2008 TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE IN CHINA RESULTS 2022-07-21T17:32:20-05:00


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

Path of the eclipse over China. Courtesy X. Jubier.

Circumstances at our main site area. Courtesy X. Jubier.

Friendly Chinese citizens view the sun through a telescope with interest at our site C location. Photo by D.Moran
Due to variable weather conditions we deployed 5 teams of observers out of 65 participants into regions to the north and east of our base city of Dunhaung, Gansu Province, China on August 1 in order to maximize chances of at least one or more groups successfully viewing the eclipse. Persistent waves of low pressure passing through the province had created cloud and rain patterns that potentially threatened to curtail eclipse observation. However on eclipse day this weather had moved off to the east with a drying trend approaching from the west.

Three teams traveled north to Hami, dropping off 5 members who were to observe at the southern edge of the path of totality. Two vehicles then moved eastward into the mountains toward the centerline. Another group in bus A headed east toward the road to inner Mongolia while the bus C group headed toward site C near Jindinghu (north of Jiuquan). Path width of totality was about 244km. Each bus except one was equipped with an emergency camping toilet.

A fisheye view obtained by P. Reiff is shown below and is the most representative of all of the RING OF FIRE EXPEDITIONS China photos. It shows a cloud in the shape of a dragon eating the sun! Dramatic wide field view showing the sun in the clear at mid eclipse (about 7.09pm local time).

The eclipse edge group was composed of our science team with two video stations staffed by Richard Nugent (Houston TX) and Charles Herold (Round Rock TX). I had provided a separate camcorder to be used in an attempt to simulate a visual observation perspective that might simulate the views seen in the UK during the 1715 total eclipse.

Map showing locations of the science team relative to the southern edge of totality. Map by R.Nugent.
The science team also included B.P. Sharma (Canada), D. Ombrello and M. Price. With a guide provided by CITS they set up stations at 3.4km and 1.4km north of the southern edge respectively. The purpose of this set of stations was to video record the Baily’s Beads phenomenon as part of our continuing program to measure changes in the solar radius at the poles from eclipse to eclipse.


Successive views of Baily’s Beads from 1.4km north of the south edge. Images from R.Nugent video.
Good Baily’s Beads videos were obtained by both Nugent and Herold. Nugent observed 16 seconds of totality based on his video and because of the sensitivity of Herold’s camera he recorded chromosphere during the time when totality would have been seen. Herold’s video showed about 22 seconds of totality.

Second contact photo by D.Ombrello as seen from 3.4km north of the southern edge. Compare this with 2nd contact below closer to the center. Baily’s beads are seen here! Exposure at 1/800 sec ISO 100.
Diamond ring photo by D.Ombrello at 1/320 sec ISO 100.
Inner corona photo by D.Ombrello.
Third contact Diamond ring photo by D.Ombrello.
David used Nikon D2X with a 300mm f/4 lens and a 1.7 tele extender. This resulted in a 500mm focal length before factoring in the DX format. With the 35mm equivalent this would be about 750mm focal length. The effective f/ratio is f/6.7. In the first image


The Site A bus B team was headed by Claude Nicollier (Switzerland) and included T.Kemper, J. Rosenstock, O.Andrade, T.Fulbright, D.English, D. Gomez-English, D. Braswell, L. Palmer, D.Flack, M.Otake, R. Frankenberger, and J. Frankenberger. Temperature measures were made by Janice Frankenberger and showed an 8 degree F. drop during the eclipse. Pat Reiff’s bus and Claude’s bus were together close to the Sand Dunes in the plateau between the Dahei Shan and the Tian Shan mountain ranges during much of the pre-totality partial phases. Claude decided to offer the possibility, for whoever wanted, to move south a few miles with one bus to gain distance from a threatening cloud affecting the view of the sun from their location. This was about 30 minutes before second contact, or 6:40 PM local time. The first site, the one where Pat and a number of observers stayed, can be designated “Site A – Sand Dunes”.

Claude’s team moved about 4 miles south, on the road towards Hami, until they were far away enough from that cloud with a good unobstructed view of the sun. This second site can be designated “Site A – Sand Dunes South”. They got there at 6:50 PM or 20 minutes before second contact, which was short, but still enough to set up cameras and instruments for the ones who had decided to join. Site A – Sand Dunes South enjoyed a totally unobstructed view of totality. Claude blew the whistle at the appropriate times when it was safe to look at the sun without a filter (2nd contact) , and then when it became unsafe (3rd contact). In the meanwhile, Site A – Sand Dunes became better, and fortunately also had a good view of the totality, although clouds were close. Everyone going along this area was charged 200 yuan (about $30) by the local government as an ‘eclipse access fee’. If you went farther north that price increased by 50%.

Coordinates for the Sand Dunes and the Sand Dunes South sites: Site A – Sand Dunes N43 25′ 16.1″,E93 44′ 27.5″,Altitude 6843 feet; 38.7NM from centerline = 1:38 min totality. Site A – Sand Dunes South N43 21′ 28.7″,E93 42′ 17.2″,Altitude 6831 feet;42.5NM from centerline = 1:30 min totality

C. Nicollier’s team at the eclipse site
M.Otake during totality. Photo by D.Flack
A nice flat meadow where Rick and Janice set up their observation. Photo by L. Palmer
Watching the partial phases. Photo by D. Moran.
 2nd contact, mid eclipse and 3rd contact photos by B. Braswell, part of the Group B team. Note the Baily’s Beads in two of the three images which have excellent focus. The pink chromosphere is very clearly shown. Great work!He used a Nikon 600mm f4 lens with a Nikon 1.7 teleconverter for an effective focal length of 1040mm on the Nikon D3 camera body at ISO 400.
Sturdy tripod and alt-az head mount for Nikon lens used to take the two photos above. Photo by B. Braswell.
“Dragon eating the sun.” Photo by B. Hammarberg.

The Site A bus D team was led by Dr. Pat Reiff (Houston TX) and included D.Kredel, M. Kredel, R. Perez de Paulo, J. Wilson, S.Wilson, M. Scherbina, P.Scherbina, S.Young, T. Cave, R. Hammarberg, D. Holisky, D. Droddy, B. Droddy, D. Rousso, J. Rousso and P.Morris-Smith, D. English, D. Gomez-English, T. Kemper, J. Carbajo, P. Plante. There were 2 bus drivers, and local guide was Robin (Su-Ming, which means Sun-Moon which was very appropriate.)Knowing that the travel might be slow, we chose to leave very early in the morning (05:30, compared to Claude’s 0600). That gave the group a sit-down lunch after a box breakfast. As bus D left Hami, given the slowness of the travel, multiple checkpoints, etc, the group looked at sites in the valley just between the two mountain ranges, with a good view of the West, with sites east of the first range (closer to Hami) as fall-back choices. (Darrell assured the group that the clouds would build over the mountains but the valleys should stay clearer). There were police stationed every few km along the road east of Hami toward Yiwu.

Accordingly, as bus D traveled eastward they marked several potential sites. They had just decided to try to go back west on the south side of the second ridge when another checkpoint was encountered. Despite having paid the payment for the eclipse permits for all, they were stopped. Claude and his bus turned back at that point but bus D prevailed on the local police to go forward two km to the intersection to the road that headed back to the northwest, where there was a small town (Na Lin Ku)–N 43° 25.985’, E 99° 55.836’. At that point it was 1.5 hours before first contact so the team picked out viewing sites, set up the toilet tent, and then interacted with the locals, giving them eclipse glasses and UV beads, and generally making friends. Paul Scherbina got a motorcycle ride with a local. Several headed off for hikes before first contact.

However, after about an hour the police with an army officer came by and told they group that they were in a sensitive border area and needed to head back west. Reluctantly they packed up and headed back towards the Sand Dune where Claude’s group was located. They arrived back at the Dunes (43°N 25.273’ 93°E44.427’) about 6 minutes before first contact, hurriedly set up and watched the clouds build over the ridge and then partially cover the sky. After some discussion about clouds, etc., a decision was made for Claude to take anyone who was mobile and head south down the road to look for clearer skies. Those who stayed saw the eclipse with minor cloud, but those who moved got clear of the cloud cover. After third contact group D got word from Claude that they wanted them to join up with group B (bringing the stuff they left behind) and people and equipment were sorted out at their site. Afterward, both teams drove back to Hami, had a sit down dinner at the same hotel in Hami, and made it back to the hotel in Dunhuang by 530 the next morning, totally exhausted but happy that they had a good view.

Totality with Venus (upper left) and Mercury (above sun). Photo by J. D.Droddy.
Diamond ring at 3rd contact. Photo by Spencer Young.
Decision time. Photo by T.Cave.
Part of Group D. Photo by P. Reiff
Group D site. Photo by P. Morris.
Bob Hammarberg, his Sunspotter, and site. Photo by P. Morris.
R.Perez (Uruguay) in position for the eclipse. Photo by L. Palmer
Chinese police examine the image of the projected sun. Photo by B.Hammarberg.
After getting past the police checkpoint, Bus D is booted out. Photo by B.Hammarberg.

The central team was led by Paul Maley and included D. Deshon, B.Vobach, D. Nye, D. Weber, C.Triessl, B.Geary, R. and L. Richards, R. and D.Anderson, E. and M. Brennan, I.Nennesmo. This was deemed to be the most risky area because the Chinese government had lifted permission to travel up the singular road toward Inner Mongolia about a week earlier. Even if the group could proceed toward the center, they would not be allowed farther than a military checkpoint about 60 km into the path. An advance look by Maley that day found a channel of dry air that seemed to preserve itself for about 8 hours prior to totality just north of the southern edge of the eclipse path. Watching the progress of clouds Bus A remained poised just north of the edge up until 15 minutes before totality. A few buses passed the group on the way to Gongpoquan. The buses only contained Chinese eclipse observers who were not prevented from moving to the center line. Only foreigners were banned. North of our waiting point, we could see an extensive line of broken cloud, so there was no point to move until a new trend was observed.

The site B team. The sign in the background translates into something like “defend the border against foreign devils”.
The road to the north was blanketed by broken clouds. Photo by D. Deshon.
The Site B Bus A bad road site. Photo by M.Brennan.
Eclipse desert gear worn by Dr. Inger Nennesmo (Sweden). Photo by D.Weber.
The corona and Mercury above the sun as seen from site B. Photo by P.Maley with Nikon D100.
The edge of the moon’s shadow during totality. Looking west. C.Triessl and B.Geary in foreground. Photo by M. Brennan
Looking north you can see the moon’s shadow covering that part of the sky just before totality. Photo by M. Brennan
As clouds began to encroach on even this location the closer it got to eclipse time, the team finally moved northward since the cloud cover was seen to begin breaking up about an hour before 2nd contact. But the bus encountered the abrupt end of the highway and start of a rough road deviation; moving very slowly it was only possible to gain 2km and the bus stopped a hair-raising 6 minutes before totality. All members piled out and were able to see the sun in a completely clear sky. This spot was 21km north of the southern limit. Latitude 40 deg 53.905m north, longitude 96 deg 42.670m east; altitude 1699m.

A stacked set of images reveal the star Delta Cancri located just to the right of the sun. This is an orange giant star 136 light years away and is magnitude 3.94. After the eclipse, we heard of a comet reportedly near the sun but it was never noticed during the eclipse or in photos from our team.
The eclipse descended slowly over the team and the moon’s shadow was seen most predominantly in the north part of the sky as totality commenced. Venus and Mercury were clearly seen. But it was so dark that Maley could not view his Nikon D100 camera dial during totality. No shadow bands were seen by B. Vobach, and the eclipse wind effect was not detectable. A Texas flag had been raised (as is our usual custom) just 2km away and a stiff surface wind had been blowing about 25 miles/hour before and after totality.We did note that clouds approach the sun earlier seemed to evaporate as they encountered the sun’s position. During totality we were fortunate that the scattered cloud patches approaching from the east seemed to hang back. About 66 seconds of totality was seen here. At this site no flora or fauna effects were noticed.


This is a tilted photograph showing coronal streamers captured by Dan Deshon with a Nikon D200 and 200mm lens, ASA 400. It is oriented to attempt to fit the pre-eclipse model below and is deliberately reoriented from the coronal images elsewhere in this report to match the model.
Model of coronal structure developed by SAIC.

This group was led by Dr. Jacques Guertin and included D.Moran, C.Moynihan, A.McNair, N. and P. Braithwaite, J. and L. Ferro, V.Prevosto, S. Stewart and M. Whitman. The bus was not able to exceed 45 miles/hour on the very good highway even though cars were passing at over 70 mph. The numerous checkpoints and toll points slowed the group down even more. Also the guide, Amanda, did not seem to comprehend the urgency of arriving in enough time to set up all equipment. Based on a phone call Tony made to Jiuquan it appeared that this location might have the best chance of seeing the eclipse of all of our sites. This was confirmed when the group arrived. At the final police checkpoint a potentially long delay was avoided when eclipse glasses were provided to the cops stationed there. Lesson learned: always carry extra eclipse glasses since you never know when the goodwill they generate might save the day.

Below we present some excellent photos taken on actual film (not digital) from the Jindinghu lake site.

Inner corona shot by J. Guertin.6-inch (152 mm) Maksutov (Quantum 6);effective focal length: 2,900 mm;effective focal ratio: f/19;negative film: Kodak Ektar 25, 120 size (60 mm2);mount: Astro-Physics GTO900, motor driven; exposure: ½ s
A Closeup view of a prominence (left),helmet streamers (center), and smaller prominences and the chromosphere (below) by J. Guertin. 6-inch (152 mm) Maksutov (Quantum 6); effective focal length: 2,900 mm;effective focal ratio: f/19;negative film: Kodak Ektar 25, 120 size (60 mm2);mount: Astro-Physics GTO900, motor driven;exposure: 1/4 s
The predesignated site was near a small lake. A road leading into the site offered two choices (left or right). The right direction led to the east side of the lake where thousands of locals were gathered. Jacques elected a left turn which turned out to have a flat west horizon and few onlookers. The bus finally stops with 34 minutes before totality time. Jacques setup time took 30 minutes. His telescope view showed no image turbulence and zero clouds in the sky–a perfect site unlike all the others which had at least 20-30% clouds. However 1m 35s of total eclipse was the grand prize. After 3rd contact the group remains for another half hour with some locals taking a peek through Jacque’s telescope.

The long road back to Dunhuang gets the group to the hotel at 430am (local eclipse time was 7.13pm) which featured a dinner break in Suzhou and brief Milky Way viewing in dark skies! The coordinates for the site were latitude 39 deg 53m, longitude 98 deg 50m based on Jacque’s GPS.

The Site C group. Photo by J.Guertin
A local visits site C and Jacque’s telescope
In one part of China a report stated: “The local newspaper instructed residents to protect their eyes by looking at the eclipse through dark film. Yang, like others, gazed at the sun through X-rays of teeth and other body parts, tearing large pieces of film into smaller bits to share with others.”

Enthusiastic Chinese citizen observers the partial eclipse using indignenous eclipse glasses.

Our 5000 meter fun run/walk was held July 31 in the city of Dunhuang. The run began in the town and ended at the Mingsha Sand Dunes, starting just before sunrise. A record 23 people participated including N. and P. Braithwaite, A. McNair, C. Moynihan, D. Weber, R. Richards, M. Price, J.Schuck, C. Nicollier, B.Braswell, C. Triessel, B. Geary, R. Nugent, R. Anderson, B.P.Sharma, B.Vobach, M. and D. Kredel, P. Maley, L. Palmer and our guide Tony. Supporting members were D. Ombrello and D. Deshon. The top 3 male finishers were P. Braithwaite, R.Nugent, A.McNair; top 3 females: L. Palmer, C.Moynihan and N.Braithwaite.

Part of the Eclipse 5k running team. Left to right: Claude, Alex, Richard, Paul Braithwate, Lynn, Nancy, Celia. Photo by P.Maley
20 of the E5K participants plus an unidentified meditating woman clearly not happy about the concept of running during an eclipse period. (center in black & white)

Since we are not able to host all of the shots taken by the team, we want to give you the opportunity to view many of the other images that were collected during the trip.

Olave Andrade: CLICK HERE.

Bob Hammarberg: CLICK HERE.

Debbie Moran: CLICK HERE.

Dick Richards: CLICK HERE.

Richard Nugent: CLICK HERE.

David Ombrello: CLICK HERE.

Pat Reiff: CLICK HERE.


The report above is mainly devoted to the eclipse but the following are some representative snapshots of other aspects of the tour.

Dan Deshon taking aim. Photo by M.Brennan.
Chinese constellations differed markedly from Western ones, being usually much smaller and incorporating fainter stars. This illustration shows the sky around the north celestial pole from a chart believed to date from the early 7th century AD that was found in the early 20th century in caves at Dunhuang, China. Among the Chinese constellations shown, only the familiar shape of the Plough or Big Dipper is recognizable. The Dunhuang manuscript is the oldest surviving star map in the world.
Post eclipse story in the local Beijing paper. Scan by P.Maley.
When word got out that RING OF FIRE EXPEDITIONS was in town, one of our sites on a hill attracted a crowd. Photo by D.Moran.
Warning sign. Photo by P.Reiff.
Claude Nicollier interviewed by CCTV. Photo by D. Flack.
Snake wine: now why would anyone drink this? Photo by D. Moran.
Li River. Photo by D. Moran
Dunhuang night market. Photo by T. Cave.
Olav Andrade and local children using eclipse viewers. Photo by B. Braswell.
One of our two observation sites at the edge. Note the solid mounting surface for the 3.5inch Questar telescope. Photo by R.Nugent
Bathroom of sorts in the middle of nowhere. Photo by B.Braswell on the way to the eclipse site.
Naxi priest prepares an eclipse related diagram. Photo by D.Moran.
P. Maley and D. Weber raise the RING OF FIRE EXPEDITIONS Texas flag at our first site B location.
Sand dunes in one eclipse site area. Photo by S.Young.
Byron Braswell in position. Photo by J. Carbajo.
Camel riding at the Mingsha sand dunes. Photo by D. Moran.
Dick Richards sand boarding down a dune. Photo by L.Richards.
Reed Flute Cave in Guilin. Photo by D.Richards.
Chinese rock band–Lijiang Naxi orchestra. Photo by D. Richards.
A real panda at the Beijing zoo. Photo by D.Richards.