By Jim Melvin
CLEMSON, South Carolina – Clemson University scientist Donald Liebenberg has personally witnessed and researched 26 total solar eclipses over the past 60-plus years.
Liebenberg, who has been an adjunct professor in the College of Science’s department of physics and astronomy since 1996, has literally travelled all over the world to enter the path of totality of solar eclipses. He has studied them from the ground, on ships in the middle of oceans, and in airplanes. He even watched one eclipse from the cabin of a Concorde supersonic airliner, where he was able to remain within the window of totality for an astounding 74 minutes.
An eclipse on July 22, 2009, over China, was Liebenberg’s 21st eclipse. An eclipse on July 11, 2010, over Chile was his 22nd. And an eclipse on Nov. 14, 2012, aboard a cruise ship on the Pacific Ocean, was his 23rd.
All told, Liebenberg has spent more than two and a half hours in totality, which surpasses anyone else on Earth.
The upcoming Aug. 21, 2017, event over Clemson will mark Liebenberg’s 27th eclipse. He has also witnessed several other eclipses that were nearly – but not quite – in the path of totality.
Please sit back and enjoy the penultimate segment of these amazing adventures.
GREAT FUN, EXCEPT FOR THE RAIN
Eclipse No. 21: July 22, 2009 Totality: 5 minutes, 20 seconds
Where: Hangzhou, China Weather conditions: cloudy with rain
By Donald Liebenberg
I went alone with a tour group to Shanghai, because my wife Norma decided that she didn’t want to experience the rigors of another trip to China so soon after our previous one in 2008.
Our group had a nice hotel in Shanghai, and I had arranged a personal visit to Hangzhou to meet with Lindsey Sloan, a former student of Professor Terry Tritt, who is now the chair of the department of physics and astronomy in the College of Science at Clemson University.
I arranged a train ticket and chose “soft seat” over “hard seat.” I was met by Sloan and Nan Zhang (also related to Tritt’s group) at the station, and we then travelled to Hangzhou University for an on-campus visit. We toured a private museum that contained early Chinese artifacts, pottery and writings – and it included a golden bridge meant as a symbol of friendship between China and Taiwan. A Chinese professor treated us to lunch, and then we went for a walk around a small lake on the outskirts of Hangzhou. The lake was filled with beautiful lotus plants. Near the lake was a rock face with chiseled images of the Buddha. Afterward, Nan put me back on the train to Shanghai.
The next day, our tour group visited Suzhou, which is renowned for its gardens. We visited the “Lingering Garden,” where people tend to linger for long periods and enjoy the beauty. A young woman was playing an ancient instrument. And at another place, a woman in white was sitting in a boat. She looked like a character out of a fantastical dream.
After lunch, we took a boat trip on the Grand Canal that runs from Shanghai to Beijing for almost 2,000 kilometers. The following day, the group visited the Shanghai museum that had a bronze exhibit dating to 1800 BC. We also visited the Yu garden in the afternoon. Large bowls (4 feet in diameter) were filled with goldfish and dotted around the garden. All 300 of our tour members enjoyed dinner together. Afterward, there was a briefing about the next day’s eclipse. Jay Anderson, a meteorologist who was part of our group, was not optimistic about the weather. This was worrisome, because my Fabry-Perot Interferometer was in good tune.
Despite the poor weather reports, our tour group leader did not change plans. The next morning, we were on the bus by 4 a.m. Two or three members of our tour went off on their own inland trip and later claimed to have good viewing. Our location was chosen, in part, to give us a ride on the then-new causeway, some 22 miles in length, across Hangzhou Bay. We had a nice location at the other end of the causeway, but I was delayed in setting up my equipment because of the rain. The rain finally stopped and I was able to set up, but the clouds did not clear. I ended up with one image of post 3rd contact and briefly saw the eclipsed sun. But overall, it was a washout. The long totality – 5 minutes and 20 seconds – passed without providing me with any worthwhile data.
THE WONDERS OF EASTER ISLAND
Eclipse No. 22: July 11, 2010 Totality: 4 minutes, 40 seconds
Where: Easter Island, Chile Weather conditions: clear
While the eclipse was on Easter Island, our tour started in La Paz, Bolivia. We then transferred to a modest resort on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Southern sky viewing was encouraged and the resort had a telescope or two for use. We toured the lake by boat, stopping to see some ancient villages and have lunch at another resort/restaurant. While on the lake, we stopped at a floating reed island, where several families lived. They welcomed us enthusiastically. We saw that large reeds had been used to make the village, as well as canoes and sailboats. The families cooked meals on the reeds by placing sheets of metal beneath the coals to stop their floating homes from burning down.
The tour included a drive across the Atacama high desert to Arica, Chile, where we boarded a flight to Easter Island. We visited many of the large Moai set in various locations and groups around the island. The quarrying, chiseling and transporting of these massive heads is difficult to comprehend, although the technique of pulling the massive megaliths over rolling logs might provide the solution to an ancient puzzle.
Eclipse day dawned bright and clear, and while most of the tour went to an area where some could photograph the eclipse alongside the Moai, I stayed at the hotel and set up outside in the yard. This long eclipse (4 minutes and 40 seconds) did not yield any further short periodicities, in part due to problems with my filter.
MAKING NEW FRIENDS AT SEA
Eclipse No. 23: Nov. 14, 2012 Totality: 3 minutes, 26 seconds
Where: Pacific Ocean (aboard the MC Celebrity Millennium) Weather conditions: clear
The eclipse would occur over Australia in the morning, but we discovered a ship sailing from Hawaii to Australia that would position us in the totality shadow for a longer time than if we had chosen to view it from land. Many others were also on board for the eclipse, but a surprising number weren’t even aware an eclipse was about to occur.
On eclipse day, I asked permission to find a wind-shielded area in the forecastle of the ship. I ended up with a clear and quiet view of totality spanning 3 minutes and 26 seconds. Without stabilization on my tripod, the ship’s motion resulted in about a 1-degree roll, but I still managed to acquire good data. However, after analysis, I did not find further short periodicities in the data.
During a lunch on the ship after the eclipse, we met a couple who were returning to Australia and had been surprised by the eclipse. My wife Norma and I were planning to tour for several weeks in Australia, and our new friends invited us to call when we returned to Melbourne, and they would give us a day tour.
The ship docked in Sydney, and we rented a car to tour a few days in the Blue Mountains. After returning to Sydney, we boarded a cross-country train toward Perth called the Indian-Pacific Express. It runs once a week, and so we got off at Adelaide for a week of touring in the Barossa Valley, where we visited wineries in this well-known district. One night, we visited a large gold mine. We then traveled the longest straight rail line in the world and arrived in Perth, where we rented a car and drove down to the coast to a national park with large monoliths on the beach.
The next day, we drove to the Margaret Valley, where other well-known wines are produced. We then flew back to Melbourne and rented a car to go to a timeshare we had rented. The folks we had met on the ship took us on a day tour to their town of Bendigo, and they arranged a docent to guide us in the museum. We had lunch outside in a downtown restaurant. They invited us to their house and presented us with a typical Australian Christmas cake. It was a very nice day, and Norma and I hope to reciprocate, if the couple chooses to visit America.
Up next: The conclusion! Eclipses 24-26