Annular Eclipse

The annular eclipse of May 30, 1984 was more unusual in that it was not only an annular eclipse (a rare event), but a "broken" annular eclipse.

Annularity refers to the fact that a mere ring (annulus) of the sun's photosphere shows. "Broken annularity," the rarest of eclipses, occurs when the moon is positioned just close enough to Earth to block out most, but not all of the sun's face.

Here, you can see "broken" portions, showing the location of some of the taller mountains on the moon--the dark breaks in the orange-red ring. You can also see the moon's lower points--the mare (seas)--identified with bright yellow sunlight (photosphere) peeking through. In a total eclipse, only the corona shows as filmy pearly white rays streaking away from the black disc. Here, however, we see the chromosphere of the sun glowing a bright orange-red. Normally, during a total eclipse, you only see the chromosphere for a fraction of a second at the very beginning and at the end of totality. In a normal annular eclipse, you will not see the chromosphere, but rather a bright yellow ring--the photosphere. The rarity of this event is what makes this particular photograph so noteworthy.

After preliminary site-searching along the path of annularity, and securing permission from various land owners, a large group of EAAA members set up at three sites in central Alabama along the path.

This photo was taken from Mr. Colston's cow pasture in Camden, Alabama. Club member Harry Bright brought a portable AC generator for members to hook into for clock drives. The day was sunny and comfortable...everyone was in T-shirts or other light clothing. As the partial eclipse neared annularity, the weather began to change along with the light levels. The temperature dropped, settling into the 40's during central annularity. Folks scurried to cars and trucks, looking for sweaters, jackets or blankets that they might have forgotten to remove after the passing of winter. High winds sprang up, toppling some of the telescopes on their tripods.

Before total annularity, when there was just a little bit of sunlight left, a peculiar prismatic effect took place. Along the path of annularity, it was as though a great prism were set into space--the visible spectrum, extending from Mexico to Virginia, traversed the path. Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico got red light. Parts of Texas got orange light and northern Texas and the Gulf of Mexico on up into Louisiana and southern Alabama got yellow light. Central Alabama and Georgia got green light, and blue-grey light was vaguely noted through clouds in northern Alabama through North Carolina. Virginia was hopelessly socked in with cloud cover. No definite scientific explanation was found for this unusual phenomenon, although documentation was sent to several scientists and astronomical journals seeking an answer.

Animals, also, took note of the changes. As the day darkened into "pseudo night," the dogs went under the front porch and curled up to sleep. Cows lowed in the adjacent pasture, ready to be brought home. Birds whispered sweet nothings to each other as they settled down to roost.

It became obvious why some primitive people developed superstitious beliefs regarding eclipse events. The eerie light, the sudden changes in local weather, the actions of various animals--all combine to make one experience a sense of "impending doom." It doesn't matter how educated you are, or how scientifically knowledgeable, your body betrays you, telling you that you have gone far past the confines of "normalcy."

The notion that "all is not right with the world" was confirmed with the advent of the "shadow bands." The appearance of shadow bands is a rare phenomenon occasionally seen either before or after a total eclipse (or, more rarely, before and after). At 11:11:00, a full two minutes before true annularity, shadow bands were noted. About the best way to describe what we saw was to ask you to imagine the following:

.....Eight-inch wide translucent misty-grey crepe paper is arranged in parallel rows, spaced about a foot apart. At first, they lie there just barely draping the grass. Suddenly, they begin to move. Keeping their parallel rows in order, they appear to flow towards you over the ground at a brisk walking pace. The effect is that the ground itself is crawling toward you--a creepy event if ever there was one!....

At 11:13, the sun and moon reached true annularity. It was approximately this time that the photograph was taken.

As the sun emerged from the moon-block, the dogs crawled out from under the porch looking confused...they had hardly had time to turn around enough to get settled for sleep, and it was daylight again! Birds also twittered confusedly. The cows in the adjacent field lowed, wondering why they hadn't been milked the night before...or had it been a night? Soon, all animal activity was back to normal. Club members, however, were frenetically packing and trying to get back to Pensacola to get film developed as soon as possible. It was worth it. Video tapes with WWV, drawings and photographs were sent to ALPO (Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers) and IOTA (International Occultation Timing Association), as well as several national publications. Comparisons of this data with that of other observers along the path allows professional astronomers to more accurately outline the profile of the moon's limb (profiled edge).

Merry Edenton-Wooten

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