2009 TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE IN CHINA AND KIRIBATI RESULTS
by Paul D. Maley, NASA Johnson Space Center Astronomical Society
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
1. OUBA ATOLL, KIRIBATI (J.GUERTIN GROUP)
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.
Sharon and Billy Hahs (foreground) preparing for totality. Photo by Y.Hirota.
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.
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.
2a. WUHAN (P.MALEY GROUP 1
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.
The diamond ring at 3rd contact from Wuhan City. Photo by A.Sain.
2b. WEST OF WUHAN CITY (P.MALEY GROUP 2)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…