2006 TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE

Total solar eclipse March 29th 2006.
Location: Libyan desert near Jalu.
Canon 300D digital camera + 300mm telephoto lens set at 100ASA, f/6.3
Exposure times from left to right in seconds: 1/400, 1/6, 1/40, 1/40.
Photo 1: just after totality, note 2 bright prominences
Photo 2: around mid eclipse, note magnetic field line filaments arising from polar regions
Photo 3: just before end of totality, note red chromosphere
Photo 4: diamond ring signaling end of totality.

A LIBYAN ECLIPSE EXPEDITION

LIBYA

At first thought, Libya may not have been the destination of choice for eclipse chasers as the country has had a poor reputation in the past. Their current leader, colonel Muíammar Gaddafi has been in power since September of 1969. You may recall that Libyan agents were charged with the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie and the 1989 explosion of a French UTA airliner over the Sahara.

UN sanctions came into effect but were eventually lifted in 1999 when suspects were handed over for trial and Libya agreed to pay billions of dollars in compensation to families of the victims. The sanctions had cost Libya over US$30 billion in lost revenue and production, not to mention the human toll. In December 2003, Libya announced that it would abandon its chemical and nuclear weapons programs and their international isolation finally ended.

The path of the total Solar eclipse on March 29th 2006 through Libyan territory was to give Libya much needed global exposure to tourism as they certainly have a great deal to offer. Their ancient Roman and Greek ruins, such as Leptus Magna, Cyrene, Sabratha ect are quite impressive and well preserved. I also found the hospitality of the Libyan people to be most welcoming. The future of Libya appears considerably brighter.

THE LIBYAN ECLIPSE

We selected the Libyan desert to view the total solar eclipse since it offered the highest probability of clear skies (90%) and an eclipse of longest duration, 4 minutes and 3 seconds at our viewing site. The Libyan government had built a temporary eclipse camp appropriately nicknamed "Tent City" in the middle of the Sahara desert right on the eclipse centre line and capable of supporting several thousand eclipse chasers. Great idea of course as you could leisurely awaken from your tent and then observe the eclipse without the need for travelling. All visitors on arrival into Libya by the way had to pay an "Eclipse Tax" of 120 euro and I presume this money was well spent to accommodate us.

Unfortunately when our bus turned up to Tent City at around 6pm our tents were still being prepared! We were later told the decision was made to shift our camp to Tent City 4 days earlier. Luckily, we didnít need to wait too long for a tent but tourists arriving later in the darkening evening were justifiably quite angry. Dinner supplied by the camp that evening was also quite chaotic. Imagine 1000 people clambering for food. We did eventually get our meal that night around 10pm.

Sure enough, we awoke to perfect weather on eclipse morning. Disaster Ė my camera tripod was missing the vital screw to attach my camera to the tripod.

Eclipse Tip 1: check your equipment first before you leave your country.

Fortunately I borrowed some duct tape and I was able to strap the camera onto the tripod.

Our "Wayward Bus" eclipse group set our equipment up about 100m south of the camp.

First contact appeared at 11:08am local time (9:08UT). I was interviewed by local Libyan TV and explained to them the reasons why I travelled 20 hours on an aircraft to end up in the middle of nowhere. I also gave praise to the ancient cities that we had visited earlier.

Once the interview was over, I projected the partially eclipsed sun onto the ground using my pair of 7x50mm binoculars. The Libyan locals were ecstatic, with many taking photographs especially with their latest mobile phone cameras. One overly cautious Libyan used his pair of eclipse glasses to stare at my eclipse projection. I told him that it wasnít necessary to do so.

Starting to photograph the eclipse, I noticed the sand was rather soft and the tripod wasnít a great deal stable.

Eclipse Tip 2: find a stable platform for your tripod.

Venus popped into view rather early into the partial phase of the eclipse but I had initially mistaken it for a balloon.

Eclipse Tip 3: predetermine where the stars and planets will be visible during totality.

A few minutes before totality, the southwestern horizon appeared rather dark. It was the shadow of the moon fast approaching. Totality began around 12:26pm local time (10:26 UT) and ended 4 minutes and 3 seconds later at 12:30pm. To capture the eclipse, I used a Canon 300D digital camera set to 100ASA and a 300mm zoom lens set at f/6.3 whilst using manual focus. However, the eclipse was quite dark and I wasnít able to see the readout on my camera hence had no idea what exposure times I had set.

Eclipse Tip 4: Have a torch handy during totality

Shortly after totality began, 2 solar prominences at the leading edge of the lunar disk were plainly visible through my pair of 7x50mm binoculars. At mid eclipse, the prominences vanished as the lunar disk advanced over them. Fine filamentary structure was observable in the corona, especially at the polar regions. You could trace the individual magnetic field lines of the sun.

The temperature had fallen markedly as well. One of our group members held a thermometer. Initially about 32 degrees, the temperature read about 22 degrees during mid-totality. Where was my jumper? Later that afternoon we had a rather warm 35 degree day.

One minute before the end of totality, I noticed a bright prominence appearing on the trailing edge of the moon. An arc of red chromosphere soon became visible before the impending diamond ring effect. Sure enough, totality was over.

No eclipse photograph is able to portray what the eye witnesses during totality.

I strongly recommend that readers experience at least 1 total solar eclipse in their life.