Just after 1st contact
Inner corona detail
Middle corona detail
This was my first total eclipse of the Sun. I'd seen an annular eclipse before (last year in fact while travelling
with the BBC's Sky at Night team see here) but
that was nothing like a total.
I had been booked by Omega Holidays plc to travel to Turkey on Saturday 25th March in order to do a preliminary check on three hotels along the Turkish Riviera - The Maritim in Belek, the Xante in Side and the Ardisia to the east of Side. Part of my duties were to give a presentation with Chris Lintott at the Ardisia to about 850 people - the largest audience I'd ever presented to.
A sneaking assumption that it would only take me an hour or so to check each hotel, leaving me with loads of relaxation time was rapidly blown out of the water. It took the best part of two days to complete the checks and get everything sorted out, leaving me a short space of time to complete and do the final preparation for my presentation.
Chris and I had had precious little overlap time to sort our parts out but, fortunately, we seem to be on the same wavelength when it comes to this sort of thing. He is a much more experienced speaker than I, this being my 5th talk in something like 20 years! In the end the presentation went well and all of the feedback I've received so far has been very positive for what we did.
In terms of the eclipse, the preparatory work lead to a strange situation for me because as soon as the presentation had been completed, it suddenly dawned on me that I had not put any thought into how I was going to cover the event visually or photographically! Fortunately I had brought a telescope (a Skywatcher 80ED Pro refractor with a Meade 0.63 focal reducer) and a camera (a Canon 10D) but as for planning what shots I was going to take on the day, there wasn't any!
One shot I did want to try was a longer exposure to capture Earthshine - light from the Earth illuminating the Moon's surface. I had seen such faint detail in the past and wanted to see if I could achieve it myself. Although I'd been practicing on 'normal' lunar crescents I was unsure what the brightness of the corona would do to my exposures. In the end, I had to admit to myself I didn't really have a clue what to do...
I woke early on eclipse day and ventured out to the chosen site atop an amphitheatre in the grounds of the hotel. This is a bit strange really as the site chosen in Madrid for the October 3rd 2005 annular was also adjacent to an amphitheatre - perhaps there's a theme here?!
After a brief breakfast, an unfortunate encounter with a glass panel (never read a text message when heading for a glass panel!) and several trips back and forth from my hotel room for equipment. I was eventually set up for the event. A slow but steady stream of astronomers and astrophotographers made their way up onto to top of the amphitheatre, a site chosen (a) because it was the only place in the hotel grounds that could see the sea and hopefully the approach of the umbral shadow and (b) the location that offered the comfort of the hotel's facilities.
As first contact (12:38 local time - 09:38 UT) approached, I still had an overwhelming feeling of being lost with respect to how how I was going to cover the event. A real buzz had settled on the top of the amphitheatre - loads of names I'd only ever spoken to in forums and usenet were there. It was a real treat to meet them and finally put faces to the names. However, it was also a huge distraction and, possibly through tiredness brought on by the previous few days, my brain just wouldn't focus on the task in hand.
I lost track of how many times I'd said I was going to get my first shot of the Sun that morning before finding yet another excuse to avoid doing it. Then, at 11h24m local time (~1h18m before first contact) I made the shot. I don't really know what the reluctance was about. Possibly due to a long cloudy period in the UK, partly due to tiredness, but that first shot was hard work. Once it was done, however, I felt the adrenaline start to flow and the enormity of the job in hand approaching.
First task was to achieve focus. The bright Sun and awkward angle of the scope and camera didn't make this easy at all. In the end, I found a darkened room behind the stage backdrop at the base of the amphitheatre. I'd take a sequence of shots tweaking focus a few notches each time and then run down to the stage, check the images and locate the one with the best focus. I'd then run back up to the top of the amphitheatre, wind the focuser in or out the correct number of stages to match the frame that was good and repeat the cycle. Eventually after several trials, I managed to get crisp focus. My legs paid the price the next day but it was worth it.
First contact occurred exactly as predicted and the eclipse was underway. The next hour or so was occupied with the partial. As my brain slowly warmed to the complexities of totality I started to mentally rehearse my actions. I'd made my solar filter on site with a plastic strip coiled into a cylinder that would fit loosely over the front of the telescope. I'd previously taped a could of plastic tags to the side of the dew shield into which this lose fitting filter holder would slide. The idea here was that the filter could be pulled off easily a few moments before totality. A few minutes before totality things started to happen. Venus popped into view, first pointed out by Will Gater, set up next to me. The shadows stated to change. A shadow on the ground would show a sharp edge in one direction but fuzzy at right angles to that direction. Small holes (the all-inclusive tags from the hotel were ideal here) cast miniature eclipse shadows all over the place.
It was at this time that I regretted not bringing a second camera. To make up for this I decided to forego the exit partial phase and immediately following the third contact diamond ring, I decided to pull the camera off the telescope, refit a wide angle lens and try for the retreating umbral shadow and any other effects I could grab.
Approaching totality was awesome. To me it felt like being dropped down a well. The light levels dropped and dropped, ever faster until totality was almost upon us all. At this point I looked around for shadowbands but didn't see them. The Sky at Night crew had moved down to the beach and, by virtue of a white hotel towel, had managed to not only see them, but also film them very convincingly. I suspect the failure to see them on top of the amphitheatre was due to a lack of a white surface - the ground surface was a mottled stone effect, probably ideal for hiding shadowbands! Looking to the southwest, the umbral shadow wasn't seen rushing towards us either. Then, the time had come. The last vestiges of the thinning crescent Sun were beginning to accelerate to nothingness through the viewfinder. It was necessary to think hard and make a decision as to when the filter should come off. About 40s before the second contact diamond ring - I pulled my filter off. Immediately the camera's viewfinder showed a grossly overexposed image. Clicking away, suddenly the camera stopped. I thought I'd melted the shutter mechanism but, thankfully, it was due to the camera's electronic buffer filling. Easing back on the shutter depress rate soon lifted the restriction. The short video sequence called "Filters off" shows this rather dramatic initial sequence.
Suddently, the 2nd contact diamond ring faded and totality was upon us all. An eerie time for me with lots of auto-pilot operation of my camera. About a minute before the 3rd contact diamond ring, and the end of totality, I stopped looking through the viewfinder and looked up at the eclipsed Sun. The sight was truly awsome. The corona stretched out for several solar radii in all directions, surrounding the black silhouetted disk of the Moon. The temperature was several degrees lower than it had been earlier in the day. This somehow helped to reinforce the presence of the Moon. Then, a pink prominence appeared at the bottom of the Sun, clearly visible to the naked eye and suddently a burst of light and there was the third contact diamond ring. Totally amazing and a full set of photos to back it all up. In fact, to this day I can't actually remember taking most of them, although I do remember a woman approaching my camera asking me to look through it during totality. My reply was firm and fair! As soon as third contact was over, I pulled the camera off and managed to get my wide angle lens on in record time. I just managed to get an image of brilliant Venus (amazingly the planet is a pinpoint in a 1/30s hand held exposure) but alas I missed Mercury which was sitting mid way between it and the Sun. Turning, I caught the last fleeting moments of the umbral shadow and a few post totality shadow effects before joining in with the general chat and air of excitement that had engulfed us all. Roll on the next one!
Bailey's Beads feature matching
Stars during totality