The 2003 Antarctic Total Solar Eclipse
November 23, 2003 by Fred Bruenjes
<<At right is a satellite image of the area I visited. This map covers roughly 300km from top to bottom, and North is to the upper left. A red X marks the site where I observed the eclipse from. The area is in among the Institut Geologii Arktiki Rocks. The cigar shaped rock outcrop just above the X is the Schirmacher Oasis, where the Russian Novolazarevskaya base and the Indian Maitri base are located. I overflew the bases, but didn't have time for a ground visit. Between the Oasis and the X is the ice runway I landed on. The darker blue color is bare exposed ice, the snow has been blown off by the fierce katabatic winds. At top left is the ocean, littered with sea ice and icebergs. Just inland at the top middle is India's old Dakshin Gangotri base (too small to be visible in this image). Near the bottom left of the image in a small bluish patch is the Blue-1 ice runway. At bottom right are the Wohlthat / Drygalski Mountains. The lower-right-most mountain in the image is about where the Lazarev meteorite was found. It was the first iron meteorite found in Antarctica, in 1961. I don't know of any meteorites found in the area since then.
After dinner (horrible cold tasteless stuff) we headed for the eclipse site. I went in the advance team with Vic & Jen Winter, David & Wendee Levy, Bob Shambora, and some other folks I don't know. We drove in a tracked vehicle that belongs to the Indians, a slow vehicle that took an hour to make the trip.
Upon arriving at the site there was a problem, South wasn't where it was when Jen surveyed the site in February. A large rise would block our view of the eclipse. To come all this way, spend all this money, have perfect weather, and miss the eclipse because of a snowbank would not do. We could not move south or west due to crevasses. East was no better. So that left north, we started hiking that way in the hope that as we got further from the ridge we would see over it better. We arrived at a suitable place only about 30 minutes before totality.
There was no time left to set up all of the equipment I had brought, so I had to prioritize and set up whatever I could. It was so bone-chillingly cold that batteries and cameras were dying left and right. Put a fresh battery in and it's dead within minutes. My fancy Meade LXD55 tracking mount decided it was in the northern hemisphere and refused to track the sun in the correct direction. Oh well.
The seeing was absolutely terrible, on the order of several arcminutes. Extinction was about two stops (25% of the Sun's light was making it through the atmosphere, a really large amount and a testament to the extremely clean air here). David Levy spotted shadow bands around 10 minutes before totality, an exceptional amount of time. This is the first time I have ever seen shadow bands. They looked like a shadow of smoke. We could see the Moon's shadow coming in well to the left of the Sun. The anti-solar shadow was huge and black all the way to the horizon, I wish I could have gotten a picture of that (the camera died due to cold).
As totality approached I blindly took pictures with my cameras, hoping to get something. Because we had backed up from the designated observing site there was someone in my field of view. You can see him just left of the sun. This is the second contact diamond ring, you can see some red prominences and whitish corona. I have corrected the color to remove the reddening that comes from the low solar altitude, to better show the prominences. The ridge was still high enough to block part of the sun.
Just after second contact we could see some nice prominences. The wind was so strong that it shook my sturdy mount and blurred many of my images. The sharpest photos I have come from my video camera, as shown at right. This image is an average of the 30 best frames in two seconds of video. I used a JVC JY-HD10U hidef video camera, with a 3X Kenko teleconverter, and Registax software to select and average frames. Then curves, saturation, and resize in Photoshop.
Totality was wonderful, I concentrated on observing visually while working cameras with the back of my mind. My binoculars were out of focus and I had a hard time adjusting them because of the cold. Looking around, I did not see any aurora. There was some spatial variation in sky brightness but nothing I would consider aurora. I could only see two radii of corona. The corona was orange or brown near the horizon, changing to a greenish tinge up higher.
The framed image below is a highly processed composite of four images that's intended to be a more artistic representation of what the eclipse felt like. I have increased the color saturation slightly to better show the green thru red corona colors, otherwise the image is truthful. (For an unprocessed single image click here, or here for a detailed explanation of how the image was created.) In the processed image the coronal streamers and polar brushes really come out. The person in the photo is the Japanese painter and illustrator Kagaya. He was set up directly in front of me. I didn't notice him before the eclipse because of the intense sunlight, so it was a complete accident that he was in my photo. At left is his "freight bag", a large soft suitcase in which we placed our cold weather gear, tripods, and so forth. Next to that is a collapsible chair, with his sleeping bag laying on it. At the moment of this photo he was leaning over to take a picture with his camera. I am very happy that Kagaya was in my photo, it makes the composition much more interesting.>>