by Paul D. Maley, NASA Johnson Space Center Astronomical Society

Eclipse path over French Guiana. Courtesy X. Jubier.

Circumstances at our site. Courtesy X. Jubier.

The sun visible through a thin cloud layer rises over the Atlantic Ocean east of Kourou. Photo by the author with a Nikon D100, no filter.

The ROFE group at the ESA Ariane V launch site. Photo by Dan Deshon. From left to right: Lynn Palmer, Besty Vobach, Deryl Barr, Jan Sladecek, Dan Deshon, Dick Mischke, Terry Kemper, Paul Maley. Not shown are Chuck Herold and Jack Denur.
The 33rd ROFE eleven person team successfully watched the annular solar total eclipse of the sun from Kite Beach, Kourou, French Guiana on September 22, 2006. This annular solar eclipse was not without its concerns, however. Being a sunrise eclipse in a tropical climate there was always the uncertainty of clouds and fog. I monitored the weather daily at and around eclipse time and ascertained that there had been no overcast days reported in the 50 days leading up to the eclipse. There were very few days of broken conditions and about 4 days where shallow fog prevailed–always around eclipse time.

We arrived late on September 19 into Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana and were transferred the 66km to Kourou. The mornings of September 20 and 21 showed that one day Cayenne (to the south) would have been favored, on the other Sinnamary to the north would have been the place to go.. Sunrise was at 6:20am and with the help of Dan Deshon’s laptop and connectivity at the Mercure Atlantis around 4:00, I was able to monitor both IR and visible satelllite images. Cloud movements on the prior two days were different each day. But on E-day there was virtually a complete absence of both high and low cloud. Fog was reported on the road between Sinnimary and Kourou so there was some reason to fear its development. The team was dispatched just down the road from the hotel to a beach area located far away from the rather busy Les Roches point where many eclipse watchers were present. Kite Beach was open and residents of housing located across from the beach wandered out to observe the eclipse. In fact, by central eclipse, the beach road was lined with cars.

I had found a site with a clear view to the horizon and a slight elevation to it that was important in securing a flat horizon. We were offered the Ariane launch viewing site called Mt. Carapas but I decided the 50m high hill had too many disadvantages–mainly that there were many trees at the top and there had been an open invitation for the general population to watch it from there.

At Kite Beach only a few spectators were located in front of us but none blocked the field of view of our instruments. Several people were seen jogging along the beach as the eclipse progressed and a team of French legionnaires jogged up the road just after central eclipse. There was a slight breeze which inhibited fog. I kept watch but there were no signs of condensation. About 1 hour before central eclipse (6:53am) high thin cloud appeared in the northwest but did not move. On the eastern horizon where the sun would rise there was a line of cloud over the ocean obscuring the rising sun for the first 10 minutes or so.

 The horns of the solar crescent gradually become visible. Photo by the author. No filter, focal length 420mm, Nikon D100.

By 6:35am (9:35GMT) the sun was almost constantly out of the low horizon cloud. The horns of the crescent took their time gradually emerging from the cloud bank; but that made it all the more suspenseful. I was able to secure about 40 photos with my Nikon D100 while others around me (Dan Deshon, Dick Mischke, Deryl Barr, Betsy Vobach and Jan Sladecek) took their own exposures. Just north of the team, Jack Denur independently set up a bank of 3 cameras. One observer watched the solar crescents projected by a small palm tree and also noticed during the 5minutes 41 seconds of annularity that when he posed his arms in the air, the shadows cast by them were actually double. This apparition was not seen after 3rd contact.


Devils Islands are 3 islands off French Guiana’s coast. They are Isle Royale, Devil’s Island, and St. Joseph’s island. A group from Belgium set up at Isle Royale and the following photos are from my colleague Tristan Cools who was fortunate to capture a nearly clear sea horizon.


The first bit of sun rise. Photo by T.Cools. These 3 images were made with a Canon D350 and 300mm focal length

 The horns of the solar crescent gradually become visible. Photo by T.Cools.

The partly eclipsed sun is now completely above the horizon. Photo by T.Cools.


Terry Kemper used a Kestrel 4000 to monitor temperature changes from sunrise through 4th contact. The temperature remained unchanged at 76.1 degrees F from 6:00 am through 7:00 (i.e. 9:00-10:00GMT) and rose a mere 1.2 degrees thereafter through 4th contact (8:09am). As is typical about 2/3 of the team returned to the hotel shortly after 3rd contact to enjoy breakfast while 4 members remained through the end of the eclipse process. This made it a very comfortable eclipse environment. Most of the team was never more than 50 -75 feet from the calm waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Though we had experienced mosquitoes in the predawn hours at the hotel, there were no bug problems at the eclipse site.

Local people obtained eclipse glasses and were seen sitting quietly on or near the beach watching the spectacle until just after central eclipse when they lost interest. Unlike at previous eclipses, none of the team was bothered by onlookers. A helicopter made two passes over the beach and on both of them the helicopter actually transited the sun in my camera field of view.

The eclipse ring was very broad and it took a while to take it in. Both second and third contacts happened rather quickly as the edge of the moon touched the inner edge of the sun on both occasions.

Second contact occurred at 6:49:38am. These three eclipse photos are by the author taken with a Nikon D100 and Meade ETX90 at 1/640 second, ASA400.

Central eclipse occurred at 6:52:28am. Note the tiny sunspot just below the top edge in both the 2nd the 3rd close up photos. 

An excellent projection of crescent annular images through leaves from a palm tree. Photo by Lynn Palmer. 

Local boy using eclipse glasses. Photo by Lynn Palmer. 

Just prior to sunrise the team is silhouetted against the horizon. Photo by Lynn Palmer.

The brilliantly clear sky behind us in the direction of some high clouds which dissipated just after sunrise. Photo by Lynn Palmer.

The last photo taken of the eclipse. Photo by Dan Deshon, Nikon D200 with 200mm lens.

A sunset image. Photo by Jack Denur.
Another sunset image showing a cloud in the form of a bird. Photo by Jack Denur.

TV coverage of the eclipse. Photo by Jack Denur.

Sunrise #1. Photo by Jack Denur. 

Sunrise #2.Photo by Jack Denur. 

The sun above the cloud. Photos by Jack Denur. 

Second contact. Photo by Jack Denur. 

Central eclipse. Photo by Jack Denur. 

Nearly the last contact. Photo by Jack Denur. 

During annularity legionnaires jog by our site. Photo by Lynn Palmer. 

The RING OF FIRE EXPEDITIONS team at Kite beach. Not pictured is Jack Denur. From left to right: Dick Mischke, Betsy Vobach, Lynn Palmer, Terry Kemper, Emery (our guide), Chuck Herold, Dan Deshon, Deryl Barr, Paul Maley, Jan Sladecek. 

The Eclipse 5K run/walk team. Not pictured is Jan Sladecek. Photo by Lynn Palmer. Left to right: Betsy, Dan, Lynn, Paul, Derryl. 

My observing site was on a small berm. Equipment is balanced atop a bench. Photo by Lynn Palmer. 

Unsual shadows cast during annularity. Photo by Lynn Palmer. 

Eclipse coverage in the paper France-Guyane 23 and 24 September 2006, p.24. 

A local eclipse warning poster. Photo by Lynn Palmer. 

One of the chattering colorful monkey’s on Isle Royale that followed our group as we circumnavigated it. Photo by Betsy Vobach. 

Even on Isle Royale, Dan could make a cell phone call! Photo by Lynn Palmer. 

Dick Mischke on Isle Royale in a still existing jail cell. Photo by Dan Deshon. 

Devil’s Island as seen from Isle Royale. Photo by Jan Sladecek. 

The beach along Isle Royale. Photo by Jan Sladecek.
 The group almost witnessed an Ariane V launch until a decision was made to postpone it until weeks after our departure. However, a grand tour of the European space facility was experienced including getting to drive to the center of the Ariane V launch platform area, tour the control center facility, and to see the platform for the older Ariane IV launcher and Diamant rocket. Perfect weather that day made the facility tour very special. That night the group witnessed a -7 magnitude Iridium flare from the front of the hotel.