Total eclipse with Venus nearby

The MS Paul Gauguin maneuvered to escape last-minute clouds — barely. 'Many eclipse chasers remarked that this was the closest they had come to not seeing an eclipse,' comments photographer Alan Dyer. For this picture he used a Canon 20D digital SLR with a 10-mm lens at f/4 for a ¼-second, ISO 100 exposure. Venus is next to the Sun. Click image for full view.

Photo by Alan Dyer.

It didn't last long, but it sure was a sight. The "hybrid" annular-total eclipse on April 8, 2005, delighted watchers and photographers aboard cruise ships in the Pacific, on land in parts of Central America and the Caribbean, and across much wider territories where the eclipse was partial — at least where clouds didn't wipe out the show.

On Friday Sky & Telescope editor-in-chief Rick Fienberg posted a report on events aboard the MS Discovery. Farther northeast, passengers on the MS Paul Gauguin had equally good luck — though it was a nail-biter. S&T contributing editor Alan Dyer sends this account:

"Cumulus clouds began to thicken during the eclipse's initial partial phases, perhaps forming as the air temperature cooled as the Sun disappeared behind the Moon. The Sun was in and out of cloud during the partial phase, but during the last 10 minutes before totality, it stayed hidden behind one ominous cloud. The captain of the Gauguin, Gilles Bossard, gunned the engines and increased the speed of the ship with the hope of taking the ship into a clear hole. It worked, as the Sun emerged from behind clouds [see photo above] just as the diamond ring effect began totality. The Sun remained in the clear through the 36 seconds of totality and well after third contact.

Barely annular eclipse

When the central eclipse reached the coast of Costa Rica, it was no longer total but just barely annular — by the thinnest of margins.

Photo by P. K. Chen.

"The Moon's disk was barely large enough to cover the Sun, making for a short totality," continues Dyer. "But the small size of the lunar disk provided prolonged and wide diamond rings at second and third contact, pink prominences all around the Moon's dark disk throughout totality, and a fiery red chromosphere. The corona was sculpted by narrow pearly-white streamers that faded off into a pastel blue sky, making this a beautifully colorful eclipse. Venus, near superior conjunction, appeared well before totality and made a brilliant companion to the eclipsed Sun. The end of totality brought on a ship-wide cheer and a loud blast of the ship's horn."

Annular eclipse

From the edge of the Pan-American Highway north of San Carlos, Panama, Val and Andrew White shot video of the annular eclipse and the diamond ring effect. (The faint lines are due to blooming and lens reflections.)

Courtesy Val and Andrew White.

In Panama, where the eclipse was annular, clouds were often thicker; even a cloud-filtered view of annularity had to be counted a success. At Santa Clara the weather started out good, but about 40 percent of the way into partial eclipse "things started to get ugly," wrote John W. Berryman on his Web site. "Some thick black clouds came in from the northeast, and before long, the eclipse was all but obscured. The team kept the cameras running, and a few peeks of annularity broke though. Afterward [we] drove over to visit the other teams in the area and were greeted with enthusiasm. 'Cloud stories' were shared, and everyone showed what they had gotten."

Partial eclipse

Terrance Mains snapped the partial eclipse through thin cirrus clouds from the parking lot of his apartment in Temple, Texas. He used a handheld Olympus C-3040Z digital camera to shoot through the eyepiece of a filtered 80-mm f/7.5 refractor.

Photo by Terrance M. Mains.

Rainclouds blocked the view of the partial eclipse for much of the southern United States, but watchers lucky enough to catch some open sky were rewarded with views of a classic partial eclipse, with the Sun marked by one small, weak spot. For Americans the eclipse was deepest in South Florida, where spotty afternoon clouds toyed with viewers but made for some spectacular pictures.

Upcoming Solar Eclipses

The next solar eclipse will occur on October 3rd; it will be annular across parts of Spain and Portugal, the Sahara, and East Africa; partial across Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, and most of Africa.

Partial eclipse at sunset

At St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, Jean-Pierre Roberts caught the Sun setting amid thin clouds during partial eclipse.

Photo by Jean-Pierre Roberts.

The next total solar eclipse happens on March 29, 2006, for parts of West and North Africa, the Mediterranean, Turkey, and Central Asia. It's partial across Europe, the Middle East, most of western Asia, and most of Africa.

If you missed the partial eclipse in the United States, be prepared for a wait. For well-populated parts of North America, the next solar eclipse of any kind will be on May 20, 2012 — annular for sections of the western US near sunset.


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