Total Eclipse of the Sun - Zimbabwe 2001 June
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 suns brilliant corona was
already apparent and, as the final rays of the suns 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 suns glowing red chromosphere
appeared around the lower left quadrant of the moons 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 overleaving 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 moons motion progressively revealed more of the suns 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 29.5°C just after first contact to 24°C at mid eclipse. It continued to
fall to 22°C during the half hour after third contact before rising to 23°C 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)