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Travel [1402.22]

China Solar Eclipse 2009

(this article first appeared in our 2009 holiday newsletter)

I know what youíre thinking: yet another total solar eclipse trip; havenít we seen enough already? Especially since this trip took us once again to China, which we just visited last year.

In fact, we were seriously considering skipping this one, but several items pushed us into going. First, this eclipse, lasting about 5 minutes in eastern China, would be the longest one of this century. Second, we would have a chance to do the Tibet tour denied us last year. Third, weíre not getting any younger, and we thought maybe we should just "go for it" while we still were reasonably able.

There were some concerns, however, the chief one being weather. Site selection is one of the trickiest aspects of eclipse planning, especially since arrangements need to be made at least a year in advance for tour groups of any significant size. Historically the selected site, about an hour east of Shanghai, had a 50% chance of cloud cover on July 22, the day of the eclipse. This was pretty much the best anyone could do, given that itís monsoon season at this time of year. However, one day before the eclipse, it was clear that the site would probably have a 100% chance of rain!

A site selection committee, including our friend Greg Buchwald, spent the day brainstorming possible sites, and even took off in the afternoon to physically check out the most promising ones. They finally returned late at night to report back to the rest of us anxiously waiting at the hotel that, rather than going northeast of Hangzhou, toward Shanghai and the coastline, we would go about an hour northwest, toward the mountains. This was a big relief, as at one point they were considering leaving at midnight for a site 10 hours away!

On eclipse day, conditions were very gloomy. The sky continued to be solidly overcast until just before first contact. Then, amazingly, the clouds thinned just around the region of the sun and stayed clear for the duration of the eclipse! Unfortunately, the haze did not disappear completely, so the elaborate pinhole pattern I made (see left) was unable to resolve clear images of the partially eclipsed sun. But this was a small price to pay for the incredible luck of being able to witness all phases of the eclipse.

Dave had his usual complement of telescopes, cameras, and gear, and was able to take some nice eclipse shots (see his eclipse trip write-up). Be sure to have the sound turned up when you watch the video!

Update 1406.12: Added article to newly created eclipse series

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