On March 7, 1997, I began a just under 4-day round-trip nearly sleepless sojourn originating in Baltimore to stand for 1 minute and 53.2 seconds on a hilltop in north-central Siberia wearing only a light set of travel clothes to fend off the Russian winter chill. You see, the total solar eclipse of 09 March 1997 occurred during one of the busiest times of my life. Just a few weeks earlier we had successfully installed the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer into the Hubble Space Telescope during the second HST Servicing mission. As the NICMOS Project Instrument Scientist (what I do in real life, when not chasing eclipses) I was deep in the middle of the early commissioning of the instrument during the Servicing Mission Observatory Verification phase of the program. In fact, the eclipse occurred between the first two iterations of our coarse optical focus and alignment runs which, by a miracle, were spaced 6 days apart, equally straddling the eclipse. This gave me just enough time to download the initial set of imaging and engineering data into my laptop to analyze during the long series of airplane flights to and from Siberia and to return just in time for the real-time uplinks to the spacecraft to adjust our focus and alignment optics. It was somewhat ironic that the same laptop computer which was being used to ascertain the best optical alignment for a $106,000,000 instrument on what arguably might be the most complex telescope ever built would contemporaneously be used to control a camera propped up on a rock in the Siberian hills.
Because my time was so limited I was traveling "light" and had planned only on watching the eclipse with 7x50 binoculars while carrying out an automated photographic program with a modest 400mm lens on a camera controlled by UMBRAPHILE. I had everything I needed to photograph and watch the eclipse in my hand-carry, except the camera tripod which had been checked as luggage in my one suitcase which also had my heavy winter clothes. To shorten an interminably long story my baggage had gotten waylaid at Heathrow. Because I was going straight from London to Moscow to Irkutsk to Chita without stopping, except to wait in airline terminals, there was no way for my errant suitcase to reach me before I returned to Moscow on the way home. The thought of spending 4 days in the same set of clothes - and not having any warm clothes on eclipse morning - was less troubling to me than the loss of my tripod, until the sub-Arctic chill hit me in Chita. Fortunately, after meeting up with Steve Kolodney, an eclipse-chasing compatriot from California, he took pity on me and I did end up with more than just the shirt on my back. Thanks, Steve.
The loss of the tripod was another matter. As
was arriving in Chita the evening before the eclipse, and the fact that
it was "Women's Day" and all of the stores were closed, precluded any
of purchasing one if one could be found. The good thing about
a modest photographic set-up is that it is amenable to
Since totality was only 1m 53.2s in duration, with the Sun not very
in the sky, I was literally able to prop the camera up on a pile of
placed rocks, and simply let the sun drift 1/2 degree through the
field of view during totality. Despite an agonizing morning, one
in which we came within a hairs breath of hopping on a Russian
of a 737 to get above the threatening clouds, we elected to locate
of centerline where the weather looked more promising. The
spirits cooperated and I had a spectacular view of my 19th total solar
eclipse from Latitude = 52D 17.558N, Longitude = 104D 16.834'E,
= 2722ft. Even the pictures came out reasonably well. In
the ancestral prototype to my UMBRAPHILE controller, ROSE,
flipped out in the > 100 degree F heat of the Mexican sand.
problem was remedied (fortunately) in time for the eclipse, but I had
not to repeat that in reverse. The self-heating "gel packs" which were
taped to my PowerBook did well to keep it warm and happy throughout the
eclipse, though I never thought to use one to keep my hands warm (see
accompanying the montage of photographs below). There is a lot
to tell of this story, but as time is again limited, for now here are
of those photographs until time permits a more detailed retelling of
The total solar
eclipse of 9
March 1997 was photographed using Kodachrome-64 film and a 400mm
f/5.6 lens (refractive optics) on a Nikon EM camera controlled by the
automated eclipse photography program. Diamond-ring exposures
1-5) on 1-second spacings were 0.01s in duration.
exposures through mid-eclipse (to exposure 18) were ramped up
in increasing duration to 1.5s, and the sequence was inverted through
and the subsequent diamond ring.
What happend to exposures 1 and 36? My hands were numb from the cold when I loaded the camera and, unknowingly at the time, used more film as leader than intended. As a result I obtained only 35 images instead of the planned 36 and the first one was corrupted by having been accidentally exposed to abient light. As you can see this, fortunately, was not really a problem. It is a good thing UMBRAPHILE was operating my camera for me, since my fingers were just too cold to have worked it myself!
Take me to Glenn Schneider's Home Page (and an index to other eclipse summaries).
Tell me more about automated eclipse photography withUMBRAPHILE.