her fill of photos and we have already seen samples of some of these images.
In our travels later on we picked up souvenir newspaper accounts of the eclipse as documented in Zambia and South Africa. At the Chrismar Hotel, a sign proclaimed “T-shirts: percentage of net proceeds to go to the blind, who were less fortunate to view the eclipse”. A record 20,000 tourists arrived in Zambia alone just for the eclipse bringing in revenue of $15 million. Reports of panic from Lusaka occurred when residents the day before the eclipse were unable to buy eclipse glasses due to the short supply. A visiting eclipse tourist collapsed and lost consciousness after he drank a considerable quantity of local opaque beer popularly known as Chibuku in Lusaka’s Kanyama compound. He recovered. A large ad in the newspaper Zambia Daily Mail announced that extended banking hours were being declared prior to and after the solar eclipse. In fact, we found the banks closed on these days. The government did declare a national holiday on June 21 to celebrate the eclipse. The Zambian president chose to view the eclipse from the Lusaka airport.
Airlines in Zambia reported no single empty seat on any flight into Lusaka. South African Airlines offered all tourists flying into Lusaka on eclipse day free eclipse glasses. On eclipse morning 7 charter flights from France, Japan, Austria and South Africa alone arrived with 1,295 eclipse watchers just for the day. Some 9,000 eclipse brochures and 5,000 posters were prepared by the government and given away free. The local Lusaka power company ZESCO took out a full page ad and extolled “Even when the sun is not there, ZESCO is here for you.” Not to be outdone, White Spoon Sugar put out their own 1/2 page ad showing a happy Zamian child wearing eclipse glasses which stated: “White Spoon Sugar takes care of your childrens’ eyes 365 days of the year” because they use Vitamin A for better eyesight. Even during an eclipse we always hear bizarre stories unrelated to the event. In Tehran, Iran a 30-year old Iranian hospital patient stabbed to death the man in the bed next to him for complaining that he was receiving too many visitors; the unidentified murderer then died of a heart attack an hour later.
I have seen many emails extolling the positive eclipse experience from our group. I feel that Africa alone accentuated the good feelings. In general the people were always polite and helpful. It was far different than the media-advertised appearance of Zimbabwe, for exam,ple, that some expected. For my part, there are new lessons learned on what to do differently next time. Yet, I feel that eclipse number 25 will still be just as heart pounding and suspenseful as number 1.