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 travelled literally 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 June 21, 2001 in Lusaka, Zambia, was Liebenberg’s 15th eclipse. It is 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.
IN THE WILDS OF AFRICA
Eclipse No. 15: June 21, 2001 Totality: 3 minutes, 29 seconds
Where: Lusaka, Zambia Weather conditions: clear and dark skies
This eclipse occurred over Zambia on the day of summer solstice. It was my first eclipse of the new millennium.
My wife Norma and I joined a tour group and flew from Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa. After arriving, we settled into a nice hotel room with magnificent views of the city, which is situated on a high-altitude plateau more than a mile above sea level.
After a nice rest from our 18-hour flight, we headed to the airport and flew to Skukuza, where a lodge on the private Sabi-Sabi game reserve awaited us. We then went on a driving safari and saw an astounding variety of animals and birds. A wart hog that was blocking the dirt road stared us down. We also saw an elephant, considered one of the “big five,” along with rhinoceroses, lions, leopards and water buffaloes.
The evening drive wound through lovely country – and just after sunset, we stopped and met with other vehicles. Tables with white table cloths were set up and wine and other beverages were served right in the middle of the road. When we resumed our drive, we came upon a cheetah that had killed an impala and was sharing its remains with her cub. Some of us were as close as 10 feet, yet this did not seem to disturb the sleek yet deadly predators.
A grand buffet with wine and desert was served to us in the bush country. A bonfire kept the animals away, provided some warmth in the winter climate (Zambia is in the Southern Hemisphere), and provided coals that were removed for cooking. After dinner, we hunted for more game – to admire, not kill. Our Land Rover, which had staircase seating and no roof, was operated by a driver and a second guide with a rifle and searchlight. We came upon four white rhinos, two large and two small. It was an experience I will never forget.
Our room was connected to the lodge via a narrow path sunk below grade level for protection. We had no trouble sleeping. The next morning, we were awakened at 5:30 for a morning game drive. Norma decided not to go. We returned to where the cheetah had been seen, but a leopard had confiscated the kill and perhaps the cheetah cub as well. To follow a rhino, we drove off the road. A water buffalo was in a ravine and we got within 15 feet of this huge and powerful beast. We then enjoyed coffee at sunrise. During our trip back to the lodge for breakfast, we passed by impalas, zebras and wildebeests.
After a rest, we headed to the main lodge for a talk by David Levy from Sky & Telescope Magazine, which was the sponsor of this trip. Several people among us were here to see their first eclipse.
Before leaving for Lusaka the next day, we were up at 5:30 a.m. for another game drive. The leopard was gone and there was little evidence of the kill. But in an adjoining field, the cheetah was out in the open, apparently trying to find her cub.
We returned to the lodge and drove to the airport for our flight to Lusaka. There, we had a very nice hotel and then attended another eclipse oriention lecture in a ballroom with about 250 people.
On eclipse day, Norma elected to stay at the hotel where the totality would be somewhat shortened. But I went on a bus to a large open field where there was plenty of room to set up my equipment. I used both my 500 mm lens with the 35 mm camera and a new Sony video camera with a 25x magnification. As totality approached, cows in the field started to congregate and birds began returning to their nests while twittering about in the darkening sky. I used a wide-band filter centered on the green emission line and also took white-light coronal photos with the 500 mm system. A recording of the white light corona produced a bright diamond ring just as totality ended. I observed the white-light corona for more than 20 seconds after third contact. By fourth contact, I was packed up and returning on the bus.
We left Lusaka and took a short flight to Victoria Falls to continue our tour. We stayed at the British-run Victoria Falls Hotel, where the staff was always in formal attire and pictures of the various royalty who had stayed there adorned the hallway walls. After a refreshing sleep, we hiked to the falls, had lunch, and then were taken on a boat trip on the Zambezi River above the falls. We saw a number of hippos and also a huge crocodile lounging on the riverbank. After a very nice dinner, we were treated to star-gazing in the southern sky.
Overall, it was a trip that I still fondly remember. If anything rivals the beauty of a total solar eclipse, it is the beauty of nature right here on Earth.
Up next: Eclipse No. 16