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 Dec. 4, 2002, in northern South Africa was Liebenberg’s 16th eclipse. An eclipse on Nov. 23, 2003, over Antarctic was his 17th. An eclipse on April 8, 2005, over the Pacific Ocean was Liebenberg’s 18th.
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.
TRAFFIC AND CLOUDS
Eclipse No. 16: Dec. 4, 2002 Totality: 1 minute, 20 seconds
Where: northern South Africa Weather conditions: cloudy at the secondary location
By Donald Liebenberg
On Dec. 4, another eclipse occurred across northern South Africa and I signed up for a tour. Norma decided not to make the long flight. Lodging was in a small camp from which we would drive an hour to the eclipse site. However, reports of traffic snarls caused the leaders to plan a different location. This turned out to be a mistake, and clouds kept us from seeing the corona in totality while it was clear at the primary site. The group decided to drive farther to try to find a clear patch, but the best we could do was a view after third contact.
While the eclipse viewing suffered, we toured a variety of savannah and river areas with many different birds pointed out by our guides. Giraffes and other animals were easy to spot, some very close to the vehicles.
Eclipse No. 17: Nov. 23, 2003 Totality: 2 minute, 21 seconds
Where: over the Antarctic Weather conditions: clear and dark skies
The Chilean Airline was engaged by the tour group to provide a new aircraft of their fleet for a flyover of the Antarctic continent for the Nov. 23 total solar eclipse. Only one side of the aircraft would have a view of the corona, so the plan was to require two people to share viewing time of the 2 minutes and 21 seconds of totality. I chose to have a window by myself that was tucked in behind the last seats on the plane. We staged from Santiago, Chile, and the several-hour flight was arranged to first engage the eclipse and then to have an air tour of the continent.
The aircraft intercepted the umbra on time and the corona was brilliant at the 35,000-foot altitude. In addition, the shadow was at an oblique angle and thus very wide so that the sky was especially dark. Excellent data were obtained from the FeXIV green coronal emission line 530.28 nm filter on the Sony video camera, and a few moments without the filter captured the scintillating white-light corona. The later analysis did not reveal any shorter-term periodicities in the green emission line.
After third contact, our pilot took us over the South Pole, and we had the opportunity to get excellent pictures. A plane at the South Pole was taking off as we circled, and the air was so clear that the shadow of that plane’s exhaust/contrail was visible stretching across the white snow. We also flew around the Mount Vinson Massif and Mount Vinson (just over 16,000 feet), the tallest peak in Antarctica. We enjoyed the view and photo opportunities from the different angles. Finally, on the way back to Santiago the pilot flew low over the ice fields as they merged with the ocean.
HISTORIC ISLANDS AND A ROLLING GOOD TIME AT SEA
Eclipse No. 18: April 8, 2005 Totality: 29.5 seconds
Where: over the Pacific Ocean Weather conditions: clear view
The April 8 hybrid eclipse — that is mostly an annular eclipse with a small track of totality — was of interest since the tour planned by another group offered a tour of the Galapagos Islands and then headed out in the Pacific Ocean for the 29.5 seconds of totality. The MV Galapagos Legend would be home for my wife Norma and me — and about 95 other passengers. We flew to Quito, Ecuador, and had a tour of the city and out to the equator line where we could be in the Northern and Southern hemispheres at one time. A region of active volcanoes all was quiet while we were there. Norma was sick the morning we needed to leave for the islands and decided that she would miss the boat rather than suffer the air flight.
I took her packed bag, hoping this would simplify her making the trip later. She did have the opportunity to catch up a day later, and had some help from one of the tour staff who had left his passport in his checked bag and also missed the flight. He helped Norma pay the exit tax and they joined the ship in the Galapagos Islands.
We toured several islands, saw very old large tortoises and younger companions, observed birds of many kinds that Darwin had noted, and swam with the Humboldt penguins. Norma arrived the next day after lunch feeling much better. In the afternoon, we went back by zodiacs to Santa Cruz Island and visited the Charles Darwin Research Station. We saw “Lonesome George,” the last of his breed of tortoises estimated to be 60-70 years old. Iguanas and baby tortoises were being bred by the station. We enjoyed a nice dinner and then, overnight, sailed to Isla Fernandina, a volcanic island that last saw lava flow in 1995. A seal greeted us and we nearly stepped on a batch of iguanas crowded on the lava rocks. In addition to blue- and red-footed boobies, many small birds fluttered around in the tree branches. One guide fell into a lava tunnel, and so the zodiac groupings were reorganized. Flamingos graced one pool in the lava and we saw a frigate bird. That evening, we departed for the Pacific Ocean eclipse rendezvous.
At sea, this vessel was quite different than in the calmer Galapagos Islands. Rolling and pitching as we made our way through the Humboldt Current, the nicely prepared tables for dining with dishes all in place were upset; many dishes broke on the deck. The process was not corrected until our return trip when we sat at the table and dishes were passed out that we could keep them from sliding off the table. We traveled five days to reach the position for intercepting the brief eclipse. The captain had never been out in the Pacific Ocean with this vessel and had certainly never been asked to position his ship to intercept a narrow and short eclipse path. Fortunately, we had people on board with good equipment to get weather and coordinates accurately from satellites.
Eclipse day dawned with some high and spotty clouds, and a decision was made to set a new course toward better weather. I took my spot as settled on at the practice so all would have a clear view, and set the field of view of the video camera at about 2 degrees or 4 solar diameters — a little wider since I had no stabilization. The first contact occurred with clearing skies. I decided to move to the port side to avoid the smokestack emission from the vessel. About 30 seconds before second contact, I removed the solar filter protecting the video camera and totality overtook us. The eclipse ended with a predicted double diamond ring and I got good data. Although there were some clouds near the sun, we had clear viewing of the eclipse. No one was happier than the Master of the Vessel who had guided us to the position where we achieved the full 29.5 seconds of totality.
After six more days at sea, we returned to the Galapagos Islands for the flight to Quito and then homeward. This was a most delightful combination of an interesting visit to historic islands, a rolling good time at sea and a successful eclipse observation. My green emission line data showed a very bright coronal region that coincided with a white-light coronal enhancement that others had observed and that I identified as a normal coronal condensation.
Up next: Eclipses 19-20