Total Eclipse of the Sun - Zimbabwe 2001 June 21


The first total solar eclipse of the new millennium was observed under perfect conditions from a location 750m above sea level on the centre line at Maname School in northeastern Zimbabwe. Approximately 400 tourists and many school children and local inhabitants were present for the spectacle at an ideal location on the dry bed of the Ruya River, a tributary of the Zambezi River, close to the border with Mozambique. We were held spellbound as the mid afternoon landsacape was plunged into darkness for a magical 3m 13s. As the entry diamond ring burst forth the sun’s brilliant corona was already apparent and, as the final rays of the sun’s photosphere disappeared, totality was greeted with whooping, cheers and applause from the ecstatic on-lookers.

The corona was awesome. Symmetrically framing the utterly black lunar disk, the inner corona was almost dazzlingly bright extending smoothly outwards for several solar radii. It displayed wonderful wispy detail in its extremities with at least ten fine streamers extending outwards into the indigo coloured sky for two solar radii or more. Several impressive prominences were visible and Jupiter shone brightly as a yellow jewel to the lower left. Then, with almost indecent haste, the sun’s glowing red chromosphere appeared around the lower left quadrant of the moon’s disk followed almost simultaneously by an intense beam of silvery solar photosphere bursting through a deep valley on the lunar surface. Grey-brown shadow bands were also clearly seen on the light coloured sand on which we stood. The diamond ring graced the sky for an incredibly long time (around fifteen seconds) heralding that totality was over—leaving each and every privileged individual to ponder over what had been a truly wondrous spectacle. Within thirty seconds of third contact the ambient light level had rocketed up to almost normal as the moon’s motion progressively revealed more of the sun’s brilliance.

In the lead up to totality the steadily falling light level created a sense of foreboding. As a distinct chill descended over us, crickets started chirping and twilight-swarming insects began flying about. Air temperatures in the shade fell noticeably during the eclipse from 29.5C just after first contact to 24C at mid eclipse. It continued to fall to 22C during the half hour after third contact before rising to 23C ten minutes before the end of the eclipse (see the graph). An unexpected phenomenon was also observed in the sand on which we stood. At times when the sun acted as a point source, the crystalline particles took on highlights that glistened strongly in the fading light.

As we departed in our coaches and headed back to our hotels we were treated to a fond farewell as the local inhabitants waved goodbye.

Dr. Russell Cockman
(AFA Director of Observations)