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 Nov. 3, 2013, over Uganda, was Liebenberg’s 24th eclipse. On March 20, 2015, over the Faroe Islands of Denmark, was his 25th. And on March 9, 2016, aboard a cruise ship near Indonesia, was his 26th.
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.
This is the conclusion of his amazing adventures. But his 27th – and latest – adventure is just a week away.
Stay tuned …
Eclipse No. 24: Nov. 3, 2013 Totality: 20 seconds
Where: Chobe Lodge, Uganda Weather conditions: cloudy
By Donald Liebenberg
This was a hybrid eclipse, but it became a total eclipse over Uganda for about 20 seconds.
We flew into Entebbe, Uganda, and then rode a bus to the Sheraton Hotel in Kampala. The next day, our tour took us to the Chobe Lodge over a very bumpy road. We noticed people, including small children, carrying water from purer supplies in larger towns back to their villages. They either walked, or rode bicycles or motorbikes.
The following day, we went to Murchison Falls via boat on the Victoria Nile River. Upon returning to the lodge, we were requested to meet Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, who had come to stay at the lodge and view the eclipse. Before listening to a short talk given by Museveni, we were carefully screened.
The eclipse would occur the following day. But our planned location to watch it was the same place that the president planned to go. So, our tour leader decided to change our location to avoid the crowds and the extra security. This turned out to be a bad decision. The original site ended up having clear viewing, but a large cloud at our new site obscured totality.
The day after the eclipse, we toured the remote northern part of Uganda and visited a small town called Holma, where we spent the night in a local hotel. Then the next day, we visited the Kibale region to observe chimpanzees in their habitat. We followed our guide through the humid jungle and came upon a group of about seven of the magnificent animals. We were able to observe them for quite some time, but then something spooked them and they took off very fast into the trees. My wife Norma was having trouble walking, so a guide took her down a road and actually met up with us as we found a second group of chimps.
We drove back through Kampala to a very nice hotel on the shores of Lake Victoria, which was a good place to rest before our long series of flights back to the United States.
Eclipse No. 25: March 20, 2015 Totality: 1 minute, 39 seconds
Where: Faroe Islands Weather conditions: light rain and cloudy
A short totality occurred in the north Atlantic Ocean over the Faroe Islands and the Svalbard Islands on March 20, 2015. Previously, Norma and I had been to the Svalbard Islands on a cruise, and so we decided to go to the Faroe Islands.
We flew to Newcastle, England, boarded a ship chartered by the tour group, and sailed to the island of Streymoy, one of the 15 or so islands that make up the Faroe Islands. Our extravagant vessel also served as our hotel, which was highly convenient since tour buses came to the dock for several excursions. We visited Torshavn, the capital city, and crossed the “bridge over the Atlantic” to the Evsturoy and saw modern and ancient churches. The grounds around a hotel on the outskirts of Torshavn would be our viewing area, and this was useful because we could go into the hotel to warm up while waiting for totality. But on eclipse day, it was misty and cloudy. As second contact approached, we were resigned to clouds. Yet, we could see sunshine on a nearby island.
Streymoy has a tall ridge of mountains, all green but without many trees. And though we usually traveled near the shore, we took a couple of rides up the mountain and over the greens and down to the ship. The people there considered themselves a separate nation, although I expect they got some help from Denmark for major projects to spur tourism. Large waterfalls added to the beauty, and the shore road had bridges over the rivers.
We returned to Newcastle and rented a car for a several-week tour in the Cornwall area of England. One of the interesting stops was at a marble factory, which produced marbles for games and decorations.
REMEMBER THE DRAGONS
Eclipse No. 26: March 9, 2016 Totality: 2 minutes, 59 seconds
Where: Aboard MS Volendam in Indonesian waters Weather conditions: clear
We debated between a land site and a cruise ship and decided the ship offered more opportunity to avoid clouds in this Indonesian region. After flying to Singapore, we boarded the MS Volendam and sailed southeast to Indonesia.
Tours were provided at the seven ports-of-call of the different islands we visited on this cruise. The eclipse location was in the Makassar Strait. We enjoyed the islands and noted that this largely Muslim population was tolerant of Christians and other religious faiths, in some cases sharing their Mosque with other faiths’ services.
Eclipse day was mostly clear, and I took a spot on the forecastle to set up two tripods with the green emission line camera and a second camera for the white light corona photography. There was a fair amount of wind, and so the green emission line photos had many blurry images. Nonetheless, I sorted through and collected enough steady images to search again for short periodicities, but I did not find any convincing evidence. However, I did obtain a nice white-light photo of the inner corona.
Following the eclipse, we docked at Komodo Island, where there is a sanctuary for the famous Komodo dragons. These huge lizards grow to six or more feet in length and harbor a deadly poison in their mouths, for which we were told there was no antidote. The guides carried long sticks, but it wasn’t so clear to us that these sticks could stop a hungry Komodo. Some of our group saw a deer that had been bitten and was in the process of dying. I was impressed that these seemingly slow lizards could get a bite of a deer, but the evidence was there. The Indonesians are proud to provide a preserve for the Komodo dragons and offer tours. I don’t know of any zoos that have a Komodo.
And now you are up to date. The 26 total solar eclipses I have studied – starting in 1954 – have set the stage for the 27th. On Aug. 21, 2017, I will view this latest eclipse from my driveway in Salem, S.C. Family will join Norma and me for this marvelous spectacle.
My wife and I hope that the many visitors who come to Clemson University will also share in our excitement.
The sky will get darker. Birds and other animals might settle in for an early night. The temperature will drop a few degrees.
And finally, as the moon’s shadow comes upon us, the splendor of the corona will appear for 2 minutes and 37 seconds.
Let us all hope for nice weather and clear skies. If so, I can promise you – from a lifetime of experience – that Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, will be a day you will never forget.