March 29, 2006
Total Solar Eclipse
El Saloum, Egypt
A couple of years ago, I travelled to Barcelona in order to make sure I saw the transit of Venus that June. That was a rare event that I had hoped to see for many years; and it represented the first time I had gone abroad to make sure I observed an astronomical event. And after that, I thought, Why not travel to see a solar eclipse?
After all, I had never seen a total solar eclipse, and the next one in the United States isn't until 2017; how do I know I'm going to be able to see that one, anyway? So this year I decided that I would finally go and see a total solar eclipse; I've waited long enough.
For the 2006 eclipse, I had been planning on going to Turkey to watch it; after all, the path of totality cut right through the country, and the weather at this time of year isn't expected to be poor. Plus, I had asked an old co-worker, Sinan, to go with me - not just because he was Turkish and had relatives there, but because it was the sort of thing that interested him, too. But Sinan was unable to go when it came time to make plans, due to a new job; and suddenly, the price of trips to Turkey for the eclipse skyrocketed in cost.
Fortunately, I had just been talking to my travel agent (Raj's mom) who happened to know about a trip to Egypt for the eclipse, and it wasn't nearly as expensive. So I took it; and the result was not just a great trip see the eclipse, but a great vacation in general. Pyramids, sphinxes, and all that.
On top of it all, the eclipse was only visible in a very small part of Egypt: El Saloum, the northwest corner of the country, and on the border with Libya. We would be camping in tents the night before the eclipse, after a 10-hour drive from Cairo. So that added to the adventuresome aspect of the entire plan.
The trip went flawlessly, and is recounted in the Egypt page. The eclipse, of course, was absolutely amazing. As prepared as I was for the side effects of an eclipse - the weird shadows, the odd greenish light, the horizon ringed by the colors of dusk - I was not at all prepared for the emotional aspect.
Aside from the rush of energy that came with the approach of totality - as I knew I would want to take as many pictures as I could during the total phase - there was the fact that, finally, here I was: finally, after dreaming about it and reading about it, and seeing pictures and reading accounts, and waiting and waiting and waiting, I was finally in the moon's umbra.
I didn't know whether to cry or scream, so I just ran at the mouth. Other people were applauding, yelling, shouting, whatever they felt. The emotion at a total eclipse is really quite something; before it started, a Dutch guy came by our little group and wished us "happy eclipse". I laughed at the time, but after the event I understood; it is a deeply emotional time, and until you've been there you wouldn't think so, but wishing someone Happy Eclipse is exactly the right way to put it.
The way the moon just hangs up in the sky, blocking the sun, with the dark blue of twilight all around, it's amazing; the soft glow of the solar corona is just astounding. And when the prominences appeared on the back end of totality, we all let out more yells, surprised by their deep fiery red.
I only got one good photograph of the prominences, but that one came out pretty well. You can see the prominences here, though they are fairly small. The 1999 eclipse featured a huge prominence that was a most unexpected highlight on all the photos that featured it. These are not as significant, but the fact that I got a picture of them at all is, to me, a great accomplishment, being that it was after all my first total eclipse.
Once totality ends, everything else is anticlimax. Perhaps the initial emergence of the sun is still exciting, but once the sun is back to full strength in the sky, the event may as well be over; I know that's not true, but the four minutes of totality was so overwhelming that I didn't have the energy to track the remainder of the partial phases. In fact, I was exhausted; but already I was thinking about the next one, where I would watch it from, and when that will be.
Back to Main Page