Thursday, February 21, 2008


Watching the lunar eclipse last night, I was reminded of a once in a lifetime experience I shared 10 years ago with my husband and son. We were fortunate enough to be able to view a total solar eclipse.

Our son had shown an interest in astronomy and I happened to see that there was an "Eclipse Cruise" sponsored by a local museum. The actual eclipse fell one day after his birthday and it all just seemed like a perfect vacation/birthday present.

It was our first cruise and now that we have a few more under our belts, I can say that it was not at all typical. A majority of the people on that trip were there for the eclipse. For many of those people, this was not their first eclipse. It seems there is a segment of society who actually chases these things and will spend a lot of money, that they really can't afford, to travel to wherever there is an eclipse. I thought it was odd, but then, of course, I hadn't experienced one yet.

The trip itself was lovely and we were lucky enough to share our dinner table with the museum's planetarium director and his family. A couple of nights, we went up to the top deck with a telescope and he showed us the features of the night sky close to the equator. I was excited to see the Southern Cross.

On the day of the actual eclipse, we spent a short time in port (Antiqua) and then headed out to sea to jockey for a perfect cloudless viewing location. We were given special glasses and I guess just about everyone on the ship was on the upper decks. There was some amazing camera equipment set up at various places. The mood was very party-like as we all prepared for the event.

A solar eclipse is a much faster event than a lunar eclipse, so it only lasted for a short time. As it began, it was hard to see the actual changes. The easiest way to see what was happening was to somehow project the light of the sun on the deck. This was achieved by making holes in our fingers and letting the sun shine through it.

Excitement was building and we started realizing this was a really big event. The atmosphere changed. It became colder. As we approached totality, the temperature had probably dropped 20-30 degrees. We were in bathing suits and shorts and suddenly became chilled.

And then - it happened... The dragon swallowed the sun! It truly was a very exciting event. Just before the corona appeared, the "diamond ring" effect flashed.

And then, it was DARK. All the stars were visible and it was night - and there we were on a ship in the middle of the ocean. There had been a collective gasp as the sun disappeared and that huge ship was almost silent as we watched the unexpectedly moving event. We KNEW what was happening and the feeling was still very eery. I understand now why eclipses have always been such powerful events.

And then - just as suddenly as it disappeared, the shadow moved and the sun and the world started to return to normal.

My advise is that if you ever have the chance to experience a total solar eclipse - do it!

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