Orwell Astronomical Society (Ipswich)
Solar Total Eclipse, 09 March 2016
What a difference a year makes: Svalbard 2015, near the North Pole, at -24°C to Tidore, on the equator, at +38°C. Our trip to observe the eclipse of 09 March 2016 probably involved more interaction with the local community than any others we've been on - but more of that later.
We set off from Heathrow, Indonesia-bound at the end of February to allow some sight-seeing around Java before the eclipse. Never having been to Indonesia before, we wondered what to expect. The first thing we noticed (apart from the heat and humidity) was the friendliness of the Javanese people. This was also the case on Bali, which we visited later, and on the small islands from where we observed the eclipse. Being an organised tour there were plenty of early starts and long days. We visited many temples, which I must admit began to lose their appeal after a while. However the week of Java exploration soon came to an end and we all descended on the Sanur Beach Hotel in Bali. Being in the tropics the wildlife was particularly exotic, particularly the insects: butterflies the size of birds and hundreds of large dancing dragonflies. From our vantage point in the Bamboo Beach Bar in Bali we looked out over the white sandy beach to the Indian Ocean. Just in front of the beach there was an animal highway of exotic birds and squirrels jumping from tree to tree. By night the aviation display was taken over by pipistrelles and long-eared bats lured by the myriad flying insects. Geckos also made an appearance at night along with sand crabs and a Balinese frog. In fact in one of our Javanese hotels I was lucky enough to share a room with my own pet gecko – I wasn’t troubled by mosquitos at all there. When all the groups had arrived on Bali, we set off on a chartered flight to the island of Ternate, which was to be our base for the eclipse.
Ternate is one of the smaller Spice Islands in the Maluku group, famous for clove and nutmeg trees. Western tourism is generally limited there, with perhaps 100 visitors or fewer per year. Suddenly, approximately 4000 eclipse chasers descended on the island! Our hotel was billed as the most luxurious on the island, and it actually wasn’t so bad. The service left a bit to be desired but I think this was understandable given the number of guests in residence. Language difficulties were the main problem, for example, I asked for something off the snack menu and was served a plate of Cadbury’s Smash look-a-like. It took me right back to my childhood!
For the eclipse we got up early (of course!) to catch a ferry to the neighbouring island of Tidore, where the Sultan had offered the use of his front garden as observing site (coordinates: 0° 39’ 07" N, 127° 26’ 35" E). The ferry was actually a roll-on, roll-off vessel, so our buses went with us. In the ferry lounge we found the most unlucky goldfish in the world. It was all alone swimming around in a battered, broken fish tank in about thre inches of green water. At least the tank was fitted with an aerator.
We arrived in Tidore, a slightly larger Spice Island that generally receives even fewer visitors. In this area of Indonesia, on the track of totality, the eclipse was a very big event. Advertising hoardings everywhere announced "Welcome Foreigners", a bank holiday had been declared, and school children were encouraged to approach we foreigners and practice their English. Our coach procession proceeded to the Palace. I should just add a word here about the coaches. Because of the number of visitors, the organisers had obviously requisitioned any vehicle that held 20 or more people. A few were modern luxury coaches with air conditioning, but most were police buses normally used to ferry the local force around the island (see figure 3). This proved handy when driving through crowded areas - the blues and twos helped our progress through the traffic. There were a lot of cars in Indonesia, but each inhabitant seemed to own at least one motor cycle, quite often carrying a family of five. Only adults seemed to wear helmets, children obviously bounce!
At the Sultan of Tidore’s Palace we were greeted by the man himself. Over the course of the day he did us right royally proud, with nibbles and drinks on hand throughout and plenty of seats and cover from the mid-30s heat.
So to the eclipse itself: a member of Saros 130, repeating approximately the geometry of the eclipse of 1998 that I observed from Antigua. In fact, the 1998 eclipse was the first that I observed, so I've now completed my first Saros cycle. A Saros is a period of approximately 18 years 11 days 8 hours: one Saros period after an eclipse, the Sun-Moon-Earth system returns to nearly the same geometry, and a near-identical eclipse occurs.
We were worried about cloud. The forecast was ambivalent at best and expectations were not high. There was plenty of cloud about but, at the critical time of totality, the area around the Sun cleared (apart from some occasional thin high-level cloud, which often can actually enhance photographs). After suffering battery failure in the extreme cold of Svalbard last year, this time I was delighted with my first attempt at software-controlled photography during totality, freeing me to watch and enjoy the spectacle while letting the camera look after itself. Initial results can be seen in figures 1 and 2. As usual, I also took temperature readings in the shade from before first contact to after fourth contact - see figure 4.
For the second eclipse running there was a huge pink flare visible to the naked eye - see figure 1. I didn’t see any shadow bands this time, but others did see them albeit very briefly just around 2nd contact. Venus and Mercury were clearly visible during totality. The corona showed the standard close-in configuration with some exciting streamers appropriate for a just-post-solar maximum eclipse. The corona tends to become more extended and stretched later in the solar cycle. Figure 2 shows some strong magnetic activity off to the right hand side.
After the eclipse we were entertained by dancing by the local children followed by speeches and then a splendid buffet – again laid on by the Sultan. With some time before the return ferry, we then had a tour of the island and ended up at a beach party where we were given a coconut to drink – superb!
So, another successful eclipse despite a slim chance of favourable weather. Roll on the US eclipse in 2017...
Fig. 4. Temperature in the shade, measured during the eclipse.
Nigel Evans, observing from Tidore, created the following montage of images of 2nd and 3rd contact.
See Fred Espenak's eclipse web site eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse.html.
Paul Whiting, FRAS, Nigel Evans