Thursday, March 10, 2005

Chasing darkness -- Part 3

As we plan for the total solar eclipse of 2006, the eclipse of August 11, 1999, is still very much in mind. I was with 800 other avid eclipse chasers, including a high-tech team from NASA, on a cruise ship in the Black Sea. Our location offered several advantages: it was close to the place of maximum totality; it had a better than average chance of clear skies; and the ships's mobility would make it possible to seek a hole in the clouds in case of inclement weather.

We waited in a calm sea under cloudless skies as the dot of darkness -- the Moon's shadow -- raced out of Europe and across the water, extinguishing the Sun's light for two-and-a-half minutes. With a last blaze of glory -- like the gem of a diamond ring -- the Sun's disk became jet black. Streaks of radiance streamed outward into a blue-black sky, and crimson flecks marked solar storms leaping beyond the rim of the covering Moon. Venus blazed nearby. The horizon all around was rosy with a midday dawn. When the Sun went dark, 800 jaws dropped and eyes gaped wide. Was it worth traveling thousands of miles to see? You bet.