Total Eclipse of the Sun - Bucharest 1999 August 11

Eclipse day started warm with clear skies and an abundance of expectations. Before long, however, a build up of clouds in the north west became increasingly ominous, although skies were clear in the south where the eclipse would occur. As the morning progressed the cloud cover thickened and was headed in a generally south easterly direction. An hour before 1st contact the cameras were set up in the chosen locations with suitable protection against the heat of the Romanian summer sun.

It was hot! Temperature in the shade was approaching 32C and there was no breeze to provide any respite. A seat in the shade of a nearby tree provided welcome relief as 1st contact was impatiently awaited for. However, by that time, the sun was completely obscured by a cloudbank, but a large expanse of clearing sky following gave confidence that the spectacle taking place out of sight would not remain so for long. True to the prediction, the sun finally appeared after the eclipse had been in progress for 15 minutes. The first observations through the solar viewers revealed that the moon had already covered a surprising amount of the sun. Thin cloud continued to pass by as the eclipse progressed towards 2nd contact, but confidence was steadily increasing that totality would be observed.

As time passed by the light intensity fell steadily, as did the air temperature, which definitely provided a more pleasant environment for viewing. Approximately half an hour before 2nd contact the tranquillity was broken by a loud rustling of the vegetation-- a strong breeze had suddenly arrived unannounced from the west, and then was gone just as suddenly. It was as if the air was fleeing the sinister apparition falling upon the land, a spectre that was the moon’s shadow sweeping relentlessly in from the west.

Five minutes to 2nd contact. The sun’s disk had been reduced to a thin crescent. It was starting to get exciting now. The pulse quickened as a hint of panic set in-- expectations were rising rapidly and the moment of truth was near at hand. Things were happening quickly now. The rapidly thinning crescent of sun created an eerie light, illuminating the landscape in stark relief and creating shadows with an unnatural sharpness. The light was fading rapidly; initially in steps, then the celestial dimmer switch was turned down as the last sliver of sun was covered. The diamond ring! 2nd contact, totality had begun! Cheers and the tooting of car horns from the many spectators in the surrounding area greeted the arrival of the moon’s shadow and totality to this part of the world.

It was time now to savour the view and store the sight in the memory. Viewed through a thin veil of cloud, the splendour of the event was not diminished. Words cannot describe the beauty, the emotion and the feelings of unreality arising out of the spectacle. No photograph or image can portray the delicacy and contrasts of the totally eclipsed sun. The delicacy and purity of the pearly corona contrasted starkly with the intense blackness of the moon and the rosy red glow of the prominences dotted around the sun’s disk. To the eye the corona was quite symmetrical, although the view through binoculars suggested numerous streamers projecting away from the sun. Looking around, it was easy to find Venus and Mercury in attendance, shining brightly through the clouds. It is worth mentioning that the eclipse wasn't particularly dark, as small print and the settings on the cameras were easily read without aid.

Beep, beep, beep went the timer in my pocket which brought me sharply back to reality as it indicated that the eclipse was half over. Where had the time gone? Time to check the framing of the sun in the camera’s viewfinder and record some images. Working steadily away at the camera, the passage of time took on a secondary importance…until the diamond ring unexpectedly heralded that totality was over. Spectacular! With dazzling speed and intensity the first minute point of the sun's photosphere tore through a lunar valley to assault the eye, caught unprepared after viewing the utter blackness of the lunar disk and the delicate, pearly corona only moments before.

With totality over, there was now time to collect thoughts, reflect on what had been seen and to calm down, as the moon steadily retreated from the sun’s disk and normality returned. Shortly after 3rd contact a cockerel crowed, proudly announcing the second dawning of the day. The drop in temperature during the eclipse was clearly noticeable falling from 32C to 25C before recovering to 34C later in the afternoon as the full power of the sun returned. The eclipse has left a lasting impression in the memory. These images, together with the photographs that were taken, will serve as an everlasting memento of the day that I stood in the moon’s shadow in Bucharest.