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Eclipse over Egypt

Ernie Piini


 

On the morning of March 29, 2006, at 1:30 A.M., three busloads of eclipse chasers and spectators set off for a four-hour ride from the Charm Life hotel in El ¬ĎAlamein, Egypt, and headed West to our destination, El-Sallum Matrouh, a restricted area just 4 km east of the Libyan border. This area had been set up by the Egyptian authority especially for our safety and comfort. Security was tight and our bus had to be inside the restricted area by 6:00 A.M. or find some other place to set up our telescopes.

Fog covered most of the hills surrounding this vast campsite when we arrived. Flags flapping from the strong winds in the area forebode gloom. Worse yet, it had rained heavily the day before and several buses were stuck up to their axles in mud.

There must have been several hundred buses in the area where the Egyptians had raised several large tents. Inside, many tables and red fabric draped chairs were set up on large rugs which covered the ground. Restrooms were conveniently near. Along with the estimated 17,000 viewers, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak made an appearance. Two yellow helicopters circled overhead for his personal security.

Fortunately the fog cleared by 10 A.M., the wind died down, and only pure blue skies remained. My daughter Elaine and I selected a site behind a row of tents facing the southern hills and got busy setting up my 3-Way telescope. I filled the shipping crate with rocks from nearby piles, set the crate upright, and mounted the telescope on top. This then became a solid base from which to film and record the eclipse.

My primary experiment for this eclipse was to assess the results from my new Canon “Rebel” digital camera. I mounted it in series with new coronal streamer filters, which I had modified especially for this eclipse. The streamer filters act like darkroom dodging tools which help eliminate much of the strong inner corona and emphasize the outer streamers. Elaine operated my Canon GL-1 camcorder riding piggyback on the telescope.

When checking out the optical alignment of my telescope I realized it was badly disturbed, probably from the jostling of the morning’s long bus ride. I adjusted it as best I could but it was still well out of alignment. After I had returned home I found the diagonal mirror mount had come loose—a delicate job to correct, and something which takes time to adjust—not something to be done in the field.

The moon began its first bite of the sun at 11:20:06 A.M. The excitement in our area increased, knowing that this eclipse would occur unimpeded! Elaine recorded the temperature and humidity every 10 minutes and took 10-second videos. I had my Dry - Wet bulb thermometer mounted on the shady side of my crate, as I have for each of the 26 eclipse adventures I have attended since 1970. As the crescent shape of the sun became more and more prominent, I noticed that my digital screen was showing double images telling me my optical alignment was still bad, so I spent some time finding an area on my screen that would help correct some of this problem.

Screams from the huge crown signaled the arrival of totality at 12:38:01 P.M. Camera shutters sounded like machine guns. People yelled out the names as they discovered the various planets and brighter stars shining in the dark skies above. The 360-degree horizon shone with a red-orangish hue as the dark moon above highlighted the eclipsed sun and its awesome corona. You had to be there to fully appreciate this beautiful force of nature.

My initial photo exposures through the coronal streamer filters were mostly bad, so I removed them and settled for unfiltered exposures. The camcorder view screen provided a continuous and grand view of the eclipsed sun, its Bailey’s Beads, rosy colored prominences, and that awesome corona. Elaine used a remote controlled zoom function to expand or decrease our view of the corona. Awed Egyptian security guards came over to watch with us and enjoy this rare sight.

Ed. Note: Ernie Piini, a frequent contributer to the Ephemeris, has an expanded version of this article including photos of the Eclipse and both commentary and photos from Egypt. See this expanded version here.

 


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