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March 1998 EXTRA!


Eclipse a success!



Updated Monday 3/2, 10:00 a.m. MST

"Things went extremely well," reports Bruce Lites from the Caribbean island of Curaçao, where yesterday's solar eclipse was documented just after 1:00 p.m. PST by a team from the High Altitude Observatory.

The NSF/NCAR C-130 takes off from Howard Air Force Base en route to document the 26 February eclipse. (Photo courtesy Air Force Public Affairs, 24th Wing, Howard Air Force Base, Panama.)

"All of our equipment seemed to work very well. We looked at the images, and they seem to be really good. It's just a quick look--we haven't done any analysis yet. We've actually made a short movie of the data from the high-resolution polar plume imager, and it looks extremely good--no problems."

Skies were mostly clear as the eclipse began, with only a few afternoon cumulus over the hilly island. Conveniently, "the clouds decreased as the eclipse proceeded," says Bruce. As the sun was gradually obscured, the reduced heating caused the clouds to dissipate, and "by eclipse time there were no clouds in the sky whatsoever."

More good news came from Howard Air Force Base near Panama City. That's where the NSF/NCAR C-130 was based with HAO experiments on board. The team caught 4:40 minutes of totality while flying over the Darien province of Panama, just inside the Colombia border. At Howard, "there was cloud cover--everybody wanted their money back, so to speak," reports Captain Mike Murk, chief of public affairs for the 24th AF Wing at Howard. However, the C-130 was west-southwest of Panama City--a great place to observe the eclipse, says Phil Judge, who greeted the flight crew as they returned to Howard AFB. According to Phil:

I saw the pilots in the cockpit but did not want to see a thumbs-down so kept quiet. A few seconds later Paul Le Hardy (RAF) stepped out and, like a kid who knew something and was bursting to tell someone else (but wanted to remain cool), gave a thumbs-up with a grin.

These kinds of experiments are very risky---we got some luck, but, by God, those guys deserved it! I was there for all but one training flight and witnessed all the work that went in. The guys had to overcome nagging difficulties every day. The NCAR pilots and technicians on the C-130 were faultless, taking on challenges and finding solutions with the fervor of excited kids (the C-130 is a big toy), but tempered with the maturity that comes from a lot of combined experience.

It was fun listening to the pilots describe what they saw during the eclipse. They did not really know what to expect and every one of the folks in the cockpit was thrilled to see the corona and the two planets so close to the sun. They all agreed that seeing the moon's shadow overtake them was an amazing sight.

The results of Phil's experiment--to examine lines of ionized silicon theorized to be visible from the sun's corona (see the main eclipse feature in this issue of Staff Notes Monthly)--will have to await further analysis. For now, anyway, says Phil, "It's nothing short of a major triumph."

Rain, rain, go away

The week's only rain occurred this morning, according to HAO's David Elmore at Curaçao. "There were two rain showers, one before we got up, which caused a panic when people sleeping out on the porch started getting wet, ran in, and said, 'Hey, we've gotta cover the spar.' " However, "the last cloud I saw was about 40 minutes before totality."

Here's the initial report filed to HAO this afternoon from Curaçao by Steve Tomczyk:

I am happy to report that sky conditions were good and we were successful in observing the solar eclipse....totality was cloudless although hazy. All instruments operated nominally and tracking was good. We will attempt to download an eclipse picture to the HAO web site as soon as possible.

The Curaçao team left to Boulder on Sunday, 1 March. In the meantime, they were packing and "frolicking," says David. "It's possible to dive off of the [six-meter-high] cliff here in front of our house, but in order to get back out of the ocean, you've got to swim a kilometer or so north or south."


Other links of interest

The March issue of Staff Notes Monthly, now on line, has full coverage of the experiment and its planning, including color photos of preparations in Boulder.

The High Altitude Observatory planned to post imagery as soon as possible after the eclipse on their eclipse home page.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center has produced a great one-stop-shopping site for general information about this eclipse, including maps, timetables, and links pointing to live Webcasts. Note: This site was extremely busy Thursday afternoon and may be difficult to access.

On 11 February, UCAR Communications issued a news release about NCAR's eclipse expedition.


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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu