On This Day 30 Years Ago, the Eclipse of a Lifetime and of the Century!

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Composite image of 10 separate frames ranging in exposure time from 1/10 second to 2 seconds. Original film: KodaChrome 25 with Canon AE-1. Instrument: 15 cm (6″) Newtonian Astrograph, F/4.2 at prime focus. Note the subtle colors with pearl-white coloration of the corona, the coronal detail, streamers and prominences. Image credit: the author.

The total solar eclipse of July 11th, 1991 was hailed as the “Eclipse of the Century”.

On this day 30 years ago, traveling with a group of friends and colleagues, I was in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to observe the Eclipse of 11 July, 1991. 2 days of the 5-day, 4-night trip was in Cabo. Previously, during a layover in Mexico City, we visited the ruins at Teotihuacan, a destination within 40 km (25 mi) of the city.

As always, and to be expected in a desert climate, the sky was a cloudless, clear blue. Since I was traveling from New York, I had to travel light but with the right equipment to record and remember the eclipse, and the warm, friendly, welcoming country and its people. Using my basic knowledge and experience with Spanish, I was able to communicate with the locals and explain what was happening. I also remember explaining how dangerous it was to look directly at the sun without a filter:

Cuidado, peligro, no mires directamente al sol sin filtro!

Setting up my “very portable” observing station (15 cm, F/4.2 Newtonian Astrograph with my Canon AE-1 loaded with KodaChrome 25 at prime focus) at sunrise, I was all set 2 hours before First Contact at 10:28 AM, the moment the limb of the moon “contacts” the limb of the sun. And thus began the partial phases, included at the beginning of the animated image below.

Having traveled “very light”, I only had the AE-1 and so couldn’t record the 1,600 km/hr shadow as it engulfed us at this, the southern most point of Baja California Sur. I clearly remember, taking a few seconds away from the camera and the telescope, to look up and actually look at the eclipse during totality, to look around, to take note of the drop in temperature, the birds going silent, the inky-dark blue overhead with the totally eclipsed sun at the zenith, surrounded at the horizons by the salmon colored, slightly brighter sky.

With the sun almost at the zenith and the onset of “Bailey’s Beads“, Totality or “Second Contact” began at 18:50 UTC (12:50 local time). For the next seven minutes, we were all speechless, witness to one of nature’s most awe-inspiring spectacles. The eclipse ended almost as quickly as it began with everyone meeting later on to discuss what they witnessed and to mingle with the locals; all in all, it was the trip of a lifetime.

Sequenced image of the eclipse from 22 separate images ranging from 1/500 sec for the partial phases to 2 sec during totality. Instrument 15 cm (6″) Newtonian Astrograph, F/4.2 at prime focus, original film: KodaChrome 25 and Canon AE-1. Image credit: the author.


A view from the hotel along the walkway to the beach where we observed the eclipse. Image credit: the author.

 

My “very portable” observing station with portable, clock driven mount. A portable, clock-driven mount was a big deal back in 1991. Note the walkway, the same walkway as in the previous image. Image credit: the author.

 

15 cm (6″), F/4.2 Newtonian Astrograph with Miranda Laborec at the prime focus. Image credit: the author.


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