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

Last update August 9, 2009

Baily’s Beads and reddish chromosphere through a 3.5 inch Maksutov telescope/lens. Photo by J.Guertin.

This year we fielded 4 expeditions: 3 to China and one to Kiribati in an attempt to observe the longest total eclipse of this century. Results follow below from Ouba atoll, Kiribati (Gilbert Islands); Wuhan City, China; 40km west of Wuhan; and Jiaxing, China


Eclipse path over Kiribati. Courtesy X. Jubier.

Circumstances at Butaritari. Courtesy X. Jubier.

The group of 14 traveled from Los Angeles to Fiji to Tarawa, Kiribati (formerly Gilbert Islands, UK) with the plan of going to Butaritari atoll. Upon arrival in Tarawa they learned that the ferry that was the mode of transport to Butaritari had sunk July 13 and that the only other method of transport was the one 17-seat Air Kiribati flight, which turned out to be full.

With this problem at hand the team was able to hire a boat to go to Ouba Islet in Abaiang atoll where they disembarked 3 hours before first contact. High cloud was the menace obscuring some aspects of totality so that all images that were taken showed cloud in the way. Still, these views were better than those from mainland China where the other ROFE teams were positioned. Representative shots from the trip appear below.

 Ouba Islet in Abaiang atoll about 53km north of southern Taraawa (at center). Courtesy R. Sinnott.


Wide angle view of totality. Photo by M.Bang. 

A tantalizing view of clear sky but not in the right direction and not at the right time! Photo by M.Bang.

 The group disembarking at Ouba Islet in Abaiang atoll. Photo by Y.Hirota. 


 Sharon and Billy Hahs (foreground) preparing for totality. Photo by Y.Hirota.

Local aide looking through Jacque’s Maksutov. Photo by J.Guertin.

 Roger Sinnott with his equipment; he used a mechanical [no battery] windup drive for tracking. Photo by Y.Hirota.  

The corona as viewed through a 3.5 inch Maksutov telescope/lens. Photo by J.Guertin. 

A World War II relic on Tarawa. Photo by J.Guertin. 

A water color of the eclipse done by B. Hahs. Photo by R.Sinnott. 

The team speeding away after totality. Photo by Y.Hirota. 
2. TIBET (P.Maley group)

This team of 40 first traveled to Tibet and then to Wuhan, China. On eclipse day 12 stayed at the Shangri-La Hotel in the center of town while the other 28 went on the road in search of better skies. Representative shots from the trip appear below.


Around the bend as our train heads down toward Lhasa from 17,000 foot altitude. Photo by D. Weber. 

What could be more amazing than the Potala Palace in Lhasa on a beautiful day? Photo by P.Maley.

 Pilgrims circle the Potala Palace swinging prayer wheels in an clockwise direction (sometimes anti-clockwise to get more energy) but walk around the palace in a counterclockwise direction. Photo by P.Maley. 

 Satellite photo showing the umbra on the earth’s surface. 

 Wonderful yak meat and meals at Tibetan style restaurants in Lhasa. A food sample. Photo by D.Flack. 

 At one of the train stops we spotted a military train with 25 tanks parked across from us. Photo by M.Otake.  

Locals colorfully dressed in Lhasa. Photo by B.Hulse. 

Ring around the sun on eclipse morning–an omen? Photo by B.Hulse. 

Prayer flags. Photo by B.Hulse. 

Silkrooms on the move. Photo by B.Hulse. 

 The number 2 highlight of the Tibet-Wuhan tour. Photo by B.Hulse.  

Our group had virtually its own private audience with the pandas. Photo by B.Hulse. 

Too many incredible photos to count. Photo by B.Hulse. 

Hands on panda time. Left to right Mia Diaz, George Willingmyre, Larkin Breed. Photo by L.Palmer. 

Modern buildings in Shanghai. Photo by L.Palmer. 

  Shanghai Tower. B.Hulse photo.


Eclipse path over Wuhan. Courtesy X. Jubier.

Circumstances at Wuhan. Courtesy X. Jubier.

Some of my group elected to remain at the hotel where the 4th floor had a good view of the eastern sky and invitations were sent out to all hotel guests by the management to appear for this event.


Beautifully presented fish in Wuhan. Photo by D.Flack. 

Left to Right, Jaqueline Doty, Tim McMahon, Scott McMahon, Ann McMahon, Janet Stramel, and Brian McMahon. Photo by J.Stramel. 

Some of the group (Anil Sain foreground, George Willingmyre back). Photo by D.Moran. 

Partial eclipse in Wuhan City reflected from a bulding window. Photo by B.Hulse. 

Totality from Wuhan City. Photo by B.Hulse.

 The diamond ring at 3rd contact from Wuhan City. Photo by A.Sain.


My mobile team drove by bus along a Chinese highway where you are not allowed to park along the shoulder. Exits are few and very far between, typically 30km or more. We found a rest stop under construction located at latitude 30 deg 32.432m North longitude 113 deg 56.94m east, elevation 117 ft. as determined by T. Kemper’s GPS. It offered a large area to set up without major obstructions. Clouds were so unpredictable that little might be gained running off in the direction of what seemed to be clear sky even though we did that a number of times in the hours preceding totality.


Cows on the way to the eclipse? Photo by P.Maley. 

 Always on the alert for the possibilities of somebody doing something to incur eye damage, David Weber spotted this trio of enthusiastic local observers. Photo by D.Weber. 


The highway group including local police, workers and a couple of Chinese eclipse observers. Photo by L.Palmer. 

The son of one of the policement guarding the gas station brought a telescope and used it to view the sun without a solar filter (so we learned post totality). Photo by L.Palmer. 

Paul set up with Meade 2045D and Nikon on portable equatorial mount. Photo by L.Palmer.  
Carol and Jim Staley watching the partial phases. Jim monitored the ambient temperature which dropped from 91.9 deg F to 88.5 deg during totality. Photo by L.Palmer. 

Lionel Hussey is not hiding from the press but rather maintaining his eye adaptation when focusing on the sun. The water bottles are to secure the towel from blowing away, and the towel is to serve as a white contrast area for shadow bands which were not seen either before or after totality. Photo by L.Palmer. 

The “sun spotter” is a classic safe device for projecting the sun’s image during the partial phases. Photo by L.Palmer. 

Baily’s Beads at second contact with a Meade 2045D and Canon D100 body. Photo by P.Maley. 

Paul Maley checking out a Chinese welder’s helmet for partial phase viewing. Notice the bright shadows and mostly good sky toward the west. The sun was in the eastern part of the sky at the time of totality which occurred between 923 and 929am local time. Photo by J.Carbajo. 

This is not a hand waving exercise but (Left to Right) Mike Schramm, Paul Maley, and David Weber all evaluating the motions of clouds at the different altitudes. Photo by J.Carbajo. 

Eva and Vlado Cvajniga wait for totality with 2 camcorders. Notice the tall light pole in the background. Normally there are sensors that trigger the lights coming on but since the rest stop was not yet operational these lights were inactive, lucky for us. Photo by L.Palmer. 

Left to right, David Weber, Jim Rosenstock, (standing in back Mike Schramm, Terry Kemper, Bob Hammarberg), sitting Gena Kolin and Dee Holisky. Photo by L.Palmer. 

As for the eclipse observations, I had looked at the Meteoblue predictions the day before, and it appeared that going south would be preferable to staying put, but the predictions changed significantly every few hours. Based on the predictions the night before, it appeared that southeast to Ningbo or southwest to Hangzhou might be good. However, some were concerned about being stuck on the 33 km long bridge if we headed towards Ningbo. Hangzhou sounded appealing, maybe even staying for the tidal bore, which although it wasn’t at its peak, is still very interesting to see and would have happened at a good time (near noon). But then we’d be in a big city, might get stuck in traffic, have to deal with air pollution, etc. However, when I got up at 1 am to start looking at cloud patterns (these from Weather Underground), both Hangzhou and Ningbo looked worse than where we were. We monitored the satellite maps (me using Wunderground and Claude using the Hong Kong observatory) and the clouds seemed to be moving east. 

Satellite view of the area 1 
By the time we would need to depart, it was not clear that moving would gain us anything, and would lose us the opportunity of having electricity, internet, bathrooms, etc… And it wasn’t clear which way to go anyway! Here was the latest image from Wundground that showed our clouds to be the thinnest in the region. 

Satellite view of the area 2 
So we stayed put. In retrospect we should have trusted the early Meteoblue forecast and gone towards Ningbo, where they did have some view of the eclipse.

Still the participants did get to experience the rapidity of the darkness, the temperature shifts, the birds starting to sing after totality, etc ., so although there was understandable disappointment there wasn’t a real unhappiness. Everyone realized that we did what we could.


Group B, from left: Pat Reiff, Andi Hill, Erin, Scott, and Melissa McIvor; Dean and Janet Stramel; Richard Ackerman, (behind him: Brian McMahon); Miriam Shakter (behind her: Scott McMahon), Ann and Tim McMahon; Elizabeth, William (tallest) and Alan Rohrbach; Liam Roberts (holding flag); Susan Neill; Martha and William Paciga; Georgiana Coughlan (in wheelchair). Top far right: J.C. Thomas, Michael McIvor, Jonathan Dresser. Photo by P.Reiff. 

  Wide angle shot of Jiaxing at totality time. Photo by P.Reiff. 

Weather was bad in Jaxing and over an extended area around Jiaxing on eclipse day so that totality was not seen by either Group A and Group B participants who stayed at the hotel. Only a brief view of partial phase about 10 minutes after the end of totality was observed for a few minutes through clouds. The local weather in Jiaxing deteriorated July 21 in the afternoon, with large scale thunderstorm and rain in the early evening. It was decided to wait until July 22 morning for a determination of where to go to view the eclipse. Breakfast was served at 5 AM already for a possible departure of one or both busses as early as 5:30 AM. I monitored the evolution of the weather from 2:30 AM on eclipse day.


Large visible imagery overview 
I used mainly IR satellite pictures delivered from the Hong Kong Observatory web site. The cloud cover and rain around the Jiaxing area was of large amplitude (200 km+ around Jiaxing), but there appeared to be some thinning of the clouds as we were going through the very early morning hours. My decision was to wait until we could observe a definite direction with more significant thinning of clouds and then move with one bus at least in that direction. Unfortunately, the thinning observed earlier did not progress, and a solid overcast condition over a wide area confirmed itself around 6 to 7 AM.

There were no indications that going in any direction, either west-south-west towards Hangzhou, south-east towards Ningbo, north towards Suzhou, or north-east back towards Shanghai, would increase in any manner probability of some through clouds eclipse viewing. Telephone calls to people in the Shanghai and Suzhou areas (by CITS personnel) confirmed solid overcast conditions north of us. South did not seem better based on satellite pictures, IR and visible light. There seemed to be some temporary thinning of clouds in the Janxing area around 7:30 AM. Decision was made then to stay at the hotel, both for group A and group B. Everyone gathered in the hotel terrace facing south-east. At around 8 AM, heavy rain started to fall… Pre-totality partial phases were not observed at all, only darkness was observed during totality, with some disturbance by nearby street lights. About 10 minutes after the end of totality, a temporary thinning of clouds overhead allowed a through-clouds view of the partially eclipsed sun, and pictures were taken, then the cloud layer became solid again. There was another brief view of the sun through clouds around 15 minutes later, and that was it…


Inside Sheshan Observatory. Photo by C. Nicollier. 

Claude’s group at Xian. Photo by C. Nicollier. 

Awaiting totality at Jiaxing. Photo by C. Nicollier. 

Central eclipse at Jiaxing. Photo by C. Nicollier.