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The Solar Corona of 1999 Aug 11
The Solar Corona of 1999 Aug 11
This photo is a composite from 22 separate negatives.
They have been processed and combined in Adobe Photoshop
to closely resemble the naked eye appearance of the solar corona.
The image was featured in Sky & Telescope's Gallery section (December 1999, p.144)
(Click for more information)

Report on the Total Solar Eclipse of 1999 Aug 11

by Gary S. Spears (Lake Hazar, Turkey)

"One minute to go"! The crowd is becoming very anxious about what is about to happen. Our nerves were on end as thirty seconds is announced. One glance at the sky to make sure there are no clouds getting ready to pass by to block the view of the sun. There are none, this is going to happen; we are going to be successful! The shadows are becoming very distorted and the light from the sun is fading away. Then at exactly 2:05pm on August 11th 1999 a miraculous event happens that has been planned and worked on since February of 1998. The moon's shadow comes sweeping across the horizon at 1,600 MPH. The sun becomes a giant black hole in space surrounded by a brilliant glow of light. The lighting around us is like dusk, but it's only 2pm. At that point everyone in the crowd is screaming and clapping with joy. Can this really be happening? Is this sight for real? Then just as quickly, the process is reversed and this celestial event is over. We will impatiently await the next one that will occur somewhere in Africa in June of 2001.

What I am talking about and the reason we escorted 94 enthusiastic people to Turkey was to witness a total eclipse of the sun. What an awesome sight we saw from Hazar Lake about 25 kilometers outside of Elazig, Turkey. Fred Espenak (Mr. Eclipse) of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center who was our resident expert on eclipses gave talks throughout the journey about past eclipses he had seen, as well as predictions of the upcoming eclipse. He did a great job of making sure we were in the right place at the right time! (Very crucial for viewing a total eclipse of the sun). See Fred's fantastic photos and trip report.

We left New York on August 5th and flew to Istanbul, Turkey. Upon arrival, our tour guides met us with three busses that took us to the Mercure Hotel for some much-needed rest met us. While in Istanbul we went sightseeing and saw such famous sites as the Sultan Ahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque), the Aya Sofya Museum (Saint Sofia) and the great Topkapi Sarayi Palace. Istanbul is the only city in the world built on two continents. It stands on the shores of the uniquely beautiful Bosphorus Straight where the waters of the Black Sea combine with those of the Sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn. Istanbul is a province of three empires, which used to dominate the world. Today the province houses the precious remains of these civilizations, and stands with all its glamour and mysticism as a harmonious link between East and West, past and present, antique and modern.

One night in Istanbul while taking a stroll down the street, a local shoeshine boy approached me. He and several other children that live around the hotels make money by shinning shoes. They are very friendly and very persistent. However, since I was wearing tennis shoes and didn't want him putting black polish on them, I decided to take him to McDonalds and buy him a hamburger. The cost for a hamburger and a coke was about 3 million Lira. (About 2.00 US). His name was Hajie and he was there at the hotel entrance every time we arrived and departed the hotel. He became my friend. Most of our group left Turkey 2 days before the fatal earthquake that devastated the northeastern part of Turkey and parts of Istanbul. I can't keep from thinking about Hajie, and all the children that died during this natural disaster. If you would like to help with the relief effort, please contact us for more information or the American Red Cross.

After several days of trekking and shopping our way around Istanbul, we packed up and began our rugged journey toward the path of the eclipse. This would require a flight to Malatya and bus ride to downtown Elazig, our home for the next two days. Elazig is located in the southeastern part of Turkey, close to the boarder of Iran and Iraq. Safety was our number one concern, though we never had a hint of any problems concerning our safety while we traveled to this part of Turkey. In fact, the police escorted us all the way from the airport to our hotel (running stop signs and stop lights). What a sight it was as we entered downtown Elazig! Everyone was very curious about who was invading their city and why.

That night we enjoyed dinner on the rooftop of our seven-story hotel. It was the only place to find some relief from the heat, as air-conditioning is a rare luxury. The Turkish people are used to this, but it was tough for us westerners. We found the people in Turkey very accommodating and friendly. They were eager to help us in any way they could, and although we had trouble communicating with them, we seemed to get the message across as to the upcoming event that would darken their city the next afternoon.

The next morning we loaded up the buses and headed to Hazar Lake to begin assembling the multitude of equipment brought to film this eclipse. There were video cameras on tripods, telescopes, and 35-millimeter hand held cameras with special filters, and my Kodak disposable capable of taking 24 pictures! There was even a group from NASA that hauled about 500 pounds of equipment in order to run experiments on the Corona of the sun. One of the pieces of equipment was their own electric generator to provide electricity. They are trying to figure out why the Corona is so much hotter than the surface of the sun.

Gary Spears Afloat
Now THIS is how you watch an eclipse!
Tour director Gary Spears relaxes on his "observing platform" on Lake Hazar
as he begins planning our next expedition: Zambia/Zimbabwe 2001!

Overall I think everybody involved thought it was an amazing trip. Turkey is a great place to visit with very friendly people. We saw lots of sights and learned a great deal of history from that part of the world, dating back to the first century and earlier. Plus we had the experience of telling people about the uniqueness of a total eclipse and how special it is to witness.

This article can't end without mentioning the reason why I got involved viewing eclipses. This was my fifth excursion to view a total eclipse. I have traveled to such picture perfect places as Hawaii and Aruba, and been to such exotic destinations as Bolivia, India, and now Turkey. Each trip was a unique experience where I have met new friends and built everlasting friendships. This trip to Turkey was a memorial dedication to my long time friend, Ken Willcox, who passed away earlier this year. He was the catapult that got me started on these wondrous journeys; we had some great tales to tell after each trip. Everyone that has been on an eclipse trip with Ken will deeply miss his presence. Thanks Ken for some grand memories!

Now we are in the planning stages for the next eclipse in Africa in June of 2001. It looks to be another one of those captivating destinations. With African safaris and visits to the famous Victoria Falls on the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe, I'm sure it's going to be another great adventure. I cannot wait to see everyone again in 2001!

1999 Total Eclipse Reports and Photos

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