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Total eclipse of the sun , August 11th 1999

Some astronomical images made with a video camera

My "Diary" .

T minus 1 1/2 year

The first articles about the last total eclipse of the sun this millenuim appear in the astronomical magazines .
Many people regard this as a unique experience .
I talk to my friend Claus in Copenhagen about the possibility of going to France experiencing a TOTAL eclipse of the sun , not just the partial ones . We have already seen a few of those .
He is very interested and we make a preliminary agreement of taking the necessary leave .

T minus 1 year

I speak to my friend Jan who is interested , too . Now we are getting serious .

T minus 3 months

At a visit in Denmark ( I live in The Hague , Holland ) we substantiate the agreement , Claus wants to go , so does Jan with his mother Gudrun .We agree that Claus should come to my apartment in The Hague , we'll then travel to the campsite in France where we shall meet Jan and Gudrun on the day before the eclipse . We would not like to arrive 2 seconds too late , would we ?
"Why France ?" , you may ask . Well - it is not so far away , so it will not be too bad even if we should miss the great show .
Apart from that , even if we miss the show of the sun's corona we WILL expewrience two minutes of darkness in the middle of the day .

T minus 3 weeks

The E-mails begin pouring back anf forth - the last part of the preparations are in full swing . Jan and Gudrun reserve two places at a campsite near Compiegne . The directions for finding the campsite arrive , via E-mail , naturally .

T minus 1 week

Claus calls and tells me that he has changed his plan . He will be going to Hungary with some of his friends . He thinks there is a better chance of good weather there . Fair enough . I wish him good luck and prepare to go to France with Jan and Gudrun . They will be arriving two days ahead of the eclipse and await my arrival the next day .

T minus 4 days

I call the "local" astronomy shop in Amsterdam and find that they indeed have what I am looking for : Solar filter material and a pair  image stabilized binoculars .
The weather forecast still looks pretty good in Holland and France .

T minus 2 days

I call Claus on his mobile phone and find him and his friends in Nuremberg (Nürnberg)  . They are still planning on going to Hungary . The weather forecast for Northern France is now less appealing . It is time to pack everything , camera with a telelens , binoculars and the videocamera . We would , after all , like to have more than just the memory of such an experience .
It is high time to make the solar filters for the camera and binoculars .
The weather forecast deteriorates during the day , predicting overcast with showers .
Jan gives me a phone call in the late afternoon telling me that , at the campsite , "Camping Halte de Mainville" , they have conveniently "forgotten" the reservation .......   DON'T PANIC  .......
They have been directed to a campsite about 25 km further east . In addition it is a bit closer to the centerline for totality .
Jan gives me the directions by phone , the description is perfect we shall meet at the campsite in Vic Sur Aisne .

T minus 1 day

It is time to leave The Hague .....
I arrive at Vic Sur Aisne and find the campsite without problems , and I am being directed to the place adjacent to Jan's tent . There is nobody  home , they went to visit the Eurodisney that day .
We see a little sunshine , now is the time to test the binoculars with the filters . It is working perfectly , I can see the disk of the sun and some sunspots ..... no, not just spots in front of my eyes , these are "cool" areas on the sun , and therefore appearing as dark spots on the sun .
WARNING : NEVER EVER look at the sun without the correct filters to protect your eyes !!!!!  It might be the last thing you ever see ......
Jan and Gudrun return , and it is time to rest .

T minus 4 hours

Finally the day has come , but not a sign of the sun , it is OVERCAST !!  UOCH !
Oh , well , we've still got a few hours left before the show .

T minus 3 hours

Still overcast , but a tiny blue spot appears in the grey sky ..... should we see something anyway ?
But no ... The blue spot disappears and we see that there are at least two layers of clouds .
Well .. clouds or no clouds , we will see two minutes of darkness , whatever else happens .
Our neighbour from Scotland mounts a pair of binoculars with a white cardboard screen to project the image of the sun , everybody else is ready with the special filter-sunglasses ...... after all we should be optimistic

Locally at the campsite we find 4 tents with English people , one with Scottish people and an Italian Camper .

The camera with the telelens is being mounted on the tripod and the videocamera is being prepared .
We are now ready for the great show ......  but will the show come to us ?

Once in a while a blue patch appears in the sky , then disappears again . There is yet hope ...

Claus calls from Hungary , and I agree to give him a call as soon as we have "first contact" .

Still overcast ....

T minus 1 hour

The sun has not shown its face , but now it peeps through a tiny gap in the clouds . We see it partially eclipsed - about 10 percent   ....
The show has begun ...
QUICK - I run for the camera - but alas , too late .
Time to call Claus .... we agree that I shall call him after we have had totatity , before it arrives in Hungary , about 25 minutes later .
We are still waiting for the blue sky ...


In the mean time we see a few patches of blue sky with the partially eclipsed sun peepimg through ,
a few photos being made , but since I have no experience in solar photography i will have to wait for the results till after developing the film . We see in glimpses how the moon is slowly covering the sun .

T minus 15 minutes

The clouds seem very reluctant .... but look - a blue patch appears in the sky . It appears to move in the right direction , but will it arrive too soon , too late or just in time ? . Great excitement - and anxiety !
The sun is still quite invisible behind the clouds .

T minus 10 minutes

It is now noticeably darker , like a thick cloud of a thunderstorm approaching , still no sign of the sun ...

The temperature has dropped noticeably .

T minus 5 minutes

The blue patch seems to have taken a course towards the sun , still , will it arrive in time  ....?
W now have a spooky kind of twilight , something we have never seen before .

T minus 1 minute

A deep twilight , more spooky than ever , has descended upon us . It is getting really cool ....

Everybody is anxious to the extreme ....

T minus 30 seconds

The seconds tick  ......... tick.......tock .....
A tiny crescent of the sun appears through the clouds brightening slowly

  .... and now it happens .....

Darknes descends upon us ......not pitchdark , we can still see what is going on around us but who can withstand the lure of what we see in the sky ? .....And the real show begins :

T = 0 : Totality  !!!!

The sun is now totally covered by the moon , we can remove the filter-sunglasses and look directly at the sky :

A dark sky with a round black hole surrounded by a irregular ring of wispy light .....

Spontaneous expressions of excitement , wonder , and some scattered applause from the campsite around us .

Otherwise it is very quiet everybody looking at the sun that is .... not there . There is a moon in the way ....
....and now the temperature drops even more .

Hey --  wake up ..... get the video camera before it is too late ... I get about 15 seconds of wobbly video , showing the black hole in the sky .
The filter is removed from the still camera  and a few photos taken ..... no idea of the result as yet ....

And in an instance it is all over ....

The light returns , very quickly , it is time to USE the "goggles" again if we want to see more .

The clouds cover the crescent of the sun , and the curtain has been lowered .

The solar crescent grows , veiled in the clouds , and appears once in a while .

T plus 5 minutes

It is time to give Claus a phone call before they will have the show in Hungary .
They still have excellent weather and they are expecting a great show .

T plus 20 minutes

The sun is visible again .
I look at it with the binoculars  .....  WITH FILTERS !!! ....I see two out of three sunspots in a row with the lunar shadow right beside them . Jan looks in the binoculars confirming this and I look again .
Just as I get the sun into view thew third of the three spots appears in my view .

  - and a closer look :


The clouds now seem to become serious about  drawing the curtain for this great show of a natural phenomenon .

"The show is over"

It has been a most memorable day for all of us . We already have one memento : The piece of video .
We now review it and find that in spite of the wobbles it gives a good impression of the black hole in the sky .
Now we start anticipating the photos  , but first we go home .

T plus 35 minutes

Caus calls me from Hungary and tells me that they have had a GREAT show there . In a small telescope they could see many red flares coming out from the sun's surface . The weather had remained excellent in Hungary .

T plus 1 day

Time to go home , we arrive in The Hague just after 4 o'clock . Too late for delivering the films .... Time to rest .

T plus 2 days

Getting a black-and-white film developed in a hurry is  not a simple thing . After a few visits to the photographic shops I am directed to a photo laboratory . They  can develop the films that day , but they can not make any prints . ( closing for the week end ) .

After 2 hours wait the films are ready , and finally ,YES ! , there IS something on the negatives , it actually looks promising . On Saturday we cheat a little , going to the one-hour-shop aqnd get some prints made on colour paper . Not perfect but perfectly acceptable for bringing home a memento .

T plus 4 days

It is Sunday . Jan and Gudrun go home  and I begin writing the story in Danish . The English translation , as you see it here , follows later .

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Last update 08 October 2006 by Jan Andersen.
Background image : Video image of the Pleiades
Top caption : Lunar Eclipse 21-01-2000