An unusual annular eclipse of the Sun occurred on 2003 May 31. What made this event different was that the Moon's antumbral shadow barely grazed the Earth. Indeed, the northern edge of the shadow actually missed the planet entirely. The path of this odd spectacle crossed northern Scotland, the Orkneys, Iceland and southern Greenland. The NASA 2003 Annular Eclipse Page gives maps, tables and full details of the event.
I led a Spears Travel expedition to Iceland to witness this unique sunrise eclipse. Upon our arrival in Reykjavik, we were met by our Icelandic guide Stephanie who took us to the Blue Lagoon for an early morning dip in the soothing mineral waters of a geothermally heated artificial lake. Just the thing after a long plane ride! After breakfast and a brief tour of the city, we arrived at our hotel for a rest. I arranged for a meeting room that evening so our group of 22 members could get to know each other during my slide presentation on the upcoming eclipse. For several of our fellow adventurers, this would be their first solar eclipse. Others were seasoned eclipse chasers with 4 or 5 events already under their belts.
During the next two days, we enjoyed the incredible sights and wonders of Iceland as our bus trasported us to the northern coast. We visited spectacular waterfalls, geysers and volcanic craters set within a rolling green and treeless landscape punctuated by glacier carved mountain ranges still caped with snow from the previous winter. Clear and sunny skies lulled us into a false sense of security about the weather. Unfortunately, cirrus clouds began to move into the area the afternoon before the eclipse (May 30). A quick look at satellite images on the Internet later that evening showed a weather system moving in from the east. It was going to be a race between the clouds and the eclipse.
We were staying at a farm guest-house on the eastern side of Eyjafjordur fjord about 15 km north of the town of Akureyi. Our plan was to drive around to the western side of the fjord and as far north as possible to avoid the high mountains blocking the northeastern horizon. This gave us the added advantage of moving away from the approaching cloud front.
As we left the guest-house at 1:00 am, the sky was completely overcast except for a narrow band of red twilight toward the north. An hour later, we arrived at our observing site just east of a long mountain tunnel leading to the town of Olafsfjördur. The small parking lot near the tunnel entrance was already filled with cars. Our bus took the old unpaved side road leading us 100 meters above the tunnel. From there, we had an unobstructed view of the north and northeastern horizon.
There were already several cars parked there waiting for the big event. Within the next half hour, we would be joined by several more buses and dozens of cars. Although I did not know it at the time, Swedish eclipse chaser Timo Karhula was just below us near the tunnel entrance.
Spears Travel Observing Site Along Iceland's Northern Coast of Olafsfjördur
The nominal predictions for our position near Olafsfjördur (without limb corrections) were:
Lat.= 66°06.0'S (position measured from GPS) Long.=018°38.0'W (Iceland uses UT) Ecl.Dur.=01h54m34.4 Eclipse Mag.= 0.9670 Umb.Dur.= 03m36.7s Eclipse Obs.= Diameter Ratio = 0.9386 Universal Sun Sun Sun --Position Angles-- Contact Time Alt Azimuth HA P V Q h m s ° ° h ° ° ° C1 03:07:55.9 1.1 26.7 -10.07 255.7 267.0 348.6 C2 04:02:41.4 3.9 39.1 -9.16 259.3 275.3 343.9 Maximum 04:04:29.7 4.0 39.5 -9.13 345.0 1.2 343.8 C3 04:06:18.1 4.1 39.9 -9.10 70.7 87.0 343.7 C4 05:02:30.2 8.1 52.3 -8.16 74.3 94.6 339.7
However, limb corrections indicated that the times of second and third contacts would acutally be:
Universal Contact Time h m s C2 04:02:43.6 (including +2.2s correction) C3 04:06:14.0 (including -4.2s correction) Actual duration of annularity (including limb profile) = 03m30.3s
Four Eager Observers Wait For Annularity
From our observing site near Olafsfjördur, the sky was about 95% overcast, but the northern horizon was clear. We watched a brilliant sunrise beginning at about 2:30 am. Due to our northerly latitude (half a degree south of the Arctic circle), the Sun's apparent motion was mostly horizontal rather than vertical. For every 1° gain in altitude, the Sun's azimuth shifted by 5°. As a result, it took over 15 minutes for the Sun to clear the horizon. We watched the partial phases begin at 3:08 am and anxiously followed the progress of the eclipse. There was a wide, horizontal belt of clouds about 2 to 4 degrees above the horizon which caused us great concern because the Sun would be 4 degrees high during annularity. At 3:39 am, the Sun disappeared behind the cloud belt and the waiting began.
The annular phase would commence at 04:02:42 am but would the Sun reappear from the clouds in time? As mentioned earlier, the Sun's gain in altitude was very slow and we worried that it wouldn't climb high enough to clear the clouds for annularity. This diagram illustrates the geometry of the Sun's apparent path along the horizon during the eclipse.
As the minutes passed, I anxiously searched for signs of the Sun in my 80 mm refractor. A bright spot slowly appeared in the clouds at 3:58 am. By 4:00, I could make out the top half of the crescent Sun which was rapidly growing brighter. Some 30 seconds before the annular phase began, the bottom of the crescent emerged from the murky clouds. I watched in awe as the ends of the crescent drew together and Baily's beads briefly appeared. Annularity! Camera shutters whirled and the crowd around us cheered. The Sun was still shrouded in thin clouds which actually enhanced the beauty of the event.
2003 Annular Eclipse Sequence
I photographed the eclipse with a Vixen 80mm f/8 fluorite refractor with a TeleVue Big Barlow. This gave me an effective focal length of about 1700mm. Although I normally use a Thousands Oaks Type 3 filter to photograph eclipses, the rapidly varying cloudiness in Iceland allowed me to photograph the event without filtration.
The annular phase ended three and a half minutes after it began at about 04:06:15 am. The still partially eclipsed Sun vanished behind the overcast blanket of thick clouds above us just 9 minutes later. Oh how lucky we were!
On the long drive back to Reykjavik later that day, it rained much of the time but no one seemed to care.
Spears Travel 2003 Eclipse Trip Group Photo
I'd like to especially thank a few people in our expedition who helped make it such a great success. First of all, there wouldn't have even been a trip if it hadn't been for Gary Spears and Spears Travel. Wish you could have been with us buddy! Greg Buchwald and his GPS accompanyied me on an unscheduled site inspection trip to Olafsfjördur the day before the eclipse. Rudy Blaettner purchased every Iceland map he saw and generously allowed me to use them as we frantically searched for alternate eclipse viewing sites. Ray Badgerow was a great help with updated weather information from the Internet. Our bus driver Greamer kept us safe and informed with the latest forecasts from the Iceland Weather Bureau.Finally, our excellent Icelandic guide Stephanie made us all fall in love with her beautiful country. We promise to return for a longer visit someday.
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Last revised: 2008 Jan 27