Total Solar Eclipse Over Easter Island
11 July 2010


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Although weather prospects for Easter Island were not promising for the 2010 eclipse (50-50 chance of clouds), the chance to also see the mysterious Moai stone statues on the same trip made it an easy decision to take our chances. For this special eclipse, our plans and anticipation started some 4+ years ago!




 

In order to make sure we had time to explore the island we arrived a week early with our friends Greg and Vicki Buchwald. We had a great time doing hikes to remote parts of the island, sampling the local food, and meeting friendly locals, but the weather looked doubtful from the first day of our arrival. Strong winds, frequent showers, and infrequent patches of sunshine were the general pattern each day. While this was cool and refreshing for hikes, the changeable weather thwarted my plans to do some night photography of the southern sky. My medium format film equipment never made it to the point of being unpacked since I just couldn't be assured of the 20-30 minutes of clear sky I would need for each shot. At best, I was able to shoot a few time-lapse sequences (#1 and #2) with my digital camera for a few hours on a couple of nights. These show clearly how quickly large clouds were blowing by, accompanied by frequent rain showers.

On Saturday, the skies looked more threatening than ever. Nearly solid overcast and even more rain during the day were topped by a torrential downpour and wild winds all night. Lying in bed that night, listening to the rain and wind, I was already rationalizing that even though I certainly wouldn't see the eclipse, the trip to Easter Island had exceeded my expectations already.

By sunrise, however, it looked like a miracle might occur. Although the winds were still blowing, they had abated a bit and the rain had scaled back to occasional drizzles. The sun lit up a sky still crowded with rapidly moving clouds, but with large clear blue breaks. After breakfast, things looked good enough to optimistically begin setting equipment up, even though the wind continued to gust and we had to constantly be on the watch for drizzles. Other optimists began joining us in setting up their equipment in the grounds around the Altiplanico Hotel, and amazingly, the sky continued to clear.

Eclipse observers set up on the grounds of the Altiplanico Hotel (360° view).

  As the time for first contact came and went, it was clear that a miracle had indeed occurred, and we would see something of this eclipse. However, the large clumps of rapidly blowing clouds still meant that things would have to work out just right for us to see an unobstructed totality phase. As the eclipse progressed through the partial phase, we were still getting clumps of clouds periodically blotting out the sun. When the sun was clear of clouds, however, the sky was truly clear, with none of the high haze that plagued us on our 2009 eclipse trip to China. So now Jean had great conditions for her pinhole projection shots.

When the time for second contact (start of totality) approached, it was clear that a major miracle had occurred! A large blue sky patch was perfectly positioned to allow us to see second contact without any cloud interference! When second contact arrived, there was the expected shouting and clapping, but perhaps with more enthusiasm than at most eclipses. As a bonus, we had not only the extended coronal streamers of a quiet sun, but also bright red prominences in the areas of both second and third contact. Mercury, Venus and some bright stars were also visible in the sky, though only Venus is obvious in the wde-field shot.  


Eclipse video showing totality and the effects on the ground and eclipse watchers. Notice the sound of the gusting wind and, at about 4 minutes into totality, a car with its lights on drives by in the view looking west. Could someone possibly have been uninformed as to what was happening on this special day?

Second contact diamond ring. Chromosphere and prominences after second contact. Composite showing coronal streamers.
Prominences visible prior to third contact. Third contact diamond ring.
  The miracle continued right up to the third contact (end of totality). Just after the diamond ring formed, clouds moved in and momentarily blocked the sun. Perfect timing! All around us there were congratulatory hugs and backslaps for having miraculously gone from what appeared to be a certain washout to unbelievable success in the space of a few hours!
Sunset on eclipse day caps off an unforgettable trip.

More trip photos at: http://kodama.smugmug.com/Astronomy/2010/Eclipse-Over-Easter-Island/

 


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