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 11, 1991 in Mazatlan, Mexico, was Liebenberg’s 12th eclipse. An eclipse on Feb. 26, 1998, in Aruba was his 13th. And an eclipse on Aug. 11, 1999 in Elazig, Turkey, was his 14th. All three were viewed from the ground and are chronicled below.
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 continue to enjoy these amazing adventures.
MOTHER JOINS THE ADVENTURE
Eclipse No. 12: July 11, 1991 Totality: 4 minutes, 59 seconds
Where: Mazatlan, Mexico Weather conditions: mostly clear, some nearby clouds
By Donald Liebenberg
This long eclipse began near Hawaii but extended through Mexico, which offered an opportunity to take my wife Norma and my 90-year-old mother to Mazatlan for an eclipse viewing. I had built up some vacation time at the National Science Foundation, so we were able to fly to Mazatlan, rent a car and stay at a timeshare decorated with heavy wood-carved furniture.
We were surprised to find a snake in the room. After that problem was solved, we had a nice stay but remained a little wary.
On eclipse day, there were some clouds, and as first contact began, I decided to take my mother and drive south to find a better viewing point. Norma wasn’t feeling well and stayed at Mazatlan. My mother and I were able to find a spot that seemed to have better viewing, and as second contact occurred, we were treated to a very nice view of the corona. I had been so cautious about not looking at the sun without “eclipse shades” that after a minute of totality I looked at mother and realized that she still had her glasses on. She did take them off but was so flustered I’m not sure she saw the corona.
Later, we went to the pool for a swim and left mother in a lounge chair in the shade of a palm tree. When we came back, mother was being looked after by several people because a palm branch had come down and grazed her. Had she been sitting up, the heavy palm branch would have hit her hard. Medical help came and she was shaken but not hurt.
TRAFFIC JAM FAILS TO SPOIL THE FUN
Eclipse No. 13: Feb. 26, 1998 Totality: 3 minutes, 6 seconds
Where: Aruba, Dutch Caribbean Weather conditions: clear skies (but road traffic jam)
I retired from the Office of Naval Research in 1995 and joined Clemson University in 1996 as an adjunct professor in the department of physics and astronomy. My wife Norma and I moved to a home we had purchased in a lake-side community called Keowee Key in Salem, South Carolina. So the eclipse in Aruba off the coast of Venezuela provided a nice escape from the “winter” in South Carolina.
Aruba is part of the Dutch ABC islands, the three western-most islands of the Leeward Antilles in the Caribbean Sea that lie north of Falcón State, Venezuela. We had a lovely room with a patio that we shared with a colorful family of iguanas. While enjoying the tropical sights on the island, we scouted for a good location from which to observe the eclipse.
Eclipse day found us trapped in a traffic bottleneck that blocked us from reaching our preferred location. We studied our map and ended up heading to an Atlantic beach near a natural bridge that spanned an inlet. I used a newer Kodak CCD movie camera with a modest zoom lens outfitted with a green filter, and also a 35mm camera. But as it turned out, neither camera had the magnification to produce quality images.
A quiet stillness enveloped us at the beach during the totality phase of the eclipse. I wondered about the iguanas at our hotel. It would have been interesting to see how they responded to the eclipse and totality shadow.
NEAR MISS WITH AN EARTHQUAKE
Eclipse No. 14: Aug. 11, 1999 Totality: 2 minutes
Where: Elazig, Turkey Weather conditions: clear skies
My wife Norma and I signed up with a tour group for this eclipse adventure and flew into Istanbul. A boat tour of the Bosporus and dinner in a lighthouse completed a day of touring the city, including a stop to visit the “Blue Mosque.”
We headed toward Elazig by bus, stopping first in Ankara to tour of the capital city of Turkey. Then we traveled to Cappadocia to see the tent rocks that serve as residences. Our bus guide suggested that we should take a hot air balloon tour of Cappadocia, which turned out to be fascinating. We were two of just a half-dozen people to have this overview of the tent rocks carved out for living quarters. Along with just six other people, we flew in the hot air balloon the next morning before the air heated and were able to glide below the level of the tallest tent rocks and even brushed a tree branch. After landing, we enjoyed the traditional champagne toast.
We then traveled by bus toward Elazig but with a stop for special ice cream. This ice cream is so rich that it was shaved off a large hanging block that was 3 feet long and 10 inches in diameter. It was unusual but yummy.
Arriving in Elazig, we had rooms in a building similar to a one-story motel in the states: modest but adequate. The tour had arranged a viewing sight a few miles from our living quarters, but on eclipse day I was not feeling well and elected to observe a shortened totality from just outside the room. Norma stayed with me and we had a fine view of the corona. The green emission line photos that I took showed the inner corona base of helmet structures and fans.
After the eclipse, our tour included a visit to the Kurdish region of Turkey. Our destination was Mount Nemrut, a small mountain that King Antiochus had chosen for his burial site about second century BC. The king had had his slaves construct the mountain top out of 50,000 cubic meters of gravel. It was 150 feet tall and nearly 500 feet in diameter. We climbed all the way to the top. To say the least, it was an amazing sight to behold.
Before returning to Istanbul, we stayed overnight at Izmir, which is southeast of Istanbul. Though Norma and I didn’t notice anything, some of our party felt an earthquake – and indeed a very serious earthquake had occurred that was centered near Izmit, east of Istanbul. It caused a lot of damage, but luckily none of it was near enough to us to threaten us.
We got on the bus and headed to Istanbul for our flight out and were fortunate that the airport was still operating. Later, the airport would be handling relief crews coming from many places to help find and evacuate the many injured and casualties.
Up next: Eclipse No. 15