29 April 1976
A 0.4% PARTIAL(!) Eclipse Chase.

As a general rule, I don't chase annulars (30 May 1984 excepted), and this rule held for the annular solar eclipse of 29 April 1976.  However, the western penumbral extremedy of the path extended to a small region of North America (New England, and eastern Canada) at sunrise (see map). Indeed, a whopping 0.4% partial eclipse (obscured area) was visible on the horizon from stretch of beach on the Cape Cod National Seashore.  Since I hadn't had any good quahogs in quite a while, nor fresh Ipswich clams or chowda for that matter, and since this was only about a six hour drive from my former home in da Bronx, the game was afoot.  Now, had this 0.4% partial been in someplace a bit less scenic (like Newark, New Jersey, for instance), I probably would have slept through it.  And I'll admit, Cape Cod was one of my favorite places to "getaway" in my formative years. So off we went in hopes of seeing this minuscule lunar bight at the "bottom" of the Sun shrinking to 0% over 6m 41s.  The local geometry and circumstances of this eclipse are depicted in an illustrative diagram (click here).

Through the night we drove, Craig Small and I, to arrive just before dawn at Coast Guard Beach, Massachusetts (Latitude = 41.84N, Longitude 69.94W, Altitude = 0m).  Just in time to set up telescopes in darkness for polar alignment (this was 1976 after all, we didn't have all those fancy computerized gizmos on our telescopes back then).  As the twilight darkness receded we could see the bane of eclipse chasers, clouds on the Eastern horizon, over the rolling Atlantic.  A pervasive band of horizon-hugging schmutz extended no more than about 1/2°, so we knew sun would rise through it with a few minutes to spare giving us a glimpse of the lunar silhouette near the "bottom" of the solar disk.  But, these were not the only clouds.  Right above where the Sun was to momentarily rise, the low-point of an optically-thick lone puffy cumulous cloud threatened.  This left a "clear" band, smaller by 30% than the angular diameter of the sun, for the sun to rise through - IF it would not close up.  It did not, as the photos below show.  Our luck held, as the cloud moved with the Sun, giving us an unobstructed view of the point of contact for two minutes.   While viewing through an air path with the sun at the horizon left a lot to be desired, the view did have an intriguingly esthetic quality to it, and was much appreciated.

The 0.4% Sunrise Partial Eclipse from Coast Guard Beach, Mass.

1. Sunrise.  Lower limb tangent to horizon (obscured by clouds).
2. As sun rises upper limb also becomes obscured by clouds.
3. Lower limb rises above horizon-hugging clouds, reveals 1% eclipse in progress.
4. Sun now 1/2° above horizon, centered in "clear" band between clouds.
5. Two minutes to last contact.
6. Lunar limb still visible as sun is bifurcated by clouds.
7. Last view of lunar limb just below clouds, 30 seconds before last contact.
8. The offending cloud.  Sun rose in middle of frame, into lowest point of cloud.
9. Glenn Schneider and Craig Small on Coast Guard Beach after eclipse, ready for cranberry muffins.

With telescopes pointed at the cloud-ridden horizon and our "eclipse flag", normally reserved only for totals, awaiting the event, a lone jogger slowed to see what we were up to just minutes before the event.  For as far as we could survey the beach, we appeared to be the only three souls around.  Sunrise - eclipse in progress, just a few minutes before last (and our only) contact, was obscured by a thin band of clouds hugging the sea-horizon.  But then, the "top" of the sun (uneclipsed, as the contact point was at the "bottom", near the horizon), shone through an unobscured piece of sky.  We watched, and knew that as the bottom of the sun ascended the horizon, the notch due to the moon would come into view.  And then, YES, so it was, just a minute after the bottom of the sun cleared the horizon.  Even then the "top" of the sun was obscured by another cloud band.  For the next two minutes we watched and enjoyed our shrinking < 0.4% of partiality through a slit in the clouds.  And then...  we were off for our fresh baked Cranberry muffins (of course, this was Cape Cod) and later, a fine dinner, of chowda, quahogs, and the day's fresh catch.  Truly, an eclipse to be remembered.

Query:  I'm sure others must have seen this PARTIAL eclipse from North America?  Lots of folks, of course, saw the annular from the other side of the Atlantic, but I had expected to see more people on the Massachusetts shore.  If you did see it, I would love to hear from you, drop me an e-mail.

And... That was the first, and last, partial I ever "chased" (unless you count the 12 October 1977 eclipse, where I was clouded out of totality, but saw both the partial ingress and egress phases.  Grrrr...).

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