Just back from Vama Veche, on the Black Sea coast.
I figured *some* astronomer ought to observe the eclipse with a thousand nude and semi-nude Romanians. It might as well be me! I was as close to the centerline as possible: My stroll down the beach was turned around by a young man with an AK47, thereby marking the Bulgarian border.
From sunrise to sunset on eclipse day, there was not a cloud in the sky. The lack of weather anxiety was pleasing. Ironically, I had been one of the few people *not* clouded out on the Big Island of Hawaii ('91), but had been one of the few people who *was* clouded out last time--on the island of Antigua ('98).
During the partial phases, I set up a small [50 X 8] refractor. Perhaps a hundred persons stopped by to have a look. It seemed to be a pretty informed crowd, many of whom camped overnight to be there. For instance, a number were knowledgeable enough to ask if I had a proper filter in place, before taking a peek. (I did: aluminized glass, from Thousand Oaks Optical.) Others noticed the mirror inversion caused by the telescope, and the sunspots. One teenage boy--an up-and-coming Fred Espenak--obviously had studied eclipses for years.
As second contact approached, more-and-more mylar eclipse "glasses" (anoxymoron, if ever there was one) appeared on faces. Photographers ran up toask me for exposure tips. ("Bracket, bracket, bracket.") The lighting took on its traditional metallic ambience, and people started to call out planets.
At T-minus 37 seconds, I observed shadow bands for the first time in six central eclipses. Of course, at this point in the eclipse, I was the only one looking down!
I had thought that my polaroid sunglasses might be a useful tool in detecting the bands, yet this was not so. These were not subtle features; they appeared suddenly and unambiguously. The bands showed up well against the beach sand. They flickered like a zoetrope image, with a separation of about ten centimeters. I traced them with my finger in the sand and found them to be aligned North-South.
Then it was time to take the filter off my telescope and observe totallity. After Baily's Beads, I began to count prominences. However, as the lunar limb progressed across the solar disk (revealing more and more of them) I gave up the exercise. There were too many. One appeared detached by its own length from the photosphere. Another looked like the classic loop found in the textbooks.
The corona reminded me of swirled cotton candy, spun at a county fair. Even though it did not extend much beyond one solar diameter in my eyepiece, there was more detail than I had witnessed before.
My eye glued to the ocular, I heard two interesting sounds during totality (above the general din of "ohs" and "ahs"). First, someone chose totality to jump into the Sea. Splash. (Each to their own ...) Second, someone was shaking what I later learned was a traditional folk rattle, in order to scare away the wolf devouring the Sun.
The rattle "worked." Third contact came after two minutes, eight seconds. It now was noticeably cooler. Opinions differed as to the behavior of the wind. Oddly, I saw no shadow bands after totality.
I met Germans, Brits, Hungarians, and French on the beach. But cheers to the Romanian people, who desparately wanted this event, which bisected their country, to put them on the tourist "map." Their charm and hospitality won me over, and I would like to return one day.
By the way, nobody really got arrested. But my friend did receive a Romanian traffic ticket. Like the Moon's shadow, he was speeding.
Last revised: 2008 Jan 28