Quick Index
Solar Eclipses | Lunar Eclipses | Blog | Night Sky | Upcoming Eclipses | Photo Index | Travel | Potpourri | Links | Store | Search

Report on the Total Solar Eclipse of 1999 Aug 11

by Timo Karhula (Mangalia, Romania)

I had planned to travel to Romania in order to view the last total solar eclipse of this millennium.Romania had the longest duration of totality and the prospects of clear skies were the best in Europe.I had also chanced upon an advertisement by Reseledaren about a chartered flight to Constanta from Sweden.The flight tickets were ordered in the beginning of June and soon afterwards the plane was fully booked by eclipse watchers.A work-mate of mine, Rolf Peterson, and his family, accompanied me after I had triggered their interest on this phenomena.

We landed in Constanta on Saturday the 7th of August and we continued to our hotel in the Black Sea resort Neptun, which was situated within the zone of totality.The site was more than halfway towards the northern limit so we decided to go further south.Romania's southernmost city by the sea, Mangalia, looked promising.Rolf had an idea of capturing the entire eclipse sequence in one multiexposure photograph with a cathedral as the backdrop.Exactly 24 hours prior to the eclipse we were on the churchyard and checked where the Sun would be at mideclipse, so that the images from the 1st to 4th contact would be within the frame and not be blocked by the cathedral.He marked the ground with stones in order to know where to exactly place his tripod legs and his Hasselblad the next day.I had no problems locating a good spot since I would only record the eclipse with my Sony CCD TRV65E camcorder on a Manfrotto tripod.The maximum zooms are 18x optically and 72x digitally.I used a welder's glass as a filter in front of the objective as I have done at recent eclipses.This time I had attached the filter with Velcro tape on the videocamera.This very simple construction proved to be efficient .

We returned early on the eclipse day to be sure to have the correct observing spot for ourselves.Most of the other Swedish amateurs who belonged to our group, headed towards the Bulgarian border near Vama Veche for getting a few more seconds of totality.Our observing place was an isolated one since the local orthodox priest shooed away all the beggars so we could work undisturbed! The weather could hardly have been better.A perfectly cloudless sky, temperature +32 C and no wind.

At 9:47 UT (12:47 local summer time) we noticed that a tiny fraction of the Sun's right limb had been bitten by the Moon.First contact! I would not the make the same mistake as I made in Australia last February.From there I recorded the shrinking solar crescent most of the time up to annularity and watching all of it later on TV was boring.Now I filmed the few people around me to see their reactions and growing excitement.Crescent images on the ground became eventually thinner and thinner.The ambient light got dimmer and had an eerie, pinkish look.

When a few minutes of partiality remained I began to record the Sun only.About 90 seconds before totality I observed the darkness accelerate.17 seconds before second contact I quickly flipped up the filter and the dark silhouette of the Moon appeared instantly.It had a very intense light on its upper left side.When I later studied the movie on a TV I noticed that the prominences were already visible! The Diamond ring was apparent visually five seconds before totality.The numerous crowd on the nearby street was yelling and whistling and dogs were barking.Every other activity in the city seem to have been stopped and all of us stood there looking up at the black disk.

At 11:11:02 UT, exactly at the predicted time, the last bit of photosphere slips behind a valley of the Moon and the totality begins! After a closer inspection of the recording, I have derived the following descriptions of each prominence and the shape of the inner corona / chromosphere.The approximate position angles (PA) below assumes the parameter P-V (difference between direction of lunar north and zenith) to be 20 degrees.

Clockwise from the north, there are prominences at PA 320, at 290, 275 and 260.At PA 245 there is a peculiar, detached, drop-shaped prominence which I measure to reach a height of 1/15 of the Moon's diameter outside its limb (2')! The next prominence lies at PA 155.At PA 110 there is a quadruple prominence at the eastern limb! This group is the largest one and to the left of it there seems to float a red arc in space.And finally there are three prominences at about PA 35.All in all I could count 13 outstanding prominences and I suspected a few smaller ones.The relative sizes and brightnesses of the main prominences varied during totality due to the changing position of the Moon.I could see no prominences at the upper or lower limb.

The inner corona has a dark, thin wedge or plume reaching all down to the Moon at PA 305 (a coronal hole?).I had deliberately used a faster shutter speed to catch these details so I'm not sure it is visible with longer exposures.There is a less pronounced but broader, dark wedge at PA 185.At PA 65 shines the inner corona's / chromosphere's most brilliant portion.This part lies in the opposite side of the detached prominence.

The seemingly thousands of people on the street shouted and applauded at the maximum of the totality at 11:12:03 UT.Someone used a loudspeaker to inform the correct moment.Ships blast their horns.I look up and see the huge, silvery corona which is asymmetric and filamentary with a few streamers.It stretches about one lunar diameter in every direction.

There is not much time left.Where are the planets? Venus shines brightly to the left and Mercury to the right.Sirius happens to be behind the cathedral.No time left to search for other stars.Rolf shoots exposures frantically beside me with his Hasselblad.His son, Johan, assists him during this critical moment.I notice that the lunar limb at 3 o'clock gets brighter and at 11:13:05 UT, after 2 min and 3 sec of totality, the Diamond ring reappears and gets quickly more intense.I look for an additional 36 seconds at the camcorder's TV-monitor.The prominences are still visible at the opposite side.Now I decide to flip the filter on again.The show is over.

One advantage of recording with a camcorder is that you can see the result immediately.I showed my footage to passer-bies, a Danish couple who had seen the Aruba eclipse, and they were delighted to see the replay.The temperature dropped by almost 10 degrees C between the first and third contact.I didn't note any increase of wind force.The altitude of the Sun during totality was 59 degrees and the magnitude was 1.028 according to calculations.As a curiosity, the following evening was rainy and we missed the Perseid shower maximum altogether! I always collect newspapers the day after an eclipse, so I bought five local items which all seemed to have good coverage on the eclipse.It is a pity I can not read Romanian! I have not yet seen Rolf's photographic results but if they turn out to be excellent, I will surely scan them and post the images on the Internet.

When I afterwards scrutinize the movie, there are other subtle details not directly related to the eclipse.30 seconds after third contact something moves very swiftly across the field of view.It looks like either a bat or a swallow.Before 2nd and after 3rd contact, there are also mysterious points of light emanating from the left side and flies over the Moon.They look like flying bullets or fireworks but they surely must be glare from the Diamond rings.Of course our excited voices are heard, especially mine.After all, I did not expect a perfect total solar eclipse to be so stirring! Next time Zambia, in 2001?

1999 Total Eclipse Reports and Photos

Return to: MrEclipse Main Page

WebMaster: MrEclipse
Last revised: 2008 Jan 28