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2003 Annular Eclipse Sequence
2003 Annular Eclipse Sequence

A Ring of Fire in the Land of Fire

Report on the Annular Eclipse 2003 May 31

by Timo Karhula (Olafsfjördur, ICELAND)

First, I was a little bit skeptical to be able to view an annular eclipse in clear skies from Iceland. Occurring in a Nordic country which I had never before visited, was nevertheless a reason to take a chance. This would be quite an opposite eclipse compared to the total one I experienced in the outback of South Australia. I decided to fly from Stockholm to Reykjavik and from there rent a car, drive around the whole island and visit scenic places. My mother Rauni, who is also a globe-trotter, would accompany me. She had seen two perfect total eclipses, one in Finland in 1945 and one in Zambia in 2001! We would observe the eclipse somewhere in the north, the Sun being higher in the sky. Iceland has a climate with highly variable weather, so a late weather forecast would determine our final choice of site of observation.

After three quarters around Iceland, we arrived to Akureyri the afternoon before the eclipse. Here, we visited Rauni's former colleague who had moved back to Iceland. I checked the last minute weather on Internet and found that a massive depression was closing in from the south. Best chances of having a clear sky after midnight was on the large peninsula in the extreme north-west. It meant about 6 hours of driving and seemingly too far away. Instead, I decided to drive as far due north as I could on the eastern side of the Akureyri peninsula. We finally stopped at an outlook near Olafsfjördur, by the eastern end of a tunnel, some 60 kms north of Akureyri (latitude +66d 04' 25".2, longitude -18d 32' 16".8, elevation 110 m). We arrived there just before midnight and three cars were already on the parking lot so we were among the first ten people on the site. I tried to get some sleep before the event but more cars and buses were constantly arriving to the parking. Four hours later I could count almost 200 heads but there were around a thousand spectators on the peninsula (both on the higher ridge and on the western side of the tunnel) according to the newspaper Morgunbladid!

After 2:30 am, I set up my Sony CCD-TRV65E analog video-camera equipped with a Baader Astro solar filter on a Manfrotto tripod. The highest optical magnification is 18x. The Sun had just risen deep red above the ocean just south of the Arctic Circle. The sky near the horizon to the north was quite clear but the rest of the sky looked uncomfortably cloudy. This was the point of no return. The times (all in UT) below show how close to disaster it was. The times have an accuracy of about one second and I used the video-camera clock tuned to my GPS-receiver.

          3:00     The Sun looks like a huge Jupiter with its cloudbelts : -)          3:08:18  I can see a dark notch by the sun's right side                    (just after 1st contact).                    The solar (unrefracted) altitude was a measly +0.7 degrees.          3:33     The Sun is about 40% obscured when it is still in a relatively                    clear patch of the sky. I can not see any sunspots.                    [A single sunspot is visible when looking at a bigger TV-screen].                    I accidentally found a new way to view the Sun without                    proper filters. When I blew on my hot coffee, my glasses                   fogged up and the Sun being so low, I could for a moment                    easily look at it and see the black silhouette of the moon!                    Soon, the Sun disappears behind a cloud bank and is almost                   invisible through the Baader Astro solar filter until 4:00 am,                    just 2 1/2 minutes before second contact.          4:00:10   One fifth of the sickle (NE quadrant) finally appears!          4:00:30   One quarter of the sickle is seen.          4:01:40   One third of the solar limb is visible.          4:02:20   The whole upper left half of the solar limb can now be                     seen, some 20 seconds before annularity.          4:02:39   The predicted annularity begins                     (limb corrections taken into account).          4:03:20   About 60% of the ring is seen.          4:03:53   I am now convinced by the moon silhuette's position against                     the Sun that the annular phase is in progress.          4:04:11   An unbroken ring, even the lower right part, can (faintly)                     be seen on the LCD-display.          4:04:14   I targeted my 8x20 solar-filtered binoculars directly at the                     Sun and can see the complete solar ring around the moon!                     This was beautiful! The south-western (lower right) half is                     dimmest due to clouds. There are other thinner cloud strips                     across the disc. The maximum eclipse took place at this moment                     when the sun's altitude was 3.8 degrees. From now on, a more                     or less uninterrupted ring of light can be seen, depending on                     the exposure time. The upper part of the Sun is constantly                     much brighter and it looks like a brilliant 'diamond ring'                     with longer exposure.          4:06:11   The thin ring on the left side breaks up.                     3rd contact.                    [Clouds may have caused a premature timing by a few seconds]

The Sun disappears behind an opaque cloud sometimes after 4:15 am when I finished recording the Sun. The whole sky became overcast and later it started to rain and drizzle all day long during the drive back to Reykjavik. Had the annular phase occurred just 2 minutes earlier or 9 minutes later, then we would have missed it altogether! The temperature was +5 C according to my digital thermometer on the ground and it was remarkably calm being on this elevation by the sea. I could not see Venus 22 deg to the right due to clouds. Strangely, the crowd seemed not to cheer during the annularity as if not everyone had noticed the 'miracle' appearance. After the event, there was a television team interviewing some astronomer. I got to know afterwards that Fred Espenak and his Spears Travel group were located on the ridge above me! Paul Maley's Ring of Fire Expedition had also chosen the same peninsula. After a 1750 kms drive in four days around Iceland and having visited places like the hot Blue Lagoon, the geysers Geysir and Strokkur, the double waterfall Gullfoss, Europe's largest glacier Vattnajškull, the volcanic area of Myvatn, the historic waterfall Godafoss and the same spot where the North-American and European continental plates meet and where more than a thousand-year old parliament site reside, Thingvellir. Last but not least we had seen a marvellous annular eclipse so this trip became even a greater success than I had hoped to expect!

Links for the 2003 Annular Eclipse

Solar Eclipse Photographs

Copyright Notice

All photographs, text and web pages are © Copyright 2003 by Fred Espenak, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved. They may not be reproduced, published, copied or transmitted in any form, including electronically on the Internet or WWW, without written permission of the author. The photos have been digitally watermarked.

The photographs may be licensed for commercial, editorial, and educational use. Contact Espenak (at MrEclipse) for photo use in print, web, video, CD and all other media.

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