(Note: All times are in Greenwich Mean Time or GMT.)
At 10.44 GMT time the moon took the first magical bite from the sun, and so began the last Total Solar Eclipse of the 20th century.
Iran the land of culture, civilization and hospitality proved to be correct on all three points. Not only were the chances of viewing the eclipse good, historically there was plenty to see. Indeed, the tomb of Xerxes who supposedly saw an eclipseon his way to invade Greece with his Persian army in 480 B.C. issituated near Shiraz. Generally the Iranian people were veryfriendly, kind and helpful in every respect.
Patrick Poitevin and myself were official guests of the Institutefor Advanced Studies in Basic Sciences.We travelled with students to the proposed eclipse site of Nahavand.However, the students had been observing the weather on a daily basis.According to their observations cloud had been forming during thelate morning and overcast skies prevailed in the afternoons.
Decisions had to be made either we stayed and took our chances,or we moved to nearer Esfahan where the skies had been supposedlybetter.The decision to move was finally made by Patrick and thestudent team leader Mr. Mirtorabi, and we packed everything backinto the mini-bus and left Nahavand to drive through the night.The road to Isfahan virtually followed the path of the eclipse.We arrived at 6.00 am and day break brought with it a wonderful clear sky.We were situated approximately 50 kilometres northwest of Isfahan and stumbled on a tiny village of Tiran.
Although some clouds had formed over the distance mountains tothe south-east and the north-west, the sun's path across the sky remained clear.The clouds in the northwest were heavier, and if it continued to build up it could prove a possible danger.However, after first contact the cloud actually started todissipate, and before second contact had almost disappeared.
The first five minutes were filled with the students excitement.Then they became busy with their experiments.Local people appeared as if from nowhere.
At 11.04 Patrick recorded the first temperature drop.There were only two small groups of spots visible and the first group were swallowed up by the moon at 11.15 am.By 11.40 am the local people had also became calmer, and the temperature drop was -5 degrees.Shadows became unclear, and at 11.43 am a Cockerel crowed in the distance.We observed that the horizon, white paper, and the shadowband sheet had a pink appearance.The colours were very different to the 1998 eclipse in the Caribbean.
Patrick spotted Venus at 11.56 am, very close to the sun and onthe same altitude.Four minutes to go and I started to look for shadowbands.There were none noticeable yet.12.00 pm a donkey brays in the distance, that was the last animal observation.Surprisingly insects did not seem to be abundant in Iran.
Then there they were at 12.01, very faint at first and I wasn'tto sure what I was seeing, but on the white sheet laid out infront of the telescopes were crescents, they were rotating in acircular motion.The circles seemed to be approximately 15 cm in diameter and about 2 cm apart.The observation site had been slightly windy, not uncomfortably so, it certainly wasn't the sheet blowing in the wind.The ring effect lasted for about a minute then the shadowbands that we all know and love appeared as normal, increasing in intensity until my attention was taken away by the Baily's beads and a small diamond ring.
The corona grew until it was about three times the diameter ofthe sun, I was paralysed, Patrick had to remind me to look through the telescope.The low angle of the sun made it look even bigger in the sky. In the inner portion of the corona, but radiating from the chromosphere I saw the colours of the rainbow, green, yellow, orange, and blue.The outer corona was fairly white but with filament detail.
Through the telescope were unbelievably large loops (10.00, 7.00 and 2.00 o'clock) and a tongue prominence (5.00 o'clock).I believe and hope that slight will be etched on my memory forever.We only had 1 m 47 s of totality.Again I looked with the naked eye, and was absolutely breathless.I could still see the colours.But, as always the sands of time move on and the second larger diamond ring came into view much to fast, until the inevitable partial phase began again.We did manage to see the shadow moving away, distinct against clouds behind us.
People were silent.People stood in stunned silence.Mr. Mirtorabi stood with his head in his hands.He reported later that it had been very successful in respect of theexperiments the students had conducted in collaboration with European scientist.
All things considered Iran was a travelling experience I shall never forget.The difference in culture, religion, and language, but most of all I will never forget the most perfect eclipse displaying shadowbands, Baily's beads, diamond ring, large chromosphere, very large symmetrical corona, shadow moving away.Astronomy rarely shows us fireworks, but on the 11th August 1999it made an exception.
Last revised: 2008 Jan 28