Eclipse Chaser's Journal: Part 2
The Big One: Total Solar Eclipse of July 11, 1991

Jeffrey R. Charles

© Copyright 1991, 1996, 1997, Jeffrey R. Charles, All Rights Reserved.

Eclipse Chaser's Journal: Part 2
The Big One: Total Solar Eclipse of July 11, 1991


  1. Introduction
  2. At Last, an "Affordable" Eclipse!
  3. Selecting Mazatlan as an Eclipse Site
  4. Exchanging Information
  5. Eclipse Preparation
  6. Eclipse Equipment
  7. My Final Setup
  8. The Expedition Begins
  9. Eclipse Day
  10. First Contact
  11. The Lunar Shadow
  12. Totality!
  13. Third Contact
  14. The Great Cloud Caper
  15. Meeting the Locals
  16. Back to the USA
  17. Awakening to the Latino Culture
  18. Anticipating the Next Eclipse
  19. Recommended Reading

Eclipse Chaser's Journal, Part 2:
The Big One: Total Solar Eclipse of July 11, 1991


As soon as totality had ended at the 1979 eclipse, my first thought was "when is the next one?!" Not wanting to be in suspense, I began to research the matter when I returned home. The next eclipse would occur the following year, and most related tours were to sites in India. After more research, I found that most of the eclipses in the foreseeable future would only be observable from distant or remote places. This is not surprising: Most of the earth's surface is covered by oceans, and most of the land lacks really good infrastructure, so it follows that the narrow path of totality for most eclipses will only cross relatively remote areas. Travel to such areas can often be quite expensive. Fortunately, at least one total solar eclipse would occur close to North America before I became old enough to require a cane.

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Total Solar Eclipse of July 11, 1991. At Last, an Affordable Eclipse!

The total solar eclipse of July 11, 1991 occurred relatively close to the southwestern U.S., so traveling to it should be relatively inexpensive. The path of totality would begin near Hawaii and continue across the southern tip of the Baja peninsula, into the mainland of Mexico, and down into parts of central and south America. In Mexico, totality would be visible from several major cities. This would make it possible to fly to one's destination and observe the eclipse from a comfortable hotel! The long duration of the eclipse also meant that it would also cost fewer bucks per minute of totality! I decided against Hawaii because the weather prospects were not too good. My first choice for an eclipse site was San Jose del Cabo, on the Baja Peninsula.

In spite of the fact that the eclipse could be observed from relatively near the continental U.S., most commercial expeditions were relatively expensive. Many were to the Baja peninsula and cost nearly $1,400 per person including connections from Phoenix. After some investigation, I determined that planning my own expedition to Mexico would be much less expensive, particularly if I arranged for a brief package trip to a traditionally popular destination in mainland Mexico. Weather conditions on the mainland were slightly less favorable than on the Baja peninsula, but the chances of clear skies during totality on the mainland were still said to be far better than 50/50.

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Selecting Mazatlan as an Eclipse Site:

Even though it was well north of the eclipse center line, Mazatlan was my first choice for a site in mainland Mexico. Totality in Mazatlan would last about 5-1/4 minutes. This was a shorter duration of totality than on the center line, but there was something to be said for just walking outside of a hotel to get to the eclipse "site". In addition, the coastal location would offer a good view of the approaching lunar shadow, or umbra.

My brother and some of my friends were also interested in the possibility of going to the 1991 eclipse, so I informed these people about my progress in making travel and accommodation arrangements. I had to make my own arrangements anyway, and accommodating the other people was simply a mater of keeping in touch with them and keeping tabs on the number of accommodations available. (Actually, this proved to be more difficult than it sounds). Researching the matter was difficult at the beginning, but I eventually got the hang of it.

Package trips to Mazatlan near the time of the eclipse were hard to come by, so I explored the possibility of ground transportation. My own car was almost 20 years old, so I was not very enthusiastic about driving it. Chartering or renting a vehicle for use in Mexico was another option, but this proved to be too costly to be practical. The train was also a possibility, though not a desirable one. Flying was by far the best option, but seats were hard to come by.

About 3 months before the eclipse, a friend who was a travel agent located some particularly attractive hotel accommodations in Mazatlan, but there still were no flights available. I decided to reserve some of these rooms for our group, so at least that part of the expedition would be taken care of. Fortunately, about 2 months before the eclipse, flights to Mazatlan became very easy to get, presumably because large tour operators had been forced to give up the seats they had initially hogged up but had not sold.

I reserved a seat for myself, then I informed interested friends and family members about the flight availability and where to arrange for it. Six of these people reserved flights and accommodations, bringing the expedition to a total of 7 persons. The total cost of the expedition came to about $500 per person, or less than $100 per minute of totality!

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Exchanging Information With Other Eclipse Chasers:

The 1991 Riverside Telescope Makers Conference offered a good opportunity to exchange information about preparing for the upcoming eclipse. That year, I presented a paper entitled "Gadgets and Techniques for Total Solar Eclipse Photography". In this presentation, I described the lessons I learned from the 1979 eclipse and how I planned to apply them to my photography, video, and observation of the 1991 eclipse.

I had only been to one total solar eclipse, but observing the umbra as it moved across the sky had given me a different perspective than most. I had been fortunate enough to obtain relatively good wide angle photos of the umbra, so I was also allowed to participate alongside legendary eclipse chasers like Stephen Edberg and Carter Roberts in an Eclipse Photography Forum at the conference. I had never observed the umbra under completely clear skies and my photos had all been taken within 90 seconds of totality, so the information I confidently presented had to be limited to phenomena that were visible either during totality or within a minute or so before or after it.

The July 11 eclipse was less than two months away, and the few of us at the RTMC who had been bitten by the eclipse bug were brimming with anticipation.

It was all enough to make one wax poetic or musical:

(Softly sing the following lines to the tune of "New York, New York"'):

La, la, la la la. La, la, la la la. La, la, la la la, la.

Start spreadin' the ne-ws. I'm leavin' to-day.
I wanna be a part of it, the great ecli-pse!

Totality's lo-ng. The moonshadow's wi-de.
I'm gonna be a part of it, the great ecli-pse!

I wanna be there, so the umbra will cover me!
To see the prominences, bright Baily's beads,
the diamond ring and the grand corona!

Sta-rt spreadin' the ne-ws. We're leavin' to-day.
We're gonna be a part of it, the great ecli-pse!

So grab your te-le-scope, and head to Me-xi-co,

Where you can see, the, great, e-cli-pse!

La, la, la la la. La, la, la la la. La, la, la la la. La!

Give yourself a big round of applause!

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Preparation for the 1991 Eclipse:

Having learned lessons from the 1979 eclipse, I practiced packing and unpacking my equipment, then I practiced setting it up and performing my eclipse photography and observation. My brother did so as well, since he wanted to use three or more cameras at this eclipse. I encouraged other members of the group to do the same, but most of them did not appreciate the necessity for such preparation. The eclipse would occur near the zenith, which presented special problems when using a conventional photo tripod. Fortunately, a side arm accessory solves the problem nicely.

A few weeks before the eclipse, I wrote the county of my birth to get a certified copy of my birth certificate. Shortly before the Eclipse, I took my equipment to the U.S. Customs office at the local airport and filled out a "Certificate of Registration for Personal Effects Taken Abroad".

More Preparation:

An eclipse expedition requires a lot of preparation. In addition to arranging for travel and preparing equipment, one has to consider biological issues. Even though our eclipse site would probably be only a few meters from our hotel building, heat and humidity are still valid considerations since Mazatlan is near the tropics. One member of our group recommended effective steps to counter heat exhaustion. Obtaining safe drinking water was also a concern. I had contracted dysentery when visiting Mexico before, and I did not care to repeat the experience. We brought along some tablets and a small heated teapot for treating and boiling water. We also brought along something to pass the time in the event that the weather was bad (oh noooo!) Some people planned to bring along a book or a deck of cards. I planned to bring a very small N-gauge model railroad.

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Equipment for the 1991 Eclipse.
Corona photography:

I had designed a myriad of optical gadgets during the years I had been ill, and some of these had resulted in products for my business, Versacorp. My flagship product, the VersAgonal, had initially been a gadget I built as an amateur telescope maker. I had eclipses in mind when I designed both it and the DiaGuider, and I was looking forward to the opportunity to use the VersAgonal at the eclipse. It would allow me to both observe and photograph the eclipse with a single telescope!

I had recently acquired a Vernonscope 94 mm f/7 apochromatic refractor to replace my 100 mm f/8 and my 100 mm f/15 achromatic telescopes, and I really liked the Vernonscope. It was compact, and it had a two inch focuser with a sliding draw tube. The sliding drawtube would allow me to "preset" the prime focus of the telescope prior to totality. I planned to use the VersAgonal's built-in Dakin Barlow lens to photograph second contact and the first half of totality at a focal length of 1000 mm, then I would turn the VersAgonal's control knob to flip out the built-in lens and rack the Vernonscope focuser all the way in to its stop. This would allow me to begin photographing the outer corona at the Vernonscope's prime focal length of 640 mm. Then, I planned to use the VersAgonal's built-in flip mirror to observe the eclipse at 20x with my 32 mm wide field eyepiece. It would be fun!

Equipment for the 1991 Eclipse. Umbra Photography:

At the 1979 total solar eclipse, I had witnessed the impressive motion of the umbral boundary across the sky. That was the most impressive part of that eclipse to me, for it was all around me. At future eclipses, I wanted to be sure and photograph any similar umbra related phenomena. Better yet, I wanted to be able to predict where these colorful phenomena would occur so I could prepare to photograph it in advance. I did not have any idea how to predict where and if colorful umbra related phenomena would occur, and I could not find any material on the subject, so I decided to take 360 degree panoramas at the next eclipse I observed. This would be the best way to be sure all of the phenomena were photographed.

Remote control rotary indexing camera platform. Built to take 360 Degree Panoramas of the 11 July, 1991 Total Solar Eclipse
© Copyright 1991, 1997, Jeffrey R. Charles, All Rights Reserved.
Even though totality at the 1991 eclipse would be relatively long, I still did not want to spend a lot of time taking panoramas. I decided to build a motorized remote control rotating indexing panoramic camera platform for taking the 360 degree panoramic pictures. This would allow me to shoot the panoramas by remote control while I was at my telescope. Fortunately, I was able to purchase a small planetary gear motor at the Riverside Telescope Makers Conference swap meet. This made it practical to build the platform in time for the eclipse.

Equipment for the 1991 Eclipse. General Considerations:

In planning my equipment setup for the 1991 eclipse, I decided not to get into bringing the morass of equipment I has transported in 1979. In particular, tripods were a problem. Lots of tripods take up luggage space, slow down setup time, and make it harder to move at the last minute to dodge clouds. Therefore, I decided to utilize a maximum of three tripods: One tripod for observation and photos of the corona with my Vernonscope 94 mm refractor; one tripod for a point and shoot auto exposure camera, and one more tripod which would be shared by two cameras: my older Newvicon video camera for corona video, and my Nikon FM camera with a 16 mm full frame fisheye lens for taking a series of four photos, which together would make up a 360 degree panorama.

A few weeks before the eclipse, I acquired a used Sony TR7 8 mm camcorder. Using this compact camcorder instead of my Newvicon camera with its separate video recorder would radically lighten my luggage. The TR7 also had a smaller format image sensor and a smaller aperture lens. This was advantageous because it would allow me to better utilize an extremely compact and lightweight 3x Galilean video converter lens I had designed. In fabricating this converter lens, I utilized a binocular objective and a Barlow lens.

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Equipment for the 1991 Eclipse. My Final Setup:

Only a few days before the eclipse, one member of our group offered me the use of his 8 mm camcorder. I decided to use it with his wide angle converter to get video of the approaching lunar umbra prior to the eclipse. This increased the total number of cameras I would be using, which changed my tripod situation. Fortunately, one member of our group had room in his luggage for an additional tripod. I ended up using four tripods: One for the 360 degree panoramas with my indexing rotary platform, one for the 94 mm telescope, one for both the corona and wide angle video cameras, and one for all-sky fisheye pictures. I decided to eliminate the point and shoot camera since my 360 degree panoramas would capture everything around me anyway.

To obtain a clear view of the approaching lunar shadow, I planned to set up on the beach. The unstable beach sand posed additional problems for setting up equipment. This was remedied by bringing along 12 cm squares of Masonite for use under each tripod leg. I also brought along towels to keep sand from getting in any equipment I may want to place on or near the ground. We were all concerned about people (particularly other tourists) bumping into our tripods in the subdued light of totality or otherwise interfering with our equipment, so we decided to bring along some posts and twine to rope off the area immediately around us.

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The Expedition Begins:

On July 9, 1991, four of the seven members for our expedition met at my folk's Sun City home. One member's equipment was woefully inadequate, so I quickly made some modifications for him. Later that day, all of us converged on Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix to catch our Aero Mexico flight to Mexico. By 1:40 that afternoon, we were airborne and on our way to Mexico.

As we flew south, the cloud cover increased. A few hours later, we descended through the clouds and I could see Mazatlan out my starboard window. A few minutes later, we landed in Mexico. Upon leaving the aircraft, we walked through an unbelievably long corridor, got our luggage, and went through immigration. Finally, we caught a shuttle to our hotel, the Riviera Mazatlan.

Upon arriving at our hotel, an employee helped us with our baggage, then I gave him a tip comparable to what I would pay in the U.S. He looked at it with wonder and amazement. It was clear that he appreciated it.

It was clear in Mazatlan the day before the eclipse. Some of us selected a suitable beach site and practiced setting up for and shooting the eclipse. After that, the same employee who had carried our bags showed us the roof of the hotel. (Our travel agent had arranged for us to have the option of setting up on the hotel roof.) I gave the employee another tip, which was accepted in the same way as the first one I had given him. At 5:30 that evening, some of us performed a "trial run" for our eclipse photography.

Later that evening, some other friends from Arizona dropped by to see us at the hotel. They were surprised at how easy it was to find me. When they had asked a certain hotel employee (the one who helped us) about me, he immediately remembered me and knew where to find me! Later on, I could not find the employee who had helped me earlier. I later learned that each tip I gave him was equivalent to a day's wages, and he had taken a couple of days off! Oops!

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Eclipse Day:

The morning of the eclipse began partly cloudy, with most of the clouds either over the mountains to the east or out to sea toward the north and west. Occasional thin clouds passed in front of the sun, softening our shadows. Conditions looked relatively favorable, but we did not know how atmospheric cooling caused by the eclipse would affect things. There was an absolutely clear area of sky toward the south, but it appeared to be out over the ocean.

The humidity was high and it was getting hot. Soon, the temperature exceeded 30 degrees C. (86 degrees F.) We set up our equipment on the beach about 20 meters from the ocean. Before long, the seven of us had erected a veritable city of tripods! Our tripods were stable due to the Masonite pads we had brought to put on the sand below them. Other observers around us had not brought pads, and their tripods were not doing so well.

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First Contact:

The sun was completely in the clear when first contact occurred at 10:32 a.m. Totality was to begin slightly less than an hour and a half later, at a few seconds before 11:59. A few minutes after first contact, more thin clouds developed high overhead. A few minutes after that, the lower clouds over the eastern mountains began to move in toward us. At about 11:05, I took my first 360 degree panoramic photo series with my indexing rotary camera platform.

By 11:20, the sun was obscured by clouds. It appeared that the clouds were widespread enough to make it impractical to travel and look for an opening. Thin clouds had also developed to the extent that they covered most of the sky. This made it difficult to distinguish where the boundaries of the lower clouds were. Due to the clouds, there were no distinct shadows. By now, everyone had their equipment set up.

At 11:44, (15 minutes before totality) I started taking continuous wide angle video toward the west. I tried to begin taping the sun's position with the TR7 camcorder, but its moisture sensor would not let me start operating it. I was glad I had tried to start taping this long before totality, because I would have really been thrown into a panic if there had been less time! I started considering options to get the camcorder to work. Fortunately, my brother had brought some canned air for cleaning his lenses. I directed a few generous blasts of the canned air into the tape door of my camcorder and quickly loaded the tape. It worked! Even so, I would think twice before setting up on a beach again.

By 11:45, the ambient light was clearly muted and the color of everything around us seemed to be "graying out". For ISO 125 film, my incident light meter indicated an exposure of 1/125 second at f/4. Not long after that, the sky low in the west began to darken a little, so I took another 360 degree panoramic photo series. The umbra had appeared.

At about 11:55, the clouds thinned enough to allow us to see the shrinking crescent of the sun. Totality was only four minutes away! Through the clouds, the solar crescent appeared to be relatively dim, but at least it was clearly defined. We definitely would not be seeing the outer corona, but it looked as though we still had a chance to see at least prominences and the extreme inner corona. The ambient light was now eight times dimmer than it was only ten minutes earlier. At 11:56, my light meter indicated an exposure of 1/15 second at f/4!

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The Lunar Shadow:

The darkening in the west had become slightly more pronounced and somewhat wider, but not much higher. Due to our location north of the center line, the umbra appeared to widen more toward the south than it did toward the north. The umbra also seemed to be approaching at a much slower rate than it had twelve years before in Montana. The ground speed of the umbra was in fact slower than usual as it approached Mazatlan. We were relatively near the equator and the sun was near the zenith. This allowed the rotation of the earth to counteract a substantial portion of the moon's orbital velocity. As the western sky continued to darken, some white clouds low in the distance gradually became easier to see against it. I took another panorama.

By about two minutes before totality, the lunar umbra had become very obvious. I took another panorama and others in our group began taking pictures toward the west. The nearest edge of the umbra was getting well up in the sky, but it was rapidly becoming more diffuse. Soon after this, the sky low in the west began to brighten and take on a pale salmon orange color. The trailing edge of the umbra had cleared the horizon, revealing the returning sunlight beyond. Things were getting exciting!

Lunar umbra moving over cloud bank southwest of our site.
© Copyright 1991, 1997, Jeffrey R. Charles, All Rights Reserved.

About one minute before totality, I could clearly see the boundary of the umbra as it moved along a cloud bank well to the southwest of our location. A pale yellow color was visible on the clouds immediately in front of it. This was a really good light show, and I was getting excited! I took another panorama. The ambient light was now falling at an easily detectable rate and I began to feel as though the hair was standing up on the back of my neck. My pulse began to quicken in anticipation! The orange color low in the western sky was becoming more and more saturated, and spreading toward the southwest. I took yet another panorama. It was getting darker and darker. People around us began to shout and talk excitedly. We were being engulfed!

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At 11:58:25, I could still dimly see the crescent sun overhead. Totality was only twenty seconds away! The ambient light was dimming as fast as when the lights are dimmed in a theatre before a movie, but I was outside and it was almost noon! As both the ambient light and the sun continued to dim, people were getting more and more excited! The sun soon appeared to become an indistinct spot of light rather than a crescent. Its light gradually dimmed and became harder to see, then all traces of it just disappeared! Some people excitedly exclaimed how dark it was, while others grew quiet. Totality had occurred, but there was no trace of either prominences or the corona! The clouds were too thick.

Yellow, orange, and red color had appeared around much of the horizon, particularly toward the south and west. The cloudless sky over the ocean toward the south gradually grew darker as the umbra moved over it. I took another panorama. The ambient light was dim, but it was not truly dark. I could just make out the numbers on my camera's shutter speed dial. I took another reading with my light meter. It indicated an exposure of 3 seconds at f/4!

The orange color in the west gradually changed to yellow, but the upper boundary of the color did not appear to be any higher above the horizon than before. It soon became obvious that its upper boundary was defined by the bottom of some distant clouds. The true boundary of the umbra itself was no longer visible.

Three and a half minutes of totality had passed. I began to relax. This was a long eclipse. Too bad the corona was not visible! Before long, the sky low in the northwest began to brighten. I started to take another panorama, but I was out of film! I quickly removed the camera from my telescope and transferred the fisheye lens from the camera on my panoramic platform, then I began taking hand held panoramas.

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Third Contact:

The sky toward the northwest continued to brighten. Soon after that, the ambient light increased as well. Totality was over. The clouds overhead had thickened during the brief moments of totality, making it impossible to distinguish the emerging crescent of the sun. As people around us realized that totality had ended, some began to holler and applaud. Seconds later, the trailing edge of the umbra was visible on the high clouds over the ocean as it retreated toward the southeast. In a couple of minutes, the only remaining trace of the umbra was a slight darkening low in the southeast. A few minutes after that, it started raining lightly.

We later met several other people who had been on the beach near us. Some were glad to have seen what they saw, while others were literally in tears over having missed out on seeing the sun's corona. The latter people must not have been aware that the lunar shadow can put on a nice light show all by itself! One observer had driven his car all the way to Mazatlan from his home in Mexico City, only to be clouded out. He was aware that the corona had been visible from much of Mexico City, but he was taking it very well.

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The Great Cloud Caper:

This was my second total solar eclipse, but it was my first "eclipsed" eclipse! That night, we learned that people as little as 500 meters north of us had seen the inner corona for about the first 30 seconds of totality, then the eclipse had become obscured by clouds. Four or five kilometers further north, people saw the inner corona for nearly half the duration of totality before being clouded out. This made me conclude that we were right under the edge of a relatively dense cloud; a conclusion later supported by my all-sky photos. These photos showed the location of the cloud relatively well shortly after totality began. We were right under the northern edge of it.

After this experience, I added a wide angle visual optic such as a "door peeper" to my list of "mandatory" eclipse equipment. My all-sky photos show that if I had been able to periodically look at the clouds through a door peeper, I probably would have been able to determine that we were near the edge of the cloud by about 10 minutes before totality. Our equipment was cumbersome enough that it may not have been possible for all of us to have moved in time, but those who wanted to try and see the eclipse could have frantically run down the beach without their equipment. The contrast between the high and low clouds was so low that the cloud boundary was not visible through the viewfinder of the SLR camera with the all-sky fisheye lens. The dark image and the lines on the focusing screen obscured the low contrast detail.

Even though the solar corona was not visible from our location, the sight of the umbral boundary moving along the cloud bank to the before totality made the trip more than worthwhile!

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Meeting the Locals:

We later showed my wide angle umbra video on the hotel's only TV set. The video clearly showed the trailing edge of the umbra moving across the sky after the end of totality. A few of the hotel staff sheepishly asked if they could get a copy of the video. Most of them had not seen any aspect of the eclipse. It turned out that they had not been allowed to stop working even during the few moments of totality! There was no way to properly copy and title the video locally, so I mailed them a copy of it later. I was acquainted with a public relations gal at the hotel, so later I sent her a narrated copy of the the video. She and her family had the means (and my permission) to copy it for others at the hotel.

The kindness of the Mexican people I met in Mazatlan contrasted sharply with the behavior of some of the other tourists from the U.S. One rather brash tourist specimen just walked up to me, and without even saying hello, said: "Give me a copy of your video!" (ASKING for things must have been out of style for him). I turned him down, but after I did, he tried to get a copy by imposing on another member of our group. Of course, this tourist never got a copy of the video. I didn't even know him. In fact, I had never seen him before! Now I knew where the concept of "The Ugly American" may have come from!

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Back to the USA:

The weather cleared by evening on eclipse day, and we were all treated to a beautiful sunset. Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury were lined up along the ecliptic, and the colors along the horizon were very reminiscent of those we had seen during totality only hours before. As it grew dark in the east, I became aware of some similarities between the appearance of the lunar umbra and that of the earth's umbra as it covered more and more of the eastern sky.

We stayed in Mexico for another two days. A few of us liked the music played by "Marimba Palma de Oro", the band at the hotel. I considered trying out parasailing, but became less enthusiastic about it upon hearing of people who had cut their feet on broken glass in the beach sand upon landing. We also looked around town for eclipse souvenirs, but found that most of the vendors had been cleaned out for some time. Finally, the time came to fly back to the U.S.

As is the case with most eclipse chasers, I could not wait to get my photos processed after I arrived home! As far as I know, no one had ever taken 360 degree panoramas of the umbra at an eclipse before. I had never seen such photos, so I was surprised when I saw my own. They were far more dramatic than I had expected them to be! I was so impressed that I decided to make umbral panoramas an even higher priority than corona photos at future eclipses.

Click here to see dramatic 360 degree panoramic photos of the 11 July 1991 total solar eclipse!

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Awakening to the Latino Culture:

A couple of years before the 1991 eclipse, I had gone on vacation to Puerto Peñasco, (Rocky Point) Mexico with a group from my church. Even though hardly any of us knew Spanish, a few of us went into town and mingled with the local people. To me, this was preferable to just hanging around on the beach. I had never seen Mexican people in their own culture before. Compared to people from the U.S., most of them seemed very friendly. Many of them also had an appealing meekness and kindness that I had never personally seen in people before.

While in Mazatlan for the 1991 eclipse, I also became acquainted with a few Mexican people. My good impressions of the character exhibited by a particular Mexican gal at the hotel and some of the other locals I had become acquainted with made me seek to increase my exposure to Latino people in the U.S. after I returned from the eclipse.

The increased interaction with Latino people in the U.S. ultimately led to my attending a predominantly Latino church for a couple of years. The services in this church were entirely in Spanish, but many of the individual people there spoke English too. I eventually learned a little Spanish, and found that many in the church who did not speak English were very eager to learn it. I also became friends with the pastor of this church and his family. They were from Bolivia. The Latino culture was alive and well in their church, and most of the people there exhibited the same kindness and relative gentleness as some of the people I had met in Mexico. The relative ease with which one can be exposed to this and other cultures while in southern California is the primary factor which made me grow to like living in the area. This made it bearable to live in the city.

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Anticipating the Next Eclipse:

In early 1992, I moved from the Phoenix, AZ area to Pasadena, CA to begin work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Unlike my own business, the JPL position provided health insurance benefits without regard to so-called "preexisting" conditions. This made it more practical for me to go to future solar eclipses. The next eclipse would occur later that year in Uruguay, but the elevation angle of the sun would be low and the weather prospects were not too good. Therefore, I decided to wait until the eclipse of November 3, 1994 in South America.

In addition to photographing and observing the next eclipse, I wanted to perform experiments in order to learn more about the visible effects of the lunar umbra. Hopefully, this would provide me with the means to predict the appearance of the umbra at future eclipses. One of the most basic requirements for predicting the appearance of the umbra is to know the altitude, or altitudes, in the atmosphere at which the umbral boundary is the most visibly projected.

The umbra appears to be a dark area in the sky due to the lack of direct sunlight inside it. Outside the umbra, the normal scattering of sunlight makes the sky look brighter; therefore, altitude(s) at which the umbra is visible are probably determined by the altitude(s) of light scattering in the atmosphere. I did not have any information on daytime sky brightness as a function of altitude, but I guessed that the daytime sky was probably fairly dark at an altitude of 30 km or so. At least that was a starting point I could use to determine the timing for taking photos I would use for data collection.

To collect data, finances dictated that I use modest equipment. I decided to use a light meter, video camera, and 360 degree panoramic photos. (I was going to take panoramas for aesthetic purposes anyway.) If the panoramas were taken at known exposures and known times before, during, and after totality, they would allow measurements of the umbral boundary to be taken at multiple azimuths. Data from measurements on opposing azimuths during totality could be reduced without complex equations and would provide a sanity check for other results which may rely on complex equations. In order to determine optimum panoramic exposures at the next eclipse, I analyzed data from my previous umbra photos.

For my other eclipse "work", I wanted to refine my equipment and procedures. My equipment had worked well in Mexico, but it weighed well over 100 kilograms, (even without the N-gauge model railroad!) I wanted to travel lighter on my next trip, particularly since there was a good chance I would be traveling alone. It had taken more time than I'd bargained for to organize our group expedition to Mexico, and I did not want that kind of hassle again, particularly when no profit was involved. I also wanted to be able to set my equipment up faster, and making changes to facilitate this would not be easy. I had work to do!

The total solar eclipse of November 3, 1994 would occur in parts of Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil. After getting to know my friends from Bolivia, I had become interested in the country, so I decided to travel there to see the eclipse. This would allow me to see their family and a mission church that was associated with ours. In addition, it turned out that the family in Bolivia wanted to see the eclipse too! I anticipated that it would be a fun trip. I would be seeing places off the beaten path, far from traditional traditional tourist attractions. On this expedition, would see more than an eclipse. I would be see a culture!

One could wax musical at just the thought of it. (Oh no! Not another song!)

(Softly sing the following lines to the tune of "New York, New York"):

La, la, la la la. La, la, la la la. La, la, la la la, la.

Start spreadin' the ne-ws. I'm leavin' next ye-ar.
I wanna be a part of it, the next ecli-pse!

It's gonna get da-rk. I'll prob'ly freak ou-t,
I'm gonna be a part of it, the next ecli-pse!

I wanna be there, where the umbra will cover me!
To see the prominences, bright Baily's beads,
the diamond ring and the grand corona!

Sta-rt spreadin' the ne-ws. We're leavin' next ye-ar.
We're gonna be a part of it, the next ecli-pse!

So grab your te-le-scope, and head to Bo-li-v'ia,

Where you can see, the, next, e-cli-pse!

La, la, la la la. La, la, la la la. La, la, la la la. La!

Continued in Part 3: The Wild One; Total Solar Eclipse of November 3. 1994.

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Recommended Reading:

Steps to a Successful Eclipse Expedition, by Jeffrey R. Charles

Getting Your Film & Equipment Through Airports and to Your Eclipse Site

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