2012 Total Solar Eclipse

November 14, 2012 – Wednesday – Total Solar Eclipse of the Sun – observed from aboard the Paul Gauguin cruise ship sailing about 200km south of New Caledonia in the Coral Sea

Map of 2012 Solar Eclipse track in the South Pacific

Map of 2012 Solar Eclipse track in the South Pacific

I am up at 5:30AM, beating my alarm by a few minutes. Skipping breakfast, I gather my eclipse gear and setup on the Pool Deck. I mount my Kestrel 4500 portable weather station on a nearby towel deposit box, and also mount my little Fuji point-and-shoot camera on the same box to take some HD video during Totality (and a minute before and after).

My observing log entry for the eclipse:

Date/Time – local ship’s time
Start: Nov 14, 2012 6:49AM
Finish: Nov 14, 2012 8:12AM

Location: On the totality track 200km south of New Caledonia in the Coral sea, South Pacific
Position: 26° 40′ 0″ S 166° 46′ 54″ E

Observers: 320 passengers (and some crew) on board the Paul Gauguin cruise ship

I observe a total solar eclipse from the pool deck of the cruise ship Paul Gauguin, as part of a TravelQuest tour group. Rick Fienberg and Bill Kramer, in cooperation with Captain Ante-Toni Mirkovic decide to turn the ship 180° just before 1st Contact in order to avoid a large cloud which is starting to obscure the view of the Sun. This proves to be a good move, since we are now slowly sailing away from the clouds in the area, and yet continue to stay within the maximum totality centreline track.

  • 1st Contact 6:57:20AM Alt=26º
  • 2nd Contact 8:01:20AM Alt=40º
  • Totality lasts 3 minutes, 1 second
  • 3rd Contact 8:04:21AM Alt=40º
  • 4th Contact 9:16:47AM Alt=57º
The Sun in eclipse totality - 3rd contact & diamond ring

The Sun in eclipse totality – 3rd contact & diamond ring

A few minutes before 2nd Contact, my portable weather station records the expected sharp drop in temperature, and the light levels are greatly reduced. About 10 minutes before 2nd Contact, Venus is visible to the left of the Sun, and then as darkening continues, Saturn also appears equidistant between Venus and the Sun.

A dramatic darkening occurs during totality (2nd Contact to 3rd Contact). During totality, I visually observe spectacular coronal streamers. Although I do not find that Bailey’s Beads are easily observed during this eclipse, I observe a red glow around parts of the perimeter of the Sun and some solar prominences are visible.

There is lots of hooting and hollering as the (second) spectacular diamond ring appears at 3rd Contact. I capture these human reactions to experiencing a total solar eclipse using my little Fuji XP point-and-shoot camera using its HD video mode.

I stop observing and photographing the eclipse shortly after 3rd Contact, although I continue to take temperature readings.

Everyone has a smile on his or her face after the event is over, and there are lots of stories told afterward at lunch and dinner. Despite it only being 9:30 in the morning, Corona beer and cocktails are served to celebrate our success. I have a celebratory cappuccino, and finally have my breakfast mid-morning at La Palette.

2012 Total Solar Eclipse – Bill Kramer’s Eclipse Chasers website, including his personal report and links to other reports

Air temperature during the 2012 Total Solar Eclipse while aboard the Paul Gauguin in the Coral Sea

Air temperature during the 2012 Total Solar Eclipse while aboard the Paul Gauguin in the Coral Sea

I take temperature measurements from my position on the Pool Deck before, during and after totality. My readings are measured with a Kestrel 4500 personal weather station, which is mounted about one metre above the ship’s deck.

6:57AM 23.2ºC – 1st Contact
7:20AM 22.0ºC
7:39AM 20.9ºC
7:55AM 20.5ºC
8:01AM 20.2ºC – 2nd Contact
8:04AM 19.8ºC – 3rd Contact
8:12AM 20.3ºC
8:25AM 21.3ºC
9:00AM 24.2ºC
9:16AM 24.0ºC – 4th Contact
12:20PM 20.4ºC

The temperature drop is 3.5ºC, which is much lower than expected. Obviously the mild climate near the ocean’s surface results in less daytime heating, and therefore less temperature range is covered for this eclipse at this location.

I dedicate the temperature measurements I took during this eclipse to the memory of Jim Low, a long time member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Toronto Centre. If Jim had survived, I’m sure he would have traveled with his fellow Toronto Centre members to Australia, and would have recorded the temperature drop, as he did when I traveled with this group to observe the Total Solar Eclipse (my first) from the Libyan Sahara Desert in 2006.


On board the Paul Gauguin – Fiji to New Caledonia


November 11, 2012 – Sunday – Our first day at sea – enroute from Lautoka, Fiji to New Caledonia

The ship’s clocks were set back an hour last night, so I wake up around 5AM. I have to fill in some time before I can get a cappuccino and a French pastry at La Palette at 6:30AM. I am battling a nasty cold I obviously picked up while aboard the flight down to Fiji…damned airliners!

TravelQuest and Wilderness Travel have fully chartered the ship, so they have arranged a wonderful array of enrichment speakers, which start their presentations today. When we are at sea, there are four presentations scheduled for each day. What a change from the Incan Empires Cruise on the Rotterdam last year, where there was a dearth of enrichment speakers!

9:30AM Speaker: How to Experience and Enjoy the Eclipse – Rick Fienberg gives an engaging talk about the basics of total solar eclipse watching, covering off the best ways to experience the eclipse, a bit of advice about photography and visual observing, safety tips, the sequence of events, and some practical advice on how to enjoy this special experience.

11AM Speaker: Seabirds of the South Pacific, Living on the wide, wide sea – Dr. Roger Lederer describes a wide variety of seabirds who inhabit the islands we are traveling to, and also mentions other notable seabirds who inhabit other parts of the Pacific Ocean.

2:30PM Speaker: Coral Reefs – Ethan Daniels‘ presentation shows us how coral reefs formed eons ago, what wildlife make their home in the reefs, and where the great reefs of the world are located. Ethan works part-time for Wilderness Adventures, and spends the rest of his time researching the biology of reefs and the wildlife in Indonesia and other areas where the world’s greatest reefs are located.

4PM Speaker: Anatomy of the Sun, from Core to Corona – Holly Gilbert works for Ames/NASA in Solar Physics as a solar prominence specialist. Despite confessing to not feeling well because of the ship’s motion, Holly delivered a great talk with lots of information about the various layers and processes going on with the Sun.

I meet my cabin stewardess Diojani this afternoon; who is a very nice young woman who keeps my stateroom immaculate throughout the voyage. I find out from the bridge (through the Front Desk) that Magnetic North is 349º True in this area of the world, so I calculate the magnetic declination to be 11º East in order to setup my Kestrel weather station’s wind direction. I go for dinner to L’Etoile, the main dining room again, and meet another interesting group of people. I turn in early, since I’m still not quite comfortable with all the time zone changes lately.

November 12, 2012 – Monday – Second day at sea – enroute from Fiji to Ile des Pins, New Caledonia

As I mentioned previously, TravelQuest and Wilderness Travel have an excellent choice of enrichment speakers aboard, so here is today’s line-up, along with some of my comments:

9:30AM Speaker: Capturing the Eclipse in Images & Video – Bill Kramer (Eclipse Chasers) gives advice I mostly agree with, but then he says to not set cameras over ISO 400, which I disagree with. My thought is that we are on a moving platform, so capturing sharp, in focus images without any apparent image motion is important. I think that means using higher than normal ISO. Lower ISO will give a richer image, but we can’t afford that while on board a ship.

11AM Speaker: The Navigators – Human Settlement of Oceania – Mark Eddowes is an anthropologist from New Zealand who is based in French Polynesia, and gives a very interesting talk, although it takes almost twice as long as scheduled. He describes how the Lapita people migrated from SE Asia to the western Pacific Islands.

2:30PM Speaker: The Sun-Earth Connection – Holly Gilbert is a solar specialist from NASA who talks about the solar wind, solar flares, coronal mass ejections, and solar prominences, and how these various phenomena affect the Earth.

4PM Speaker: Highlights of the Southern Night Sky – Rick Feinberg highlights all the same objects to be found in the southern night sky which I would have talked about. He starts off his talk describing how our location on the Earth affects what we observe in the night sky, and goes from there.

I am thrilled with the quality of the presentations given today, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming presentations during the rest of the cruise. I have an hour long nap before dinner, since this “cold” I thought I was suffering from is actually a throat infection, which is making me quite miserable and tired.