Brunstein Observatory

Kreiensen, Germany

 The Total Solar Eclipse from Curacao
February 26, 1998

On February 26 this year a solar eclipse occured, which could be seen from the caribbean sea. The path of the eclipse lead between Aruba and Curacao. A group of about 21 german amateur astronomers (one of many groups from Germany) went to curacao to see the eclipse. This is the story about our journey...

A word about the images first: All images have been taken from a video which I took on location. The quality of the grabbed results is quite poor but it is all I can use for the internet.

1. Some notes about the island

Curacao belongs to the small Netherlands Antilles. The main of these islands are the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao). You can reach Curacao quite easily from Europe with KLM, the Royal Dutch Airlines. We boarded our plane from Amsterdam to Curacao on Febr. 18 and landed on the island about 9 hours later. My first impression of the island was totally different from what I expected - an island in the caribbean was associated with palms, forests etc. But Curacao is different.

The Island is rather dry and with a lot of hills, mountains and cactusses it has an own, but different "flavour". The Palms on the islands beaches and in the hotel areas are planted and give the tourists the typical tropic islands feeling.

The place we stayed at whas the Landhuis Daniel, an old Landhuis which was rather important when the people on the island still travelled by coach and had to change horses on their way from north to south.

Landhuis Daniel
Image 1: Landhuis Daniel, main entrance

The temperatures on the island were between 23 Degrees Centigrade as the minimum night temperature and 34 Degrees in the shadow during daylight hours. The temperature in the sun sometimes reached 40 degrees. Although the island itself is rather dry (little rain) the air contains a lot of humidity from the salty sea water. There is always wind on the island. This caused a few thoughts for us:

As we reached the island long enough before the eclipse we had some time to find such a place. A good place would be a lagoon, we thought. As some of us (including myself) wanted to dive and enjoy the coral reefs and fish wild life we had to find some of these places anyway. The following to images were taken from an underwater video which I took.
Fish swarm
Image 2: Fish between corals
brain coral
Image 3: A brain coral

 2. Carnival

The people of Curacao have a carnival parade which actually took place on February 22 and February 24. The first day the parade is held from 10 am on and this gave us an experience of the power of the sun. Almost all of  our group (which was almost complete at that time as we did not arrive all at once) got a sunburn during the 3 hours it took us to wait and stare at the parade. The second parade was held from 6pm on and consists of the same participants in a slightly different order.

The participants of the parade took the solar eclipse to bild many waggons and costumes with astronomical motives. Take a look at the images to get an impression of the parade...
Space Shuttle
Image 4: The space shuttle after lift off
Sun and Moon
Image 5: Sun and Moon on the first waggon of the parade
Marine Life
Image 6: Marine life in the parade

3. The Eclipse

On the moring of the 26th of February we got up quite early to be ready for the great day. A lot of equipment had to be moved, set up and good images should be taken from the eclipse. But what no one expected: the sky was cloudy and at about 9:30 am it even started to rain! The eclipse would occur at about 1:12 pm depending on the location on the island. This meant that our only chance was to hope and drive to the north where the eclipse would be longer as we would move closer to the center line and where the weather seemed to be a little better.

On our journey to Westpunt, the north western place on the island closest to the center line where we would expect about 3m35s of totality we moved under the bad weather into an area which already started to clear up. This was about 10:30 pm. The place the main part of our group choose for the eclipse gave us no shadow, so Rudolf Hillebrecht, his girlfriend Beata Brokowska and myself split from the rest of the group and moved to Playa Lagoon, a little south of Westpunt, still providing 3m24s of totality.

Here we found some clouds which cleared up during the partial phase. At totality no cloud was in the sky and the air was extremly clear as all dust was washed away by the rain in the morning. Actually this turned out to be the best day during our stay on the island. And we had a wonderful eclipse. The images show some impressions from the eclipse. The times shown in the images are UTC.

Diamand Ring
Image 7: The Diamond Ring in the beginning of the eclipse (second contact). The light spot at the lower right of the sun is a very bright prominence which was much more impressive in the telescope.

Image 8: Mercury and Jupiter with the eclipsed sun.

Image 9: The corona shortly before the third contact (end of totality)

Diamond Ring
Image 10: The Diamond Ring at the end of the eclipse. The reflections left of the sun are caused by the optics of the camera. Although they are artefacts they still show Baileys Beads. That is the row of spots caused by hilltops and valleys in the limb of the moon. At this point there were still parts of the corona visible.

Some final words about our setup. We used Rudolf Hillebrechts` C8 telescope for guiding. On top of the telescope a Canon photo camera with a 300mm tele lens which was expanded to 600mm focal length was mounted to take photos of the eclipse. On the other side of the C8 my Sony video camera was mounted upside down. Therefore the images show the moon coming from the left and leaving to the right side of the image which is opposite to what you could see with the naked eye. As the time is shown in the images (read from the timecode on the video tape) I did not turn the images into the correct position.

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