March 29, 2006 – Wednesday – Total Solar Eclipse Day
After our long drive across the desert yesterday, everyone is well-rested and ready to go this morning. Breakfast is a bun and some cheese from Mahmood Poonja (Bestway Tours & Safaris). Then a few of us go over to the coffee shop for our morning coffee before setting up for the eclipse.
First item of business for most of us is equipment checks and setup. We have lots of curious Libyans and fellow campers from around the world asking us questions about ourselves, our equipment, and (in the case of the Libyans) what we thought of their country. The atmosphere is very energized! We have two weathermen with us, as well as a half dozen experienced eclipse chasers who I find personally very helpful.
Patrick, Marvin and I all wear our Ghutras, which cause all sorts of fellow eclipse chasers and Libyans to either take our pictures, or want pictures taken with themselves standing beside one (or all) of us. We ditch the Ghutras after the eclipse is over. Lunch is served around 3pm, which thankfully is very well organized today.
As we count down to First Contact, people are really getting excited. Finally, “first contact” is shouted out, and we all look up (through filtered glasses) to see the first chunk of the Sun being eclipsed by the Moon. What a strange sight! Over the next few minutes more and more of the Sun is eclipsed, until we feel the temperature of the Saharan heat start to drop. Next comes a strange colour change of the surrounding light. As things start to darken more, the temperature drops more – a total of 7 or 8°C by the end according to one of my fellow observers, Jim Low, who is measuring the temperature throughout the eclipse.
At Second Contact, the Moon totally eclipses the Sun, and the Diamond Ring (see image below) appears for a brief few seconds, closely followed by Bailey’s Beads and solar prominences. What a sight, and it happens so quickly! Then for 4 minutes we have the total eclipse to enjoy viewing and photographing. The Sun’s corona is magnificent, with streamers of plasma flowing outward from the Sun. I am taking photographs all through the sequence. The full eclipse phase is so strange, since no solar filters are needed to observe the Sun while it is fully-eclipsed by the Moon. I can appreciate why some people become so emotional during an eclipse.
Too soon we come to Third Contact, where we have to again use solar filters, since the energy of the Sun is now back at close to full strength. Some of our group observe until Fourth Contact, making observations along the way. Being less dedicated, I stop photographing during this phase, and just enjoyed the occasional glance at the eclipsed Sun through my filtered binoculars.
A solar eclipse can be enjoyed in many ways – direct observation, photography, and observing changes in the light, ambient temperature and wildlife in the area, or just sharing the experience with others. We have a great group, with everyone helping each other to enjoy the experience. We do a fair bit of ambassadorship for Canada, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, and astronomy in general – “Sidewalk Astronomy” in the Sahara!
So I have observed my first total solar eclipse from the middle of the Libyan Sahara Desert – very exciting! Bailey’s Beads, the Diamond Ring, solar flares and the corona were all superb as viewed though my binoculars and through my Canon EF 400mm L series telephoto lens on my Canon Digital Rebel dSLR. The photos I take of the event turn out very well.
We depart Eclipse Camp around 4pm bound for Benghazi, and arrive back in the Garyounis Resort at about 10pm. After a quick dinner, I shower off that desert sand and then go to bed. It has been a long, but very rewarding day! The eclipse was a tremendous success, with the weather being absolutely perfect.
واحـ جالو ـــة سائح و كسوف – An Arabic language version of this page by Wahtjalo Webmaster (my material used with permission)