Solar Eclipse 11th August 1999 Report: Elaine Corry (Turkey)

Eclipse From Turkey

As Viewed by A Non-Astronomer

Elaine Corry

Eclipse day dawned bright and early as we went to breakfast at 0500 hours accompanied by the broadcast chant of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. Remembering to pick up our lunchboxes (more about them later) we excitedly piled aboard our coaches at 6 o’clock for the four-hour journey to the eclipse site. There had been worries that there might be thunderstorms over the chosen site so we were starting off an hour earlier than planned to allow time for a diversion to an alternative location if necessary – I wouldn’t like to be the person who has to make that decision! As all nine coaches were to travel in convoy we met up at the hotel up the road where we had to wait for the late arrival of Explorer Tours bigwig Brian McGee who had obviously been sweating over the latest weather predictions. Among the other coaches were scattered the other members of the society who we knew were in Turkey with Explorers Tours – Ron Kelley, John Quirk and his wife,the Ghorbals and the Forshaws.

On route the build up of excitement on our coach was tangible. We spent the journey going over the sequence of events, most especially for those members of the party who were to experience their first total eclipse. Some people were literally ‘along for the ride’ and had no idea what to look for so this proved to be very useful. We had taken along the Society’s Solar Eclipse booklet which was in great demand, and Eric Jones had supplied us with local circumstances for smooth limb contacts which we used to draw a plan showing everyone where to look for First Contact, Baily’s Beads and the Diamond Ring. We also talked about when to look for the moon shadow and shadow bands and emphasised the safety aspect as we had several children in the party. All this discussion served to heighten the excitement and anticipation. When the convoy of coaches were stopped outside the Sivas University campus we only discovered later that the police had been trying to persuade the organisers to enter the campus to view the eclipse for our safety in case of a kidnap attempt!

The site Explorers Tours had chosen for viewing the eclipse was 22km east of Sivas near the small village of Guydun on the centre line of the eclipse track. When the coaches trundled down the small road and drew up at the site we saw a wide flat open expanse with the Tecar Daglari hills in the distance. There was an Army jeep full of soldiers and village representatives standing by and we were told that the army had dug us a latrine – one for all 400 of us! There was also a tanker of water for ablutions and enterprising villagers were selling beer and water.

After leaving the coaches everyone dispersed to find their own ideal spot. We had palled up with Terry and Kevin and we all decided our first priority was to find a spot to investigate our packed lunches. They proved very interesting if somewhat unappetising – a whole baked potato (no butter), a whole 6inch long cucumber (no knife to peel it- thank goodness for my little penknife), a dry roll with a slice of cheese, a huge hunk of dry cake and a carton of sour cherry drink. Lunch didn’t take long! (However the boxes came into their own later as you will see).

By this time Terry and I decided we would brave the queue for the toilet. It proved to be a very sociable gathering with much hilarity which was increased when the local television crew, which had been following the tour around and reporting on the news each night, decided that the queue was a worthy subject. I never got to know whether it went out on local television which was probably just as well. That wasn’t as bad as the fate of one poor member of our coach party. She lost her sandal down the pit! It was now time to establish our ‘spec’. A fair number of people had decided to set up their equipment on a small rise and as we felt that would be a good vantagepoint especially for looking out for the approaching and receding shadow we opted to follow suit. We found Ron, the Ghorbals and Forshaws up there too so nearly all the Liverpool contingent were together. I started taking photos of groups then, horror – the camera jammed. I was at the end of a roll and I just thought it was finished and rewound so opened the back to realise that it hadn’t rewound so I ended up losing all the pictures I had taken that day plus some from the previous afternoon. I thought that was it but luckily Terry realised I had a manual rewind which seemed to solve the problem as the next film I put in was OK – thank goodness.

Telescopes were massed along the rise and we were getting really excited. Murad was using his telescope for projecting the sun’s image before first contact and we could clearly see several large sunspots in the bottom right hand quadrant, which gave us an indication of where prominences might appear. First contact was due at 1307 local time and was apparently spot on although it was a few seconds later before I was able to detect that first small bite out of the edge of the sun. As the partial phase progressed the projections began in earnest as we strived to outdo each other with novel ideas. Those using telescopes and binoculars produced clear crisp images but fun versions were produced using the holes in Ron’s hat, a straw hat, a pinhole in card and the piece de resistance – my flat cheese grater. Win didn’t really believe that I meant to take a cheese grater but it proved to be of great (sorry – couldn’t resist it) interest as it acted as a pseudo tree projecting multiple crescent shaped images of the sun. (A large party had commandeered the one tree in the area as soon as we arrived).

Solar Eclipse 11th August 1999 - Win and Elaine Corry's Cheese Grater solar projector (after First Contact)

Solar Eclipse 11th August 1999 – Win and Elaine Corry’s Cheese Grater solar projector (after First Contact)

Solar Eclipse 11th August 1999 - Elaine Corry with the Cheese Grater solar projector (after Third Contact)

Elaine with the Cheese Grater solar projector (after Third Contact)

The local villagers were very interested and joined in and one man, in fun, made a circle with his fingers and laughingly lined it up to project. This gave Ron the idea to make animal face shadows with the eye being a projection of the sun. Remember the lunch boxes? Now is when they proved most useful as Murad’s wife had the idea of using one for pinhole projection. This was very successful, as the box was about 15 inches long and 5 inches square in section.

Thus we usefully filled our time waiting for the moment of second contact. As the eclipse progressed we started glancing more often at the crescent sun through our special eclipse glasses. The light was changing very subtly at first but suddenly Terry said that we didn’t need our sunglasses any more or the long-sleeved cover-ups we had to protect us from burning under the searing heat. There was 1hr 24 minutes between first and second contacts and I reckon we must have been an hour into that before there was an appreciable drop in either light or heat levels. It was now that, as the light dropped, we could clearly see Venus but try as I might I couldn’t see Mercury. As totality neared we became aware of a change in colour values. The grass became bluer and the red tinged soil greyer. It was as though I suddenly realised that I was really there and was really going to experience my first total eclipse and I felt very emotional as though I was going to burst into tears. I was not alone – I could see that Terry, Kevin and Win were full up too. I was jumping about with excitement when suddenly the pinnacle of my hopes for the eclipse was achieved – I saw shadow bands. A group of Americans nearby had laid out a white sheet, and there, very clearly, and seemingly for several minutes, we were able to observe the rapidly flickering waves of light. It was long enough to call Win over from lower down the rise and hopefully all the other society members there saw them too. I felt very privileged especially when I later heard Patrick Moore say on ‘The Sky at Night’ that he has never seen them.

Now came the last dramatic drop in light level as second contact neared. I missed the final Baily’s bead as I had decided to try to see the approaching wall of shadow. People were calling out saying what to look for next but you can’t do everything on your first eclipse and I wanted just to absorb as much as possible of the atmosphere. I didn’t manage to see the shadow but then followed the quickest two minutes of my life. I was overawed and just gazed at that black disc surrounded by a magnificent corona, which to my eyes seemed to extend at least the distance of the radius.

There were several superb glowing red prominences; the one which I noticed most was at 3 o’clock. Again I was aware, even in my absorption, of people calling out in amazement at the prominences and the size of the corona, and also of the constant click of camera shutters. I completely forgot to look for any stars or for Mercury! The sky was dark blue and all around over the hills the horizon was glowing. Win had our binoculars and I was suddenly aware of Ron thrusting his binoculars into my hands for which I was very grateful. It was cool and eerie and you could understand why primitive people would feel that it was the end of the world, as indeed it would be if our sun ever failed to re-emerge from behind the moon. All too soon the dazzling brilliance of a magnificent diamond ring signified third contact and we had to look away. We looked over the plain and saw the receding wall of shadow travelling rapidly across the valley and up over the hills on the other side. The increase in light value was immediate and it was warm again – a return to normality after the experience of a lifetime. Everyone was on a high, full of euphoria and chattering, exchanging feelings, and checking what each other had seen; trying to fix the moment in our minds for all time.

For myself I don’t think there is any danger I will forget any of that day. For a while we remained doing a few more projections but it was amazing how quickly the sun was uncovered and gradually the encampment broke up as everyone returned to the coaches. It was then that, from all around us, young soldiers appeared. They had been dug in around the site guarding us most unobtrusively. Back at the coach we had a celebration beer and then at 1520hrs, when the sun was almost uncovered, a happy but weary band of travellers left the site waving to the local villagers who probably thought we were all a bit mad travelling all that way for 2 minutes. Not me – I’d do it again tomorrow.