It was a muggy day in the small town of Vèp, Hungary
. The weather reports held dim prospects
for us - chance of rain
with very few breaks in the clouds
. The sense of pessimism
toward the weather, however, was overshadowed by the prospect of what most of us were about to witness for the first - and hopefully not last - time in our lives.
As we walked the two or three miles from our campsite to the large field some kind local had allowed us to borrow for a short while, we sang and chanted and prayed
for the gods to be nice
. Some of us were lugging heavy telescopes
and photographic equipment
, while others were making trips back and forth
with a car to bring a few computer
s and video equipment. The solar eclipse of August 11, 1999
was one of those once-in-a-lifetime
things. We had to be prepared
About two hours of setting up and sitting around and getting giddy
had passed when first contact
was made. That is, the moon
had just started to slowly graze the edge of the sun
. Cheers and whoops were released from the steadily growing crowd of astronomy
amateurs and scientists alike. We ran around, looking through filtered telescopes
, and a few people attached their cameras to the eyepieces of their telescopes. As the moon covered more of the sun, the daylight grew dim and eerie. Sun sickles
, small crescents of light
formed by the shadows of the trees, were beginning to sprinkle the ground. Weather reports were like hot gossip
that traveled fast through our group. It looked like the rest of the European
countries that were in the line of sight for the eclipse had been clouded over with rain. We were the only ones with the chance of a clear view of the whole thing!
Totality drew close and fast like an impending storm
. The sky grew broodingly dark and sallow on one horizon, and on the other things seemed bright and sunny. There were clouds in the sky, but none that were blocking the sun. People lingered about their telescopes, peering through them and checking their watches. Totality would last two minutes and twenty two seconds.
Chants of "sun! sun! sun! sun!" grew louder from the amalgamation of Italians, Hungarians, Polaks, French, British, Spanish, Americans, Slovenians, and others. At last, totality! Someone shouted that it was now safe to look at the sun directly, without protection. I took of my flimsy solar shades
and beheld a beautiful spectacle. The sky was a luminous shade of deep blue. Venus
was now visible as a bright diamond, and to the left of it shone a blazing ring of light. A perfect black hole in the sky was surrounded by a circle of fire and flares. I looked around at the others. The crowd of a hundred-odd people was dumbstruck, elated, and awed. The wild ecstasy and din was replaced with a silent respect and calm reverence.
I quickly ran to my friend Stijn's pair of large binoculars and looked through. The corona was now detailed with sharper outlines and solar flare
s. Stijn and I looked at each other with approving grins. It was beautiful to see the sun through binoculars, but something else entirely to observe it with the naked eye
. I felt privileged to be right there, in Hungary, amongst a group of people who loved the sun and stars as much as I. I felt lucky to have landed on a planet where the ratio of the sun and moon matched up just perfectly enough to allow gorgeous things like eclipses to happen.
That was the fastest 2 minutes and 22 seconds of my life
. As the moon moved along its orbit, a small spark of light on one edge of the sun began to grow brilliant. This is known as the diamond ring
, and it signifies the end of totality
. Everyone cheered, champagne
bottles popped open and the alcohol was sprayed and splashed on everyone, people climbed on one another's shoulders and sang. I have never witnessed something that produced such a feeling of togetherness
Two minutes after totality had completed, a large cloud came and and slowly covered our sun. We checked news reports. We were the only ones in Europe who had gotten to see the whole eclipse with no obstructions or foul weather.
Who wants to join me for the one in Africa
, December 4, 2002?