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Solar Annular Eclipse, 03 October 2005

Paul Whiting, FRAS, Spain

Following the annular solar eclipse on 31 May 2003, there followed a couple of years without an accessible, affordable eclipse for observers based in the UK. I ruled out travelling to Antarctica for the partial eclipse on 19 April 2004, to the Far East for the partial eclipse on 14 October 2004 and to the South Pacific for the hybrid eclipse on 08 April 2005 - all three on grounds of cost. By way of contrast, the annular eclipse that crossed Europe on 03 October 2005 offered a reasonably cheap and straightforward observing experience, and also a practice run for the Libyan total eclipse in 2006.

The track of the eclipse of 03 October 2005 crossed the Iberian Peninsula and marched across north eastern Africa, so the obvious venue (at least to me and my partner) was the Costa Blanca, Spain. We did consider inland Spain, possibly around Madrid, but weather considerations suggested the eastern coastal fringes would, on average, give a better chance of visibility. Also accommodation would be plentiful and cheap on the Spanish coast in October. Depending on your point of view, we ended up just south of Valencia (posh) or a couple of miles south of Benidorm (not so posh).

The eclipse took place on a Monday. We arrived in Spain on the preceding Friday, picked up the hire car at Alicante airport and eventually found our apartment in the village of La Vila Joisa. The map we had was old and showed the route to the apartment along a dirt track and rough unmade road. When we arrived we found instead a new highway running alongside the apartments leading to a new motorway - ho hum! Never mind, at least the sky was clear and Mars was shining down on us like a red beacon.

We spent Saturday shivering by the pool (it was a cold wind), and on Sunday we thought we would visit our intended observation site at Cap de la Nau, near Javea. On the map, it looked quite close but, after 90 minutes of negotiating winding roads, with the weather closing in on us the further north we went, we started to formulate plan B. Still, once we arrived, the restaurant at the Cap was open and served an excellent paella.

Plan B was to stay at home by our private pool and make the observation looking over the Med. This was our intention until we got up on the morning of the eclipse to see threatening cloud banks welling up to the south and beginning to move towards us. We needed a plan C - and quickly! Plan C was to head inland up one of the small nearby mountains, just a little east of the village of Finestrat (38° 34' N, 0° 22' W). Here we found a large layby on the mountain road, only a few kilometres south of the central line of the eclipse. The layby, of course, suddenly became busier than the M25 at rush hour just as we set up our kit. At least the sky was fairly clear. There were some small wisps of cloud, but nothing that became a problem (despite threatening to get thicker once or twice).

Our "equipment" consisted of the Solarscope, well tried and tested during the transit of Venus in 2004. This rested on a purpose built mounting, otherwise known as the bonnet of our Ford Mondeo hire car. Two deck chairs and two pairs of eclipse viewers completed the equipment register. As we sat waiting for the eclipse to start, a family came past walking their dog and started talking to us in Spanish. I replied eruditely Inglesi, they replied Español, then walked off muttering amongst themselves. Thus ended our fraternisation with the natives.

The eclipse itself was somehow quite satisfying. As the Moon ingressed over the solar disc from the bottom towards the top, it created a perfect smile in the inverted image of the Solarscope. The annular phase lasted for just over four minutes - relatively lengthy. The Moon covered 90.4% of the solar disk. Despite the 10% of the Sun still visible, there was the usual eerie darkening effect and the birds stopped twittering, at least until a dog started barking in the distance. Flowers started to close up too. There was too much ambient wind to notice the mid-eclipse zephyr that usually occurs. We tried an experiment to gather some fronds and set them up to produce lots of mini eclipse images by the pin-hole camera effect. It was interesting to see the pin-hole images, although the effect did not work as well as it could have.

All too quickly the eclipse was over, and the now upside down grin re-appeared in the solarscope. Time to pack up and go to the local Carrefour to pick up supplies. Another holiday excuse is over - until the next time!

The images below are of the view in the Solarscope during the ingress and annular phases.

View in Solarscope during ingress

View in Solarscope during ingress

View in Solarscope during ingress

Nigel Evans, Tunisia

Nigel Evans, observing from Tunisia, recorded the entire passage of the eclipse on a single 35 mm frame.


More Information on Eclipses

See Fred Espenak's eclipse web site eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse.html.

Paul Whiting, FRAS, Nigel Evans