2019 ANNULAR SOLAR ECLIPSE IN INDIA RESULTS
by Paul D. Maley, NASA Johnson Space Center Astronomical Society
This was the 49th Ring of Fire Expeditions solar eclipse team effort to observe a remarkable and beautiful occurrence as the Moon aligned itself between the Earth and the Sun over the Indian subcontinent. But this was not the only unique aspect of this trip. Lynn and I completed a full around the world travel from Phoenix to San Francisco to Delhi and then back to San Francisco and Phoenix on United Airlines.
Path of the eclipse. Courtesy X. Jubier.
Circumstances at our site. Courtesy X. Jubier.
PRE-ECLIPSE: THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
The first success was flying over northern Canada where I was able to set up a window photography platform to shoot the Northern Lights from two locations. This was accomplished while crossing latitude 65 as seen in the next image.
The following two photos are 12 second exposures and are representative of numerous bright images recorded. It was part of a roughly 30 minute unexpected episode as auroras just popped up as I was ready to take a short nap. Needlessly to say I was up for several hours after that.
The second Northern Lights opportunity occurred after flying over the top of Greenland and then approaching Svalbard. During two prior trips to Svalbard I had photographed the Lights on both occasions. Aries and Pegasus are more clearly visible in the above image. Screen shot of the flight path as we traveled at very high latitudes. Greenland is to the left and the group of islands on the right is Svalbard, Norway, the site of our successful total solar eclipse expedition in 2015. On the return trip to the US our route was at low latitudes so aurora were not visible.
To make this happen I used a window mount designed by Jeff Pohlman as shown below. A black cloth was Velcroed to the side wall in seat 1A facing northwest, then north. A menu was used as a manual shutter.
THE RING ECLIPSE OF THE SUN
This was an annular or ring eclipse where the Moon does not completely cover the Sun. Everyone knew what was to be expected and it is at times like this when we can avoid the typical crowds seen at total solar eclipses. However, this solar eclipse was not without its tense moments. Perhaps the most critical was travel from our hotel in Coimbatore to the eclipse path which almost failed completely. First, the weather was initially forecasted to be quite poor. Extensive cloud appeared over our site areas every day. The eclipse was to occur centrally at 0927am local time (GMT+5.5 hours) the day after Christmas. I had selected a number of potential site locations in advance based on our ground travel capability but had to rework everything on eclipse day.
Cloud cover graphic which represents the period 830am-1130am as the prediction was relatively unchanged. Red indicates the percent of cloudiness. The cross marks our hotel location. This prediction indicated that the best chance of clear (blue) sky was to the west. This graphic is one of many weather sources and I had to wait to see which ones agreed. But the ultimate site selection was made by me in real time.
My plan was to depart the hotel at 615am and make the anticipated 1.5 hour trip to a site near Mannarakad in time to arrive before first contact at 809am. However, at 615am the driver was on his cell phone and inexplicably the bus was not moving. We had onboard a local contact Professor Edwin Rajarthnam, a French teacher from Coimbatore. He explained that to travel to this ‘new’ site we needed to cross into Kerala state from our Tamil Nadu state location and the bus driver did not have enough money to pay the anticipated $187/13,000INR in tolls. Time ticked by! The main office of our travel host finally transferred money to the driver’s bank account and by 635am we were off to the nearest ATM to collect the toll money. The drama did not end there; we stopped at 3 different ATMs to get the required toll money; one ATM was not working. The driver’s debit card failed at the other ATMs due to a cut in the card. After the 3rd failed attempt I asked tour members if they had enough rupees to cover the cash needed. We were fortunately able to collect the right amount of money on the bus in real time and handed it to the driver who used it to pay the tolls. This crisis was now over. As we traveled along, solid cloud cover appeared all the way on the route as we crossed into Kerala at the town of Palakkad (southern limit of the eclipse path). We moved northward in an attempt to beat the clouds and haze.
After passing Palakkad, I could see clouds evaporating to our north and east. I evaluated this situation in real time and finally chose a spot beside the two-lane road leading to the town of Mannarakad. It was an inconvenient, populated, noisy and heavily traveled road site but the only one we could pick in real time due to too much time having been wasted trying to get toll money. Anyone traveling down it in either direction could see our parked bus and cameras set up to see the eclipse. The site was just outside of the cloud area and I could tell it might be the perfect location from the weather standpoint. The relative location is shown below. We had to forego the full 3 minutes of annularity at the center line in favor of this location as travel to the center was virtually impossible due to clouds, lack of roads, and time. Our site allowed for 1 minute 27 seconds of annularity. Here the antumbral depth was 7.1km (only 12% of the way from the edge to the center line) and the 1/2 path width was 57km; this put us fairly close to the southern edge. The term antumbral depth is a measure of the amount of eclipse based on 0 being at the edge and 1.0 being at the center regardless if it is a total eclipse. It can also be expressed in kilometers from the edge to the center and also as a percentage of the distance from the edge to center.
These two images were taken by Jan Hellemans using a Canon 7D II , Canon 100-400mm zoom with EFL 640mm , ISO 400 , F6.3 and 1/800 sec. In all of these photos on the page, it is very difficult to see any Baily’s Beads due to the quick nature of the contacts and the flat features at the north pole of the Moon that creates them.
Debbie Moran shooting the eclipse. Audrey Konow photo.
Some of our team and interested onlookers behind. Left to right Bob Hammarberg (yellow shirt), Dee Holisky, Elaine Williams, Audrey Konow (green shirt), Jeff Burrell (in the hat next to the tree), Mia Lindholm (white shirt), Paul Maley (foreground) and Jan Hellemans (checked shirt and vest). Lynn Palmer photo.
A view of the overall site showing the busy road to the right, our bus and the group set up with the bus as a partial traffic block. The mosque is the light colored building in the background. P. Maley photo.
The eclipse team at one of the ATMs where we unsuccessfully attempted to get money to pay road tolls. Left to right: Paul Maley, Bob Hammarberg, Mia Lindholm (back), Debbie Moran, Audrey Konow, Elaine Williams, Chris Faser, Jan Hellemans (back), Dee Holisky, Jeff Burrell (back), Lynn Palmer. Photo by E. Rajarathnam.
After the eclipse we made the return journey. Not far past the site we saw the first sign of cloud and the Sun was blocked all the way back to Coimbatore! We were very lucky. We did not see the Sun until the next day on our return to the airport for the trip home.
AROUND THE WORLD
On December 7, 2019 United Airlines launched non-stop San Francisco to Delhi service. This was not announced or intended to be an around the world flight but rather going east to Delhi and then west on the return. However, due to upper atmosphere winds, it has been more fuel efficient to make it an around the world trek. Roughly 15.5 hours in each of the two segments. However, due to wind patterns over the Pacific Ocean the aircraft did not fly far enough north to give an opportunity to try to see the Northern Lights again.
Probably the scariest experience was the 7 hour road trip from Mysore to Coimbatore where we encountered no less than 27 hairpin turns at high elevation in fog and rain on a 2 lane road. P. Maley photo.
Along the way from Mysore to Coimbatore a bus load of patients with eye injuries appeared. It was a reminder that watching an eclipse without proper protection can lead to major eye injuries. P. Maley photo. The local hotel name is sort of ironic.
An eclipse practice documented on December 27 where disabled kids are buried up to their necks during annularity! In addition a group called TPDK held a breakfast during the eclipse in attempt to dispell 3 local eclipse myths: people should not venture outside during an eclipse, pregnant women should not witness an eclipse and one should not consume food until the eclipse is over.It was also reported that 150 sanitation workers went on strike for 3 hours during the eclipse as 2 of their colleagues were reported abused by a family in the Coimbatore area while they were carrying out their duties.
No, the above photo is not a robbery in progress but a toll taker wearing a mask due to the air pollution. Delhi had two hazardous air quality alerts while we were in the country but this was on the way to the eclipse site. P. Maley photo.
A sampling of some of the amazing food choices. Lynn Palmer photos.