Solar Eclipse 6/21/2001
In June of 2001, I organized a group of educators and my father, (Patrick M. Lindsay 1926-2012) to take an African expedition for witnessing the “Total Solar Eclipse” on the Zambezi River bank. We approached the viewing area from an airplane trip to Harare & Kariba, Zimbabwe, to canoeing down the Zambezi River to the projected ecliptic-path.
So on the Summer Solstice of June 21st, 2001; the first total eclipse of the 21st Century occurred as the Moon’s umbral shadow traced out a 12,000-kilometer long path across southern Africa and Madagascar. From the center of the 130 to 200 kilometer wide path, totality lasted from 2 to nearly 5 minutes, (pictured above).
Pictured above, with good weather prospects and political stability in the path of totality, the Zambia side of the Zambezi River was the logical choice for the eclipse. I picked a mid-point spot within the 170 km wide eclipse zone to observe the eclipse. The video below shows my chosen viewing point of the June 21st 2001 Solar Eclipse.
Even President Chiluba of Zambia announced that the solar eclipse brought more tourists to Zambia than any other event in history as he proclaimed June 21 a national holiday. However, in spite of the widespread publicity campaign in Zambia and the free distribution of tens of thousands of filters, less than 1% of Zambia’s citizens had viewers for the eclipse. Without the talisman-like protection of solar glasses, scores of people reportedly locked themselves indoors for fear that the eclipse would render them blind. Younger residents seemed to have a better grasp of the situation and many resorted to using the silvered plastic from chip bags, beer bottle labels and tea envelopes to watch the partial phases. The video below shows how the local students at Mugurameno School planned to adapt with this problem.
The evening before the eclipse, I had measured and calculated that we were not at the mid-point within the eclipse path. The next morning, I decided to move quickly, and hire a couple of banana boats to move our trekking group to the middle of the ecliptic path. You will notice in the video below, the morning of June 21 dawned brilliantly clear with not a trace of clouds. Despite these reassuring signs of clear skies, the partial phases of the eclipse would not begin for another seven hours and I knew the weather could change dramatically in that much time as I changed our location with the banana boats.
As indicated by the video above, my telescope and lenses was trained on the Sun at 13:48 (11:48 UT). I shouted “First Contact!” reassuring my trekking group that the predictions were slightly correct; we were finally at the right place and time (slightly off center).
The coal black silhouette of the Moon crept across the Sun’s disk as great sunspots were gradually hidden from our view and the temperature began to drop.
Twenty minutes before totality, the air was filled with the evening songs of African crickets. Their serenade would continue until well after totality ended. Looking around, I noticed that the sunlight had taken on an anemic, metal gray color and shadows formed by the rapidly shrinking crescent Sun appeared peculiar. When the light passes through gaps between leaves of a tree, the shadows on the ground showed little copies of the eclipse goings on in the sky, (pictured below).
With five minutes remaining, the northwestern sky was growing dark with the approach of the shadow. Time seemed to accelerate and an eerie glow hung over the landscape.
Pictured above, one minute to go! My solar filter had to be carefully removed in preparation for second contact. As the Moon’s shadow rose up from the horizon, it surrounded and enveloped my group while the Sun’s crescent dwindled to a single dazzling arc.
I shouted “shadow bands!” as the ghostly apparitions rippled sinuously across the ground. Then the last bright bead of sunlight vanished from the Moon’s rim. Totality had begun!
Although I had much to accomplish during the few precious four minutes of darkness, I allowed myself some time to view the corona with both naked eye, camera and telescope.
It was a textbook example of a solar maximum corona – very circular with radial streamers reaching out in all directions. A large, crimson prominence was visible along the Sun’s upper right-hand limb even before totality began. Now it stood out like a beacon embedded in the transparent corona (not seen in the photo images).
Between photographic exposures, another stolen glance at the spectacle revealed Jupiter shinning brightly five degrees in the lower left of the eclipsed Sun, (pictured above). A bead of sunlight flashed into view and was quickly joined by others (Baily’s beads) which merged together to once again form a blindingly bright crescent. Totality was over as the corona was quickly lost in the glare of the returning Sun, (known as the “Diamond Ring”).
My father and trekking partners were filled with mixed emotions of joy, disbelief and awe, but all were in unanimous agreement about the sheer beauty and grandeur of nature’s greatest spectacle.