The Total Solar Eclipse as seen from Fringilla Camp-ground outside Kamilonga, Zambia.
After having seen a perfect eclipse from Romania in 1999 I started searching for tours going to Africa to see the next total solar eclipse on June 21, 2001. In February 2000, using the Internet, I found a trip organized by Sandveld Tours / Outback Africa in Germany who would conduct a 24 day solar eclipse safari from Cape Town to Lusaka. They arrange travel in mini-buses for groups consisting of 14 people, maximum, so the tour was fully booked by May 2000.
Our team of four Swedes, four Germans and six Americans plus two South African guides joined in Cape Town on May 30 for travel northward. We camped almost every night in tents at various camping sites with differing levels of conveniences. Two weeks were spent in the fabulous Namibia and nearly one week in the beautiful Botswana.
To be certain to be near the eclipse centerline well in advance, we decided to skip a day in Makgadigadi Salt Pan in Botswana and arrived at the eclipse camping site the day before E-day. That morning, near Livingstone, a very thin crescent was seen far below Venus in the bright twilight. It was clear that the people in Zambia were aware of the oncoming event. Kids wanted to get free eclipse shades from us, but unfortunately, we could not give away as many viewers as we wanted to. Signs had been set up in many places near Lusaka describing where to find good, public viewing spots. When arriving near Kamilonga we stumbled upon the Solipse festival in Chisamba where they had a 10 day long 'rave-party' playing Techno-music all day and all night long. We set up our tents a few kilometers away in Fringilla Campground and could hear the drum-rhythms at night time.
The solstice morning on the eclipse day greeted us with sunshine, as virtually every other morning had the previous 24 days in Africa. One man from England had brought a 400mm focal-length Coronado H-alpha solar telescope which showed one especially large prominence which we were going to witness in visual light in the afternoon. The telescope also showed a few prominences seen 'face-on' against the disc and almost 20 small sunspots in a chain. A change in the shape of the prominences could easily be discerned within two hours. People from Sky & Telescope travelling with Spears Travel had booked the guest-houses close to the shops. Here had also BBC arranged gear for streaming back live images from the event. There was plenty of time for relaxing and choosing favourable spots to set up our equipment in the camping area. There was a good open area towards the northwest where the Sun would be eclipsed after 3 pm. My site had the geographical coordinates: latitude = -15d00'17", longitude +28d09'30" and elevation 1130m according to my GPS-receiver and thus 1.6 km north of the exact centerline. I planned to video-tape some of the partial phases and all of the totality with my Sony CCD TRV65E cam-recorder on a Manfrotto tripod, using an optical magnification of 18x, as I had done at the three recent central solar eclipses. I calibrated the camera's timekeeping with the GPS-signal. This time I had mounted an Astro Baader Solar filter with Velcro-tape in front of the objective which I could very quickly remove when the right time arrived. The solar image had a pleasant blue-white hue. Our group's Safari Astronomer, professor Fritz Kleinhans from Indianapolis, USA, set up his 90 mm Maksutov telescope which everybody could use.
Just before 1st contact I took my first video-shots of the Sun. At 11:41:29 UT, seven seconds after 1st contact, I could already see a tiny bite of the Sun at V=123 degrees (the so called Vertex-angle counted counterclockwise from zenith point of the Sun's disk). The corresponding position angle, PA, was 270 degrees (exactly due west). Just shortly afterwards the nibble was clearly visible with eclipse glasses. Eight sunspots was visible of which three could be seen without optical aid. The first large sunspot disappeared behind the lunar disc at 12:01 UT and the last big one disappeared at 12:20 UT. It was about one, now, and we could see that something was going on in the sky due to the light change, even if one was not aware of the eclipse beforehand. More and more farm workers came to our site (this day was declared as a national holiday in Zambia) and they were eager to see the eclipse through our instruments. Because many of them had never acted in a film before, they were excited to become 'TV-stars', as I expressed it. There were some clouds in the general direction of the Sun but those were only weak smoke from distant bush-burnings. I started to monitor the temperature drop with a digital thermometer which I had tucked into a shrub one meter above the ground. It was +23.5C at 2.00 pm local time and at 3.08 pm (a minute before 2nd contact) it had dropped to +17.2C. Four minutes before totality our tour leader said that he was bitten by nightflies or mosquitos (first nocturnal animal activity?).
Forty-six seconds before 2nd contact, a large group of people cheered in the distance. It must have been at the time just before the first Diamond ring at the crowd's site, since the umbral shadow was racing faster than the speed of the sound. A couple of people in our group noticed shadow bands on the ground about a minute before and after totality but I forgot to specifically search for them. We shouted, screamed and whistled like mad by this time. I found Jupiter easily naked eye 13 seconds before totality. The first Baily's beads could be seen six seconds before 2nd contact (still with the filter on). Three seconds before the totality at our site, I removed the solar filter and captured an overexposed Diamond ring.
2nd contact began at 13:09:03 UT. Shots can be heard somewhere (champagne bottles were corked early?). I was using different exposure times in order to see all the details, from the bright prominences, inner corona and pink chromosphere to the faint, outer corona. The following position angles, PA, assumes the value of PA-V to be 126 degrees during totality. The huge prominence at PA 45 (three o'clock) was very prominent ;-) and asymmetric. Four more small ones were seen between PA 170 and PA 200 ('half past nine' - 'half past ten'). At PA 100 (one o'clock) there was a corona hole. An especially brighter inner part of the corona was visible at PA 45-65 (two o'clock - half past two), next to the big prominence.
I took a quick glance at the sky and immediately found Jupiter (elongation 5 degrees, altitude 27 deg, magnitude -1.9), Saturn (el=22 deg, h=13 deg, mag +0.1), Sirius (el=41d, h=57d, mag -1.5), Canopus (el=76d, h=41d, mag -0.7) and Procyon (el=30d, h=61d, mag +0.4) with my naked eyes. Venus and Mars were below the horizon and Mercury was too faint, +4.0m. When I shouted saying that I saw Sirius and Saturn on local asked me if I was serious and certain ;-)
The Mid-eclipse occurred at 13:10:54 UT when the Sun's altitude was 31 deg and the magnitude of the eclipse was 1.022 (ratio of size Moon/Sun = 1.044). The corona could be traced at least 1.5 solar diameters outwards and beautiful, slender, radial streamers were seen in every direction. I tried to spot the 4.2 mag star 1 Gem only 0.8 deg above the Sun's center with hand-held 8x20 binoculars, but I failed. Four more prominences appeared near PA 275 (seven o'clock). A pink chromosphere came into view between PA 260 and PA 305 (six o'clock - half past seven). It heralded the end of totality which would happen 12 seconds later.
At 13:12:36 UT a second Diamond ring brightened up the lunar limb at PA 274, after 3 min 33 seconds of totality. The second Diamond is always much brighter than the first one due to our eye's dark adaptation. I continued to video-tape the eclipse. The chromosphere and many Baily's beads can be seen some ten seconds later. The prominence at 'half past ten' can be seen until 57 seconds later and the giant prominence at "three o'clock" could still be seen until 1 minute 12 seconds after 3rd contact when I finally decided to put on the solar filter again.
One and a half minute later we heard trucks honking on the road, cheering the end of a perfect totality. At 3.20 pm (8 minutes past 3rd contact) the temperature was +15.2C. Thus, the air temperature had dropped by 8.3 C after first contact and by 1.7 C during totality. The first sunspot reappeared at 13:34 UT. I continued to record the Sun every now and then until I no longer could see the Moon's bite of the Sun's surface at 14:26:39 UT.
This was the most colourful eclipse I had experienced but the corona seemed smaller and sported fewer prominences than in 1999. There are always things that I forget to observe. This time it was the oncoming lunar shadow and the shadow bands. Instead I studied the prominences and corona in detail with binoculars and saw at least five identified stars and planets by naked eye. There were surprisingly few people in our tent camping area, on this ideal site near the centerline. Where were they all? There was tent-room for dozens of more enthusiasts! One thing which I liked especially this time was all the locals gathering around me, watching the LCD-screen in a safe way and I could explain this natural wonder to them. They had enjoyed the event immensely and they can be heard yelling in their native language on the video-tape. Our Outback Africa expedition celebrated the successful eclipse in the evening and we honoured our tour guides Harald and Hennie for the tremendous, about 7000 km long, bus-trip through five countries in southern Africa.
The next day was the flight back home from Lusaka to Stockholm via Nairobi and Amsterdam. It was really sad to say goodbye to the rest of our Outback Africa team. A large group of eclipse people arrived to the airport and I had the privilege to meet Mr Eclipse, Fred Espenak! I also chatted with Olivier Staiger who had made a web-cast from his room in Hotel Inter-Continental in Lusaka.
Needless to say, the trip up to Zambia, should require an article of its own. I will only mention the highlights. They were the Cedarberg Mountains in South Africa, canoeing on the Orange river, The Fish River Canyon (the world's second largest canyon), the huge Sossusvlei sand-dunes, Spitzkoppe, the Petrified Forest, Etosha National Park (with the 'Big five' observed), Okavango Swamp in Botswana (the world's largest inland delta), Chobe National Park, Victoria Falls and culminating in a fantastic eclipse north of Lusaka. I spent more than a dozen nights stargazing with my 20x100 binoculars in one of the clearest and darkest skies in the world in Namib Highweld and desert. It was really exotic to hear hippos grunting near me in the night while observing the deep-sky in the Okavango! I regard this as the best of my four video-taped central eclipses (my third total) and maybe I will be located within the umbral shadow in South Australia on December 4, 2002?
Last revised: 2008 Jan 28