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Aruba's Total Solar Eclipse

by Rick Bria

Eclipse photos

On February 26th 1998 the moon came exactly between the Earth and the Sun. In what has to be one of the strangest coincidences in the universe, the sun and moon are sometimes about the same angular size in the sky. This allows the moon to completely block out the sun. Nowhere else in our solar system can this happen but with the earth-moon system. The moon cast its shadow on a 100 mile wide swath of earth that ran through Columbia, Venezuela, Aruba, Curaçao, and on into the Atlantic.

For almost 2 years I'd planned on going to Aruba to stand in the moon's shadow. My list of equipment to photograph the event kept growing and growing. Nothing was left to chance. Everything was tested and re-tested. Many practice runs were done to hone skills and bring out bugs in the systems beforehand. Even Aruba's wind factor (its almost a constant 20mph) was taken into consideration. Eventually, I settled on taking a short 80mm refractor, a Celestron 8, cameras for both scopes, 2 binoculars, a video camcorder, and of course a myriad of batteries, eyepieces, films, tripods, and 'what have you' to make everything work. Lucky thing I was taking my wife and two daughters along to help me carry it all!

Eclipse day morning looked like all the other days in Aruba. It was partly cloudy in the morning and cleared towards afternoon. With the eclipse occurring at about 2:09pm Aruba time, all was well with the world as we drove to our pre-selected viewing site at 'Frenchman's Pass'. But all that changed while I was setting up the equipment. It got cloudy. No I mean IT GOT CLOUDY! Cloudy like we had never seen in Aruba the whole five days we had been there. A New England type of 'your eclipse is getting rained out' cloudy. And then it STARTED TO RAIN! Of course as soon as I took down and packed up the scopes to make a run for it the clouds cleared up. Then as soon as I re-setup the scopes it clouded up and sprinkled again! With about 45 minutes to totality the situation really looked grim. The stress had me and my family near the breaking point. Arguments/Discussions came up as to whether we should wait it out here or run for clear skies, but by the time we came to a conclusion the skies began to clear. As I hastily put the final adjustments on all the equipment, the skies got near perfectly clear.


I'll try, but I really think that nothing can describe totality. Its as if someone pulled the drain plug on the sky and the light drained out. Its weird. As the last bit of sun is covered an effect called the 'diamond ring' occurs. It marks the beginning of when its OK to view the eclipse without safety filters. The diamond ring is caused by a shaft of sunlight shining through a lunar valley as the sun stubbornly gives the sky over to the darkness. Quickly the sky goes from bright to dark as the diamond ring disappears. The stars/planets come out. The wind almost stops. All around you the horizon has a 'sunrise' glow. The birds and animals around you act differently. Usually they all get deathly quiet. But the best thing about totality is the corona. With the blinding photosphere of the sun covered, a crown of 'glowing fire' is seen around where the sun used to be. Pictures don't show the corona as our eyes see it. Our eyes take in both the inner and outer corona at the same time. The delicate 'paint brush strokes' of the corona are a mind blower. Then there are the prominences. These hot-pink explosions coming out of the sun are as fleeting as they are beautiful. They're usually larger than the earth. We were lucky enough to have prominences on both sides of the sun. They were visible at the beginning and end of the eclipse.

As the eclipse ends again you see an ever brightening diamond ring marking the end of the fastest 3 minutes 15 seconds of your life! It was incredibly beautiful! That's really all anyone can say about the event. All the technical jargon of how it occurs sort of fades to the background. What's left is the fact that it's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

Eclipse photos