Solar Eclipse 2008, China


While trekking in China in the Summer of 2008, I had the opportunity to witness the August 1st Total Solar Eclipse on the Mongolian/China border. My trekking group and I stayed the night in Hami, China on July 31st, and then made our way to the center of the ecliptic path on August 1st.

Map of the Ecliptic Path of 2008, Aug. 1st in the Mongolia/China border. (Public Domain photo from NASA and Fred Espenak

A total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun, thereby totally obscuring the image of the Sun for a viewer on Earth. A total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon’s apparent diameter is larger than the Sun’s, blocking all direct sunlight, turning day into darkness.

Public Domain image of “How a Total Eclipse Works”.

Totality occurs in a narrow path across Earth’s surface, with the partial solar eclipse visible over a surrounding region thousands of kilometres wide. We were only interested in the narrow path east of Hami, China.

The path that ran down the China/Mongolia border was 252 km wide, with the duration of 2 minutes 10 seconds at 11:19 UT. From Hami, China; my trekking group hired a car to take us east. Security road blocks were abundant with the Communistic Chinese Government.

The grassland of the Hami-Barkol Valley on August 1st, 2008, (Northeast of Hami, China)

Our plan to make it to the eclipse site was to have our car take us on Hwy. S303 and S203 to Barkol. This required a passage through a Mountain Canyon to a beautiful valley called the Hami-Barkol Grassland or the Gaojia Lake Wetland (pictured above). Apparently, every year, when soft green grass carpets the ground and beautiful wild rape flowers bloom everywhere, herdsmen come one after another. Sheep were like floating clouds on the yellow wild flowers. Smoke was curling upwards from yurts dotted on the grassland.

Road map of the Hami/Barkol/Santanghu area, relative to the Solar Eclipse path, (Public domain image provided by NASA)
The Santanghu Eclipse site in China, August 1st, 2008

From Barkol’s road block, my trekking group was required to show our IDs and board a bus with scientists. The Bus headed northeast on Hwy. S236 to a strange empty town called Santanghu. The bus dropped us off at a carpeted area, set up for the international media and scientists. None of us used the site and trekked out into the desert, (video included above).

30 min. after first contact of the 2008 Eclipse; (Note the absence of Solar Spots)

I brought with me a “Sergent-Welch” 8 inch reflector telescope with a solar filter. The above and below pictures were taken with a small automatic Olympus Camera.

45 minutes after first contact from an 8 inch reflector telescope

This region in northwest China was noteworthy because it offered some of the most promising weather prospects along the entire eclipse path. Its position between the Gobi Desert to the east and the Taklimakan Desert to the west spared it from the monsoon systems that affect much of Southeast Asia during the summer months.

First Diamond Ring, (2nd Contact) of the 2008 Eclipse in China, Picture taken from a telephoto lens directly from a bridge camera and a filter.

This particular eclipse showed a number of colors around the horizon or the moon. There were wonderful oranges and reds all around, the clouds lit up, some dark in silhouette, some golden, glowing yellowy-orange in the distance.

Picture taken from a filtered 8 inch telescope.

What was particularly notable for the China, 2008 eclipse was the solar prominence in the right hemisphere. This wasn’t expected. 2008 was considered a big Solar Minimum year. However, this prominence was particularly large, and seem to last throughout the Totality Phase.

Second Diamond Ring (3rd contact)

Solar prominence – Wikipedia

A solar prominence is a large, bright, gaseous feature extending outward from the Sun’s surface. A prominence forms over timescales of about a day and may persist in the corona for several weeks or months, looping hundreds of thousands of kilometers into space. This prominence, lasted throughout the entire eclipse. The red-glowing looped material seen in the right hemisphere is plasma, a hot gas composed of electrically charged hydrogen and helium. The prominence plasma flows along a tangled and twisted structure of magnetic fields generated by the Sun’s internal dynamo. An erupting prominence occurs when such a structure becomes unstable and bursts outward, releasing the plasma into space.

30 min. after 3rd Contact.

The solar cycle is a nearly periodic 11-year change in the Sun’s activity measured in terms of variations in the number of observed sunspots on the solar surface. Sunspots have been observed since the early 17th century and the sunspot time series is the longest continuously observed (recorded) time series of any natural phenomena. Levels of solar radiation and ejection of solar material, the number and size of sunspots, solar flares, and prominences all exhibit a synchronized fluctuation, from active to quiet to active again, with a period of 11 years.

Public Domain image on the 11 year solar-sunspot cycle. (NASA Marshall Solar Physics Image)
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