THE ECLIPSE OF TWO CHOICES
TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE - 4th December 2002
Singelele Game Reserve: Coordinates: S 22º 21' 20" E 30º 03' 57"
An eclipse of two choices, basically because it was a choice between the two continents of, Africa and Australia. Where to go, that was the question? Due to the eclipse in Africa of 2001 people found it wasn't as bad as previously perceived, and the other camp thought, done that, been there. Our discussions based our choice on the eclipse duration, the height of the sun, and available time off work, so it had to be South Africa, despite the apparent dangers. The three days prior to the eclipse were wall to wall sunshine, we couldn't believe our luck, reports before that of more eager travellers reported cloud, and the predictions were never that good anyway.
The morning of the eclipse we were awoken by the wind, we knew that meant clouds, and by checking outside it confirmed the fears, it was completely overcast. The horizon over Kruger looked clear, and the question was whether to move or not? We were mobile with the 4x4 but the clouds were moving so fast it was a moveable feast.
We decided to stay put and take our chance, before first contact at 7.12 am, the clouds start to break up, slowly and clear patches start to open up, optimism is a wonderful human trait, people kept hopeful and happy, we lost the sun behind clouds twice between first and second contact for brief minutes, there was slight haze at times but it was not strong enough to obscure the sun. At twenty-five minutes before second contact the shadows are losing their definition. At eighteen minutes it's noticeably darker, and sixteen minutes before second contact we notice a halo around the sun, due to the haze. Ten minutes to go, crescents are everywhere but we don't see any shadow bands. Venus became visible with five minutes to go. Our hopes continue to be raised by the large hole in the sky to the east, but small thick fluffy clouds hang around menacingly. The crescent is very small, and the eclipse colours are beautiful, as precious as the following diamond ring, still no shadow bands, this time the atmospheric conditions obviously not allowing this other jewel in the crown, so much prized by us mortals.
Bailey's beads drift into diamond ring, and the crowd exclaim 'wow', indeed 'wow', in the distance a monkey cry's can be heard, perhaps his interpretation. The prominences are beautiful and plentiful, all around the top arc of the sun from 11.00 to 1.00 o'clock, also down at 5.00 and 6.00 o'clock. The corona is very symmetrical and the streamers are strong and dark, first check the camera, then look in the telescope to view the detail, then I look up, and catch my breath. The sight is breathtaking and mesmerising, and then zoom the video out, crank up the exposure to ensure the full extent of the corona and then zoom back in again to finish on detail, then all too quickly the third contact diamond ring is back and the filters replaced.
Replaying the film told us we had exactly 1 minute and 14 seconds from diamond ring to diamond ring. Absolutely precious, everyone is walking on air; eclipses just do that to people, they lift your spirits higher than the sky itself. Perhaps even more so when the chances of seeing it are greatly reduced by inclement weather.