Eclipse eyewitness

日期:2019-03-07 07:08:01 作者:爱礴 阅读:

By Stephen Battersby, Marcus Chown, Peter Aldous, Rachel Nowak, Simon Hare, Hazel Muir and Jeff Greenwald “Was that great or what?” The cynic’s answer would have been: “What?” A total eclipse of the Sun had come and gone and, as the weather forecasters had warned, the seaside resort of Torquay was covered in cloud. We couldn’t see any of the spectacular solar phenomena: the bands, Baily’s beads, diamond ring and corona. But I couldn’t be cynical. The black sky to the west, which had been darkening ominously for twenty minutes as if a storm were brewing, suddenly swept over us. For a minute, before the sudden second dawn, the distant Brixham peninsula and the yacht-scattered sea glittered with camera flashes. The English are famous for being excited by small pleasures, especially by the seaside: a walk along the front, a sandcastle, eating fish and chips. But the eclipse really was great. Even better than a nice cup of tea. Months of anticipation and planning were over. And the thick cloud wasn’t going to ruin the trip. Our vantage point was the dive boat Wey Chieftain II, 16 kilometres south of Portland, Dorset. On board was an unusual assortment of people: teenagers from Tower Hamlets in inner London, artists and even blind people—a total eclipse assaults all the senses. With a few minutes to go to totality, the sea became eerily calm and the temperature dropped so sharply that we all shivered despite our coats. Seagulls settled down in the water, unsure what was happening. Someone on deck turned on a miniature television, and we crowded round to see pictures of the black disc of Moon surrounded by the Sun’s pearly corona, taken by an aircraft high above the clouds. In a moment, it was night, and thousands of lights twinkled all along the shoreline. A lighthouse beam stabbed out from the Dorset coast. Then, as abruptly as it started, totality was over. The sea came alive with light. “It was the greatest experience of my life,” announced one of the teenagers. “It was like a dream,” said another. On the way back to Portland, we stopped the boat. Half a dozen people, still drunk on the experience, jumped overboard and swam about whooping in the chilly waters. Along with about 250 professional astronomers, taking a break from Britain’s National Astronomy Meeting, I’d taken the 6 am boat from Guernsey and made my way to Alderney’s Fort Albert. It was a strange but appealing marriage of scientific day trip and village fête, as experts discussing solar prominences filed past marquees and children preparing to dance the hokey cokey. With just a few minutes to go, the Sun peeped out, reduced to a crescent of light. Then the clouds shrouded it once more. Darkness, and flashes of lights from the yachts in the harbour, told us that totality had arrived. More than a minute passed. Then, abruptly, the clouds parted, revealing a ghostly corona. We erupted. As totality ended, fête intervened once more: a contingent of the Alderney Blowers brass band, dressed up as sunflowers, struck up their “eclipse fanfare”. They may have blown the moment away, but it couldn’t really detract from our cloud-choreographed drama. Maybe I’m difficult to please, or maybe Bavaria’s capital just isn’t the place to get inspired by a wonder of nature. I saw no crazed birds or bats. And I’m afraid I wasn’t really moved. The temperature plummeted. The shadow cone bore down on us. It went dark, of course. And unlike millions of hopeful eclipse chasers farther west, I had a clear sky for the totality. One of the people who shared my Munich rooftop was British banker John Walker. Eventually, he got off his mobile phone and proclaimed that the eclipse was such an awesome sight he might even try to see another one. Would I do the same? Probably not. But if you’re ever in Munich you should really check out the terrific little skeleton wearing a lacy frock, artfully reclining in a glass-sided tomb in St Peter’s church. I hate to say it, but a skeleton in a dress eclipsed the eclipse for me. By the time we reached our lakeside destination, conditions were perfect. About 200 people, mostly locals or German tourists, sat in our small field. With glasses of beer in hand, we watched with mounting excitement. One of our group discovered an entertaining alternative to the pinhole projector: by crossing our parted fingers, we were able to project multiple crescent-shaped images on each other’s backs. The hills across the lake darkened. Pinheads of light became sharper, and hundreds of flashlights dotted the northern shore. The sky went pink and the few remaining clouds turned dark grey. Then, slowly, the heavens took on a green, crepuscular hue. Rippling shadow bands danced across our field, and the whooping started as we were graced with a perfect view. Our two minutes passed all too quickly. As the diamond ring dazzled, a solitary bat flapped down the hillside. Then, as we walked back from the field along a tree-lined road, the returning light gave us a final treat: hundreds of crescent Suns on the asphalt, projected through the leaves overhead. It was a perfect day with cloudless skies—until the crowds started thronging the streets at around 1 pm. We were standing in the Bulevardul Unirii, Ceausescu’s attempt to match the Champs Elysées, which leads up to the former dictator’s colossal administrative centre, now the Palace of Parliament. Officials gathered on its roof, as the crowds below tested their solar viewers. The disappearing Sun was visible for a few minutes at a time, but patchy clouds smothered the focus of our attention at the crucial moment. Suddenly, darkness fell. A huge cheer went up, although all we could see of the Sun’s corona was a faint ring fuzzed by clouds. After two minutes, daylight returned to more cheers and whistles. As the Sun gradually re-emerged, a sideshow stole its limelight: someone was dangling on a rope from the top of the high-rise Intercontinental Hotel, flinging leaflets down to the street. But police lured him back into the building before the crowd below could fathom what the protest was about. Nine centuries ago, the Persian philosopher and poet Omar Khayyam built one of the earliest observatories in Esfahan. Although the observatory was destroyed when the Mongols invaded, Khayyam’s passion for astronomy lives on. Lying just 2 kilometres from the centre line of totality, the city rose to the occasion. The Emam Khomeini Square, alive with fountains and lined by craft shops, was jammed with thousands of locals. The Iranian media had warned of the potential dangers, so no one was without a shadow box or solar viewer. The atmosphere was like an Iranian Woodstock, complete with T-shirts and overpriced soft drinks. As totality approached I took up my station before the cream dome of the women’s mosque, famous for changing colour as the Sun shifts through the sky. During the last five minutes of the crescent Sun, the dome ran through a full day’s display, glowing honey, amber and peach. Venus burnt near the zenith, and the lights crowning the minarets flickered on. The mane-like corona twisted from the Sun, while bright red prominences danced around its edges. There was a sudden, timeless silence. Then, from every direction, came an expression of delight, reverence and awe: “Ma’sha’Allah!” “What wonders God has willed!” More on these topics: