20Mar2016

My Indonesian Voyage For The 2016 Total Solar Eclipse

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“The total solar eclipse over Ternate and the neighbouring volcanic islands in Indonesia was a stunning sight that morning.

Along with myself and many thousands more,  Skygazers thronged to Indonesia hoping to see a total solar eclipse — and most were rewarded with breathtaking views of the 2016 Total Solar eclipse.

Mythology Reigns

One story in the rich mythology of Indonesia tells of the evil giant Batara Kala, god of the underworld, whose disembodied head devours the Sun in a fit of anger. With Earth plunged in darkness, fearful villagers bang on drums until he disgorges the Sun and life returns to normal.

Many parts of this island nation were anything but normal over the past 24 hours, as eclipse-chasers from all over the globe converged there to witness this year’s total solar eclipse.

Solar eclipse's path across Indonesia

The Moon’s shadow was roughly 150 km wide when it crossed Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi, and several other islands on March 9, 2016.

A total eclipse of the Sun is arguably nature’s most spectacular and awe-inspiring phenomenon and people who have seen them want to see more, some travelling overseas each time for the event. To see the total eclipse in March of 2016, you had to be within the path of totality (shaded in blue on the map above); and to see a total eclipse lasting for a decent length of time, you want to be towards the centre of the path (centre-line).

However, you don’t need to be at the exact centre; the duration falls off very slowly from the middle, and more quickly at the edges. Anywhere in the middle third of the path will let you see a total eclipse within about 90% of the duration on the centre-line.

The Journey Begins

Hi. I’m Dave Reneke, writer and publicist for Australasian Science magazine and owner of this website ‘Astro Space News’. I travelled north this month to Papua New Guinea, then onto the Indonesian Islands, as guest lecturer aboard the ‘Coral Discoverer’ owned by the Coral Princess Cruise Line to watch the total solar eclipse cast an incredible shadow across the region for just under 3 minutes on 9 March 2016. I was the invited guest astronomy lecturer and eclipse guide on-board.

3. Eclipse Montage

A montage of what the eclipse looked like

I held four daytime astronomy lectures in the lounge area, conducted night sky tours on deck and explained what to expect when the day of the eclipse arrived. It was a free all expenses paid 14 day holiday and a great way for me to again witness this amazing sight. Then the big day arrived. We were anchored at a place called Palau Jiew 0 43’N  129 08′ E.

Getting Excited and Prepped

After a hearty breakfast everyone was on the top deck the morning of the eclipse and I quickly moved between them ensuring they knew how to use the solar glasses/viewers and not to miss the very important ‘Baily’s Beads’ and the eerie ‘Diamond Ring effect. All around you the crowds begin to cheer and clap – that’s when you know ‘it’s on’! Very few natural events invoke the sort of feelings an eclipse does. You never want it to stop.

A Very Shallow Corridor

* Total eclipses of the Sun in a particular area are rare and unfortunately this time Australia misses out. The next chance to see one from the mainland of Australia won‘t be until 22 July 2028 over Sydney.

As well as the eclipse every day was filled with native village tours, rainforest treks, shopping expeditions, glass bottom boat viewing and snorkelling or kayaking. I got into it all and paid the price picking up a pretty hefty chest bug that migrated to my throat for a few days. I’m OK now but learned a very important lesson – use the supplied hand sanitiser.

Dave Reneke and Eclipse

Me with solar glasses anticipating the most amazing celestial sight a human being can experience coming up.

Just as the first stages of the eclipse began a cloud covering lingered and threatened to spoil our once in a lifetime view. The main reason we all ended up the the “same boat” so to speak. We saw bites being taken out of our view of the Sun but again, only through veiled cloud. At best we might see totality but greatly subdued.

The Effects Begin

As the eclipse entered its final stages an eerie twilight fell across the deck. It wasn’t dark as on land but sort a yellowish. This is a very humid region and it did get a lot cooler quite quickly. Cameras came out, people jockeyed for best viewing positions and all eyes were focussed firmly on what was about to happen. Now, I’ve seen five of these and each one has been spectacular…BUT this one had a twist – something was about to happen I seriously have no answer for.

What…Who Did That?

With a few minutes to go before totality the clouds drifted away…parting the solar corridor to a almost 100% clarity level. What!!! How lucky is this??? Now it kinda makes you wonder if some higher power was watching it all. I was amazed because the exact same thing happened for me in Ceduna, South Australia,in 2002 and again in Port Douglass Far North Queensland in 2012. Almost a carbon copy!!

 Some passenger shots leading up to the eclipse

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Then it happened. TOTALITY like I had never seen it before. So clear and crisp with this incredible ring of ‘black fire’ around the Sun. We removed our glasses momentarily (it is safe to do it at totality) and just gazed in awe at this almost supernatural sight for nearly three whole minutes.

It stunned me! I spotted a reddish tinge to one side which I later found out was a massive solar flare that just happened to go off at the right time – as if heralding this momentous event. Go see it on the pics.

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Our group on top deck of the Coral Discover cruise ship

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Our group on top deck of the Coral Discover cruise ship

I didn’t know it but another surprise awaited us all. One we expected BUT not to the extent it was. As totality ended (a massive let down) this massive bright glow appeared- the famous Diamond Ring did NOT disappoint.

This was without doubt the brightest flash like this I have seen. It completely floored the entire crew and passenger list.

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Our group on top deck of the Coral Discover cruise ship

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Woman on top deck of the Coral Discover cruise ship as totality approached

Tons of cameras stopped clicking, we had seen what we came here to see and nobody left for lunch disappointed. I was asked my opinion and I stated it was arguably one of the best ever recorded and in my view, certainly the best this century so far… if not in modern times.

Totality 9 March 2016

One of the best shots from the tour came from my friend, and passenger on the ship, Sandra Dennis.

I’ve now just started arranging probably my last Eclipse adventure and I’m making plans to head state-side in 2017 for what’s being billed (typical America) as ‘The Great American Eclipse.” This will be a big deal as totality’s path cuts a swath across the country from west to east in August. We’ll be in Arizona for sure and most likely Tennessee as well.

* A visit to Nashville is planned to go see the Jack Daniels factory and find out where all my money has been going over the last few decades!

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Overseas Traveller Experiences

Reports received by Sky & Telescope magazine indicate that virtually everyone saw something of totality. In some locations thin to moderate clouds interfered during the critical climax, giving those on the ground a veiled view of the Sun’s corona.

Satellite view of Moon's shadow

A series of images from Japan’s Himawari 8 meteorological satellite, taken every 10 minutes, shows the march of the Moon’s shadow across Indonesia. JAXA / Wang Wenhui

Many others enjoyed all aspects of this tropical totality under clear, blue skies. The Moon’s shadow swept across the region on the morning of March 9th (local time) and plunged a 150-km-wide path into darkness for 2½ to 4 minutes, depending on location.

The event occurred late on March 8th in North American time zones.

Everyone has remarked about the stunning prominence jutting from the Sun. Owing to its placement on the northern limb, this crimson eruption remained in view throughout totality.

Routes Were Changed

Elsewhere, several ships, both commercial cruises and last-minute charters, managed to get into the umbral path and found generally clear skies. Rick Fienberg, aboard Le Soleal in the Molucca Sea, witnessed 3 minutes of totality. “We observed nearly the entire eclipse,” he reports, “from first through fourth contact, in a clear blue sky with only scattered clouds.”
One other commercial airplane, Garuda Indonesia flight 649, slipped into the path of totality during its trip from Jakarta to Ternate. Passengers experienced about 2½ minutes of totality.
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Some of the most interesting reports involve the reaction of local residents to all the eclipse — and the rare sight of foreign visitors in their villages and along their roadways. One local told said that the people here were far more excited by all the international visitors than by the eclipse itself.

Superstition Abounds

It’s a far, far cry from what occurred during a total solar eclipse that crossed Indonesia in 1983. Back then, government officials warned people to stay indoors, fearing that that the curious would stare at the Sun and blind themselves. Some pregnant women reportedly not only remained indoors but even hid under their bed covers.

Reports received indicate that virtually everyone saw something of totality. In some locations thin to moderate clouds interfered during the critical climax, giving those on the ground a veiled view of the Sun’s corona. Many others enjoyed all aspects of this tropical totality under clear, blue skies.

The Moon’s shadow swept across the region on the morning of March 9th (local time) and plunged a 150-km-wide path into darkness for 2½ to 4 minutes, depending on location. The event occurred late on March 8th in North American time zones.

A Proposal

Documentary film-maker Nelson Quan observed from the west coast of Sulawesi. “Happy to report that we have full success! Not even a cloud in sight!” Quan says.

Nelson Quan's post-eclipse proposal

Nelson Quan’s post-eclipse proposal

“We were able to see 2:35 of totality — Venus, Mercury, and even Saturn!” And, as if that wasn’t enough drama for one day, he adds, “I proposed to my girlfriend right after totality ended, presenting her the ‘third’ diamond ring — and she said yes!”

Kate Russo, an Aussie eclipse-chaser who lives in Northern Ireland said. “One man was praying to ensure that his pregnant wife, who was watching with us, was not harmed by the eclipse. Although he understood logically this would not happen, he still felt it was important to pray and give thanks.”

Eyes in the Sky

As has become more typical during total solar eclipses, several planes manoeuvred into position to catch the spectacular merger of Sun and Moon near the horizon. And while commercial flights are known to have unwittingly found themselves in the Moon’s shadow, the saga of Alaska Airlines flight 870 breaks new ground.

The plane and its passengers intercepted the eclipse path 695 miles north of Honolulu — and that was no accident. Hats off to meteorologist and devoted eclipse-chaser Joe Rao, who first noticed (a year ago!) that the timing of this Anchorage-to-Honolulu flight would be very close to the Moon’s shadow.

Rao convinced the airline to adjust the flight’s departure to put the plane in the right place at the right time.

Total solar eclipse plane video

There have been a lot of videos posted around the world of this week’s total solar eclipse, but I was particularly fascinated to see a video posted by YouTuber Things I Like that shows what the eclipse looked like from tens of thousands of feet in the air.

In short, it looks like the sun is shrinking before your eyes as the moon passes between it and the Earth. As you’ll see, the sun appears to get noticeably smaller at around the one minute mark and stays in that state for a good two minutes. There have been a lot of videos posted around the world of this week’s total solar eclipse, but I was particularly fascinated to see this one.

The sun isn’t actually shrinking, of course — it’s just that the moon is getting in its way and is casting a shadow over the Earth. You can learn more about the magic of total solar eclipses at this link if you’re so inclined. – Sources: BGR, S&T

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