2015 TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE IN SVALBARD
by Paul D. Maley, NASA Johnson Space Center Astronomical Society
Eclipse path over Svalbard. Courtesy X. Jubier.
Eclipse circumstances. Courtesy X. Jubier.
The Ring of Fire Expeditions 43rd solar eclipse team. The flag of the State of Texas is always carried and marks our eclipse site. B. Braswell camera image. Left to right: Paul D. Maley, Ruben Ruiz, Lourdes R. Avila, Terry Kemper, Florence Brammer, Lynn Palmer, David Flack, Michelle Otake, Bob Geary, Les Pearce, Karen Hoffman, Jimmy Lappin, Leslie Strike, Terry Eggleston, Brandon Boger, JD Droddy, Sheila Stephenson, Chris Triessl, Susan Lyday (in helmet), Don Gardner, Carl Lyday, Sharon Braswell, Byron Braswell, Betsy Vobach. Not present are Tom Stephany, Tim Collins and Simone Werrett who observed in Longyearbyen.
A 24 carat Diamond Ring. Byron Braswell photo. Beautiful prominence at 11:00 position along with chromosphere and small corona loops. Nikon D7100, f/8, 1/400sec, ISO 100
The only total eclipse of 2015 occurred in high latitudes from remote locations under what was assumed to be generally poor weather conditions. As a result a number of aircraft were chartered to propel eclipse enthusiasts above the clouds. But not us! I had worked on a long standing plan to travel to Spitzbergen to attempt to observe and record this eclipse from near Longyearbyen, the farthest north permanently established settlement on the planet. Our team members traveled mostly from the US (and the UK) to Oslo, Norway where we boarded a Norwegian Air for the 3 hour nonstop flight to Longyearbyen. The hotel arrangements were made in conjunction with Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg and ground arrangements through the company called Poli Arctici. Both vendors provided excellent service and facilities. I had visited the area 15 months earlier and determined what was needed to make this a successful expedition.
Svalbard is a unique location as was the small town of Longyearbyen. There are times when there are more polar bears in the area than humans and as such there are warnings against travel outside the city limits without a rifle.
David Flack poses with the polar bear warning sign. Note the complete cloud over in the background symptomatic of weather over the three weeks prior to the eclipse. D.Flack photo.
The first article below summarizes the reality of the polar bear threat the day before the eclipse. The second article, the weather threat.
“Polar bear attacks group, injures tourist at Fredheim
A polar bear attacked a tour group of six people early Thursday morning about 30 kilometers northeast of Longyearbyen, with one man rescued by helicopter after sustaining injuries to his face and arm not considered to be life threatening, according to The Governor of Svalbard.The attack occurred at about 6:20 a.m. at Freidheim, according to a statement released by the governor. The group was on a combination snowmobile/skiing tour and sleeping in tents when the attack occurred.“The other tour members shot the bear and alerted the governor,” the statement notes. “The bear was killed when governor’s officials arrived at the site and the injured man was taken to hospital.” The man was flown to Longyearbyen Hospital for treatment.
Polar bear encounters are common at this time of year, with residents at cabins and scientists at research bases reporting sightings and attempted break-ins in recent years. Bear are also growing increasing aggressive and less susceptible to intimidation as a lack of sea ice that servers as their tradition feeding grounds is forcing them into increasingly desperate measures to obtain food.A record number of overnight tourists are in Svalbard this week to observe Friday’s total solar eclipse, and tours are taking place from the early morning hours until after midnight. While organized group tours are generally led by guides familiar with polar bear safeguards, independent travelers are likely to have little ability to meet the requirement of carrying polar bear protection when venturing beyond settled areas.A firearm all but necessary since bear spray is illegal in Norway. Renting a firearm requires applying for a permit from the governor well in advance.”
What could have happened is summarized below when a severe storm hit Longyearbyen on Sunday prior to the eclipse.
“Svalbard’s dark side: Blizzards, blackouts and blunders can cloud eclipse experience
There are many ways the sun can be blocked from view. For almost everyone in Svalbard this week, only one of them is good.But the other ways may allow people such as Magnus Lőnnbeen to share more illuminating tales about their experience during the total solar eclipse in Svalbard on Friday. Especially since the vast majority of a record non-cruise ship crowd may go home with cloudy memories due to an iffy weather forecast.Lőnnbeen, on the other hand, will be able to say he went for one of the wildest rides ever across Svalbard’s ice-covered tundra. A massive dome tent he set up during the weekend as a communal gathering place for a Swedish group he is helping lead took to traveling when it was hit by gale-forced winds as he was sleeping in it alone in the wee morning hours.“I started hearing some poles breaking,” he said, estimating the wind carried tent more than 100 meters along the campsite near Svalbard Airport. “
”The tent itself didn’t break other than a small ring that holds the poles.”Lőnnbeen, whose extensive experience includes an Everest expedition in 1991, was far better prepared than most for the adverse conditions. He spent much of his time before the group’s arrival Monday making new poles and “last night I slept in another tent.” Winds from the storm eventually reached 90 km/h Sunday night and Monday morning, with a combination of snow, ice and rain. A series of power outages hit Longyearbyen from early Sunday evening through Monday morning, with outlaying areas such as Adventdalen and Svalbard Airport (and the campsite) suffering the longest outages due to the inability of workers to reach those locations.”There was a lot of chaos in Svalbard as the eclipse approached. Mȯnica Castellvi was desperate enough to use a dating website hoping to hook up with someone in Svalbard, even though her boyfriend is with her. Hanne Kvamsø, on the other hand, was so eager to rent her apartment she considered greeting passengers arriving at the airport with a vacancy sign – until some folks even more desperate agreed to pay perhaps the most insane per-night price of many during Eclipse Week.Mass confusion and disparity about places to stay and their prices continues to rage during the days immediately before Friday’s eclipse, with the disparity between what people are paying for a night’s sleep reaching a ratio of about 40-1.
On the low end were lucky folks who found single rooms in Longyearbyen or overlooked hotel rooms in Barentsburg for 1,000 kroner/$150 or a bit more per night. At the other end were some Belgians who paid about 45,000 kroner/$6600 to stay one night in an apartment. We stayed at Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg located within easy walking distance of everything important in the town. After a week featuring a near-hurricane blizzard, widespread and bizarre media inquires about things such as whether Svalbard would run out of food due to all the visitors, and a polar bear attack at a campsite that resulted in non-fatal injuries to one man, the biggest remaining question was whether the week’s cloudy skies would clear by Friday morning.
Our hotel. It may not have the best exterior but everyone had a pleasurable experience there. Tim Collins photo.
The odds of seeing the sun – or more precisely, seeing it completely blocked out by the moon – were described by forecasters as 50-50. But on Friday morning the sun – which only two weeks earlier wasn’t even visible in most of Longyearbyen as the surrounding mountains kept it hidden even after the official end of the four-month polar night – rose brilliantly over a mostly clear sky in a large valley just east of the city limits where the large crowd of eclipse watchers gathered in the -20C cold. A budget poll of questionable scientific value conducted by Icepeople (a.k.a. our editor shouting out “excuse me – is there anybody here who is unhappy with the weather?” at everybody in the warming tent) indicated 100 percent of respondents felt “very good” or “excellent” about the skies that were virtually cloudless when the eclipse officially began at 10:11 a.m.Most of the viewers were with an organized tour group and while they shared certain similarities – most were fairly affluent and in their 50s and 60s – their nationalities and experiences with eclipses varied widely.
Elin Anita Olsrud, 51, the head librarian at the public library since moving to Longyearbyen from Oslo 18 months ago, said she and a small group of friends watched the eclipse from the top of a mountain a short snowmobile ride southwest of Longyearbyen since she, like nearly all Svalbard employees, closed their shops and offices to see the peak moments of the eclipse.
Nearly 400 visitors gather at a warming tent in Adventdalen about 10 kilometers east of Longyearbyen to watch the March 20 total solar eclipse. At 10 a.m., 11 minutes before the eclipse officially started, skies forecast to be partly cloudy were almost entirely clear. I made sure that we avoided a mob scene like this one with pre-arranged snowmobiles that allowed us to get out of town. Photo by M. Sabbatini
Eclipse morning, March 20, dawned with the miner statue in front of Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg hotel posing with eclipse glasses. Shockingly, the sky behind was completely clear. L. Palmer photo.
Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg was definitely not your ordinary hotel. Here is the front of one of the hotel rooms in our section. P. Maley photo.
Don Gardner practices the eclipse alignment with his Takahashi 106mm refractor and operation March 19 at the hotel. Practice makes perfect as you will see in his photos below. P.Maley photo.
Approximate location of ROFE’s eclipse site. The eastern side of Longyearbyen is in the bottom of the image above. Photo by D. Gardner.
In Longyearbyen prior to the eclipse one guy was dispensing free pre-eclipse hugs to visitors.
A view of our hotel from the hill above. P.Maley photo.
Our double room was so small there was no space to walk after equipment was assembled. The bed was so low to the ground that our suitcases could not fit under the bed. We had shared bathrooms for the first time in decades but this was no problem. The hotel was a very nice surprise. P.Maley photo.
Paul Maley and others scout the beach for possible backup eclipse sites on March 19 for anyone wanting to stay behind at the hotel. B.Vobach photo.
A typical view of Longyearbyen, this from March 15 with overcast conditions. Day after day from my home in Houston I would see this image in the weeks prior to the eclipse. D.Gardner image.
My pre-eclipse briefing in the bar of Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg Hotel. B. Braswell photo.
The unreal, but true, weather prediction for March 20 eclipse day. D.Gardner image.
A most amazing 2 minutes 27 seconds of total solar eclipse was seen by all! Our site was located at latitude 78.197382N, longitude 16.008231E as measured by Bob Geary. I have only clearly seen shadow bands once, in Libya in 2006. The fabulous experience included very obvious shadow bands in the minutes prior to 2nd contact; then immediately after 3rd contact the bands were blatantly seen flowing over the ice. No aurora were visible and Venus was the only bright object that anyone noticed. The shadow cone of the Moon was visible during totality and the sky appeared much darker than I would have guessed given that we could spot no other objects in the sky.
The images below represent how different cameras/lenses recorded the scene. As is always the case, the human eye provides the best device for experiencing the eclipse. Photos and videos cannot replicate the experience and merely give a hint of the incredible sight that we witnessed. The environment was very challenging and many potential photos were compromised by the cold.
A glorious wide angle shot of totality with glow about the horizon and Venus in the upper left. The landscape is pristine with the sole exception of lights at a communications antenna site and the small dark image of a nearby house. JD Droddy photo.
A composite of images taken at intervals by Ruben Ruiz during the eclipse beginning at 1st contact until we departed the site. R. Ruiz image.
The diamond ring at 2nd contact. R.Ruiz photo.
Lumix point and shoot camera photo during totality showing the reflective tape on the backs of many of our team and the fully eclipsed Sun over the mountains to the south (azimuth 166). It was shortly after this that the camera shutter was affected by the cold and exposures lengthened to where every successive shot was blurred. P. Maley photo.
A wide angle shot showing Venus and the eclipsed Sun. D.Flack photo.
This is perhaps the most interesting image taken during the eclipse process. Shadow bands are almost impossible to photograph. These are shadow bands before 2nd contact. Taken with a Canon Powershot SX50 HS. ISO 1000, f/3.4, 1/20 sec. Les Pearce photo.
Totality with coronal spikes projecting from the disc. One spike is 5 solar diameters in extent. The Sun was 11.5 degrees above the horizon during mid eclipse. D.Flack photo.
Still another mid eclipse shot with Venus and the shadow cone. L. Strike photo.
Just prior to 2nd contact the pink chromosphere is starting to become exposed. Notice the reddish prominences as well. D. Gardner photos with Canon EOS 7D at ISO 100.
A series of images from just before 2nd contact through 2nd contact by Don Gardner.
This series shows the gradual move from totality to third contact. Don Gardner images.
The inner corona and prominences (at 9:30, 11:00, and 5:00 positions) together with interesting coronal loops (lower right) are seen in this shot by Don Gardner.
In this longer exposure, you can see brushes and spikes as the coronal features are revealed. Photo by Don Gardner.
An ESA prediction of the area surrounding the Sun at the time of the eclipse. Compare the image two pictures above this one for correlation with predicted magnetic loops. Courtesy C. Lyday.
The full extent of the corona is seen in this image by Byron Braswell.
Just before 3rd contact. Notice the detached prominence at the 9:30 position. B. Braswell photo.
The Diamond Ring at 3rd contact. B. Braswell photo.
Another 2nd contact which should be contrasted with others above. This is unique in that it combines the Diamond Ring with a long exposure of the corona. B.Vobach photo.
The corona as seen from our hotel. T. Collins photo.
Our caravan of snowmobiles makes its way from Longyearbyen to the eclipse site across a brilliant white plain of snow. C. Triessl photo.
Our eclipse site in the Adventdalen Valley on Svalbard. Note the Texas flag blowing in the background. During the eclipse it was still.
Eclipse path map showing Svalbard at the top. Courtesy X.Jubier.
Exact location of our eclipse site with predicted contact times and Sun locations. The green vertical strip is an imagery artifact. Courtesy X. Jubier.
Our lead guide, rifle on his shoulder for polar bear protection, helps secure my clothing. My fingers were literally freezing due to the cold. At least two of us had finger problems after the eclipse and also the dog sled trip due to gloves not providing adequate protection. D.Flack photo.
Karen Hoffman with camera gear. L.Palmer photo.
Terry Eggleston. From our site everyone had plenty of room to spread out. B. Braswell photo.
Paul Maley in eclipse observing position with Ta akahashi 60C APO. Note the Texas flag is flying prior to 2nd contact. B. Braswell photo.
Susan and Carl Lyday observing after 1st contact.
Observing the partial phases was easy with welder’s glass. M.Otake photo.
Ruben Ruiz and equipment. L. Romero Avila photo.
An actual record of the air temperature from an exposed probe by D. Gardner. A 10 degree temperature drop was recorded. The low temperature was -7 deg F/-22 deg C.
The effects of the cold on everyone is demonstrated by ice formation. M.Otake photo.
At the eclipse site we had hot drink and food support from Poli Arctici, our ground operator. P.Maley photo.
In the period just before totality a group to our east launched a balloon visible just above the mountains in picture center. Note our line of snowmobiles and the low clouds over the fjord (lower right horizon) back in Longyearbyen posed no threat. P.Maley photo.
Byron Braswell and his gear. S.Braswell photo.
Chris Triessl and Bob Geary with their equipment as the balloon crew rises in the background. L.Palmer photo.
An aerial view as we departed Longyearbyen on Norwegian Air. The Svalbard Satellite Station (below), the Adventdalen Valley, and the location of our eclipse site. Image provided by D.Gardner.
A foot warmer attached to the camera back prevented Byron Braswell’s camera from failing. It was attached with the sticky back material and held in place with a rubber band that did not break. B. Braswell photo.
Regrettably there were camera failures that occurred during the temperature plunge. Even cameras inside snowmobile suits and/or held against the body suffered failure depending on their construction after a number of minutes exposure. Point and shoot cameras and 35mm DSLRs were in that group. But video camcorders were generally unaffected strangely enough. There were numerous reports of LCD screen failures, fingers adhering to plastic, etc. Without a way to maintain heat, and with early exposure to ambient air, those failures multiplied. The photos that were successful above from Ruiz, Gardner and Braswell for example involved applying heat to the camera batteries.
My Lumix pocket camera was activated 6 times. The first frame was fine but the latter 5 were blurred because the shutter was slowed down by the cold. At least one person had a battery fail after totality ended. Another lost focus, still another knocked the telescope out of focus during the eclipse. One GoPro camera failed, another IPhone camera suffered the same fate; one person switched to manual focus by accident. Another observer had everything freeze including a spare battery. There was one case of auto focus freezing 5 minutes before totality but it warmed up underneath he snowsuit.
DOG SLEDDING MARCH 21
Two sled dogs at the Wilmarkcenter where the group went dog sledding the day after the eclipse. D. Flack photo.
The first group of 14 proceeds by sled dogs (5 dogs per sled) down the trail. D.Flack photo.
Two reindeer encountered along the sled route. D.Flack photo.
A reindeer up close. L. Strike photo.
It was easy to make friends with the sled dogs. This was during Florence Brammer’s ice cave exploration trip. F.Brammer photo.
Return from a sled dog excursion. L. Strike photo.
Meals at the hotel were really good. Some of the group could not resist the temptation to photograph some of the unique dishes.
Ring of Fire Expeditions menu posted in the restaurant signaled what the group would eat each day. The hotel owner brought in her son (a trained chef) to cook for us. The food was wonderful and unique! P.Maley photo.
Whale steak. D.Flack photo.
Reindeer fillet. D.Flack photo.
Seal carpaccio, D.Flack photo.
Donning snowsuits for the snowmobile ride to the eclipse site. From left to right, JD Droddy, Jimmy Lappin (saluting), Sheila Stephenson and Sharon Braswell. B.Braswell photo.
The unique houses of Longyearbyen. D.Flack photo.
Susan Lyday walking through Longyearbyen. C.Lyday photo.
You know this place is special when you see a sign like this. T. Collins photo.
Conditions 2 days after the eclipse as the Eclipse 5k run/walk commenced. Temperatures were near zero with wind blowing up to 20 mph. C. Triessl photo.
The Eclipse 5k fun run and walk was held on March 22. Weather conditions were quite cold, cloudy and windy. The group is pictured above at the start point —the hotel restaurant behind which is the red “smoking bus”. Only Lynn Palmer and Paul Maley actual ran the full 5 kilometer distance while others walked it. Left to right: Lynn Palmer, Tom Stephany, Paul D. Maley, Chris Triessl, Betsy Vobach, Bob Geary, Byron Braswell, and Sharon Braswell. Photo by L. Strike.
EUMETSAT captured the eclipse shadow at a steep angle as it moved over our area.
First day cover and passport stamp issued for the eclipse. D.Flack photo.
People dressed as polar bears confront a person on the beach. B.Braswell photo.
You had to be on the left side of the aircraft to get this shot of the Svalbard landscape on a clear day. D.Gardner photo.
OTHER SKY OBSERVATIONS
North of Labrador I observed aurora for nearly 4 hours as the plane moved eastward toward Norway from our takeoff point in Newark NJ. I hand-held a Nikon D3100 to the window for 15 seconds and took a couple of fairly decent images. You can see the constellations of Perseus and Cassiopeia in each image.
Aurora images by P. Maley from United Airlines flight UA38.
The lens used was a 14mm wide angle. Note the auroral features from 35,000 ft altitude appear to show different auroral perspective depending on the apparent height. The faint green aurora was a constant band for hours as the plane moved from southwest to northeast.
Then there were Iridium flares as seen from Longyearbyen. No less than 24 of these bright reflections of sunlight from the main mission antennas of Iridium satellites flying overhead occurred on the evening of March 20 between sunset and midnight alone.
Iridium 22 flares next to a bright star, rising to magnitude -5 at 2259 local time March 20. All photos here were taken in front of the hotel with a tripod mounted camera set to ISO1600.
Iridium 94 flared at magnitude -5 at 2309
Iridium 25 flared at magnitude -5 at 2326
Iridium 23 flared at magnitude -4 at 2335. All photos above by P. Maley.
Then there were optical phenomena created by ice crystals above Svalbard.
A low intensity sun dog captured by M. Otake.
Now for a very bizarred experience had by several tour members the morning of March 21 after the eclipse. In addition to seeing the Iridium flares above, an odd phenomenon was noted directly overhead for perhaps more than one hour between 0100 and 0200. A complete summary of a number of images that I shot is located at this web page as well as conclusion:
15 second exposure at ISO1600 showing the bizarre elongated images. Notice its location relative to the Big Dipper. This is likely a light pillar phenomenon caused by ice crystals directly overhead but activated by local lights. P. Maley photo.
Vertical pillars of light appear in the southern sky indicating the presence of unique ice crystal patterns after midnight. P.Maley photo.
The image showing the elongated structure appeared and then disappeared, changes shape and orientation. At first I thought it might have been a rocket firing in the upper atmosphere but after consulting with others my conclusion is that it was a very unusual light pillar. See the web page mentioned above for more information. It was a rather amazing and unusual experience, something I have never before seen in my life.
Also on the night of March 20 there was a short window during which time auroras were seen. I was in bed, looked out the window and thought I saw something out of place in the sky even though I did not have my glasses on. When I got dressed and went outside I thought I saw indications of faint aurora. I walked down to a site I had used 15 months before — the bus barn located just north of the hotel where I could shelter from most of the city lights. It was a good 5 minute walk and I did not alert anyone because it was not obvious that anything would happen. Many times during my past aurora observation experiences a faint aurora is not necessarily indicative of anything lasting or even photographable. This time, things happened very quickly and lasted just a short time. The intensity and detail visible in the photos is generally much more than the eye can process in real time.
0018am: the first of a series of exposures during about a 5 minute period. The lights of Longyearbyen did not mask the presence of the initial display. All photos shown are by P. Maley.
All aurora images are primarily in the southwest, south or southeast. Note the constellations of Leo and Gemini.
You can see how the aurora evolves and changes shape with each image.
Note the constellations of Corona Borealis (left) and Bootes.
I had prepared to go back to the hotel only to be drawn back in when the lights reappeared.
A snaking arc suddenly appears
The snake forms into an arc where you can see purple aurora!!
Quickly the aurora morphed into two curtains with the purple aurora continuing
In seconds the auroral arcs vanished and formed overhead. I was so taken aback, I could not adjust my tripod to a high enough elevation in time to photograph a beautiful display.
Here is another shot at the edges of the overhead display. Note the constellation of Auriga to the right.
0023 am: this is the last image before the aurora vanished as suddenly as they had appeared.