24 July 2009

Halfway around the world

In 1991 I traveled with family and friends to the beach at Mázatlan to see a total solar eclipse. Alas, actual totality was obscured by the very eclipse itself--the fall in temperature produced a short-lived marine fog that blocked our view of the corona. Nonetheless, it was a spectacular event. Lights came on in town, fish leapt out of the water, birds circled and squealed in apparent alarm. The sky took on a sunset color along the entire horizon, 360 degress of twilight! Stars and planets were visible as well. The partial eclipse was also quite beautiful. We were well-armed with aluminized mylar "glasses" and no. 14 welder's glass and could watch the event on both sides of totality. Our appetites for umbra-chasing were whetted, and all of us planned to go to the Ryukyus in Japan for the great July 2009 eclipse. Alas, we did not make it. They are calling this one "possibly the best-observed solar eclipse in human history" as the path of totality crossed China and parts of India as well. There are 20 million people in Shanghai alone, and other cities in the path like Wuhan, Hangzhou, Surat, and Bhopal add millions more of potential viewers. I hope all those folks halfway across the world got to enjoy their 6-1/2 minutes of darkness!

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