PHOTO LINK: "Total Solar Eclipse Photos"
Half way around the world to witness a solar spectacular in Turkey
by Michelle Evans
There is no more incredible phenomenon in known space than a total solar eclipse. For someone who has never witnessed one first hand, it is impossible to truly describe what happens on an emotional level as the Sun’s last rays are blocked by the mass of the Moon. And what a bizarre happenstance that we may witness such a thing, that our Moon is just the right size and distance from Earth to block the much larger, but farther away, solar disk.
Whatever the celestial mechanics behind it, seeing a total solar eclipse is something that should be on everyone’s lifetime “To Do” list. The earlier in life you see your first, the more time you’ll have to chase others, because in the end, this tends to be what happens to anyone caught beneath the darkened sky.
The first time for me and my wife, Cherie, was on February 26, 1979. Under partially cloudy skies we both witnessed the Moon covering the Sun. At the time we didn’t even know each other, and yet we were just a few miles apart under the path of totality, as it raced near the border between Washington and Oregon. It was an amazing experience, yet neither of us understood how much we had missed seeing the full spectacle because of the clouds.
That didn’t come until twelve years later, when we made our pilgrimage to Cabo San Lucas for the great eclipse that lasted nearly seven full minutes under completely clear skies. It was on July 11th of that year that we finally understood the full force of what an eclipse can do to your psyche. Our only problem was that no more total eclipses could be seen in North America until 2017.
Finally, nearly 15 years later, we had the opportunity to partake again. And this would eventually become the most fantastic experience either of us had yet shared. We thought we were veterans after 1991, yet 2006 blew away every preconception we had about eclipses. The most amazing thing is that we were able to share this with so many others.
I have had the great privilege to work with Kaya and Mary Tuncer for several years on different projects involving space education. Kaya’s Space Camp Turkey, and Mary’s Global Friendship Through Space Education, are two of the most important organizations dealing with bringing kids around the world together to excite them about the possibilities of space and the future.
About two years ago, I happened to be looking at eclipse path maps and saw that on March 29, 2006, a total solar eclipse would pass through Turkey. This gave me the idea of organizing a tour through GFTSE and OCSS. Mary and Kaya were excited about the possibilities, and what eventually transpired would not have been possible without their full support and guidance.
I ended up with the job of tour leader for 15 people, plus our local guide and couple of drivers—the perfect size tour with the perfect people to watch the perfect eclipse.
We set off on an 11-day excursion that would start with a flight from Chicago to Istanbul, and then on to Izmir, home of Space Camp Turkey. We had set up something that no other group could possibly match. One day we were gawking at the 2,500 year old ruins of an ancient city, the next we dove into the future with a walk on Mars and rides aboard the Space Shuttle.
Before leaving for the other side of the planet, many of our group watched the weather prospects closely. The forecast kept changing: cloudy, rainy, clear, rain again. The eclipse could be doomed by conditions out of our control.
We set off with the mindset that we might as well make the best of it. Our first day sightseeing we took umbrellas because we knew with utmost certainly that rain would try to wash us away as we strolled the streets of Ephesus. In the end, we dealt with just a few smatterings of drops. Still, worry about the 29th always crowded my mind, and those of our group.
Our day at Space Camp Turkey was amazing. A bit reluctant at first, as soon as the first person volunteered to step aboard the Manned Maneuvering Unit trainer, everyone joined in and had a ball. We bounced across the 1/6th gravity lunar surface, spun around on three different axes at the same time, or climbed the Space Station construction wall of the Zero Gravity trainer.
Our travels then took us from Izmir on a cross-country trek that passed through many ancient sites such as Aphrodisias, Hieropolis, Aspendos, and Perge. One spot was the bizarre fairyland of Pamukkale where calcerous waters cascade down the mountainside, creating a beautiful white “Cotton Fortress” with pools of warm, deep blue water that we walked through bare-foot.
On the 27th we passed a major mile-stone on our tour: Driving through the Taurus mountains we stopped for refreshments at the small town of Korkuteli, significant because at that moment we passed within the western edge of the path of totality. Whatever happened from there out, we would be under the shadow we had chased across half the world.
The Kaya Hotel in Side (pronounced similar to “city”) opened their doors just for us and two eclipse groups from Canada. This fantastic 5-star resort pulled out all the stops to make our stay a memorable one. When we arrived after a long day of touring, they greeted us with cheery drinks in the colors of the Sun.
Our location at Side was directly on the centerline of the eclipse path. Swinging north in Africa, it would swiftly cross the southern Mediterranean coast near the Egypt/Libya border. At over 2,000 mph the approaching dark would bear down on us on the south central coast of Turkey.
We spent our time seeing more ancient sites such as the Temple of Apollo, where many people planned to watch the eclipse itself. NASA had arrived, and the Exploratorium of San Francisco was planning a major live webcast for everyone around the world from an ancient amphitheater not far from our hotel.
Eclipse Day dawned. With some trepidation we pushed aside the curtains to look outside. We were greeted by a perfect, nearly cloudless sky! The manager of the Kaya made sure all our needs were met, including giant shade umbrellas to make sure no one had too much light as we watched the Moon eat away at the Sun, and provisions to chill our champagne to toast our hoped-for success.
Our local time in Turkey was eleven hours ahead of OCSS time on the Pacific Coast of California. At 39 minutes past noon Turkish Daylight Time, or 01:39 am Pacific Standard Time, the eclipse began. Excitement quickly rose as the first tiny notch disappeared from the southeastern quadrant of the Sun.
It isn’t until about 70 to 80 percent of the Sun disappears that you can even start to tell that the light level is starting to diminish. Then the weird stuff starts to happen. Shadows cast on the ground by trees and bushes all have little crescent Suns embedded in them—the light itself is being polarized by the effect of the Moon, allowing only the direct rays through to the Earth’s surface.
Dimming starts to become noticeable, but the sky is still very bright. Then the last few percent of the Sun’s disk is all that’s left. The shadow is about to completely overtake us, the temperature drops almost 15 degrees. In just moments, from our vantage point on the Mediterranean coast, we can see what looks to be sunset 360° all around us.
The ragged edge of the Moon provides a diamond ring effect as the last few rays slice through a valley on the lunar limb, then it is all gone—gone except for the most magnificent thing you could possibly imagine—the corona!
The outer atmosphere of the Sun is only visible during a total solar eclipse. It is a million degrees of fury that appears to us as a gossamer set of spikes and wings around the blocked Sun. They extend outward a huge distance. Scattering its bizarre light to those of us on the ground, it appears as if a black hole has been punched in the sky with all the matter of the universe streaming in. No wonder the ancients would cower at this awesome site, banging on anything loud to scare away the dragon that had devoured their source of light and life.
In our case, people shouted, jumped up and down, and even cried. We are all living in the moment, savoring what cannot be passed on to anyone even just a mile outside the zone of darkness who misses the complete totality.
At 13:54:58.0 we entered the cone of the Moon’s shadow. At 13:58:41.8 the second diamond ring appeared as totality ended. Just 3 minutes, 43.8 seconds after it began, the lives of all of us had been irrevocably changed.
The champagne comes out almost immediately. Cherie adds her own special flavor to the toast with the suggestion of mixing it with the tasty local cherry juice. A new drink is born on the spot. A black-and-white kitty darts through our space and I christen him “Eclipse.” We take a walk down to the water’s edge during the waning eclipse to dip into the cool waters of the Mediterranean.
The morning after our eclipse, the skies are threatening as we head to the airport. We have complete cloud cover less than 24 hours after our perfect skies! The rest of the tour seems like an anti-climax even though it involves three fantastic days and nights in Istanbul. The Blue Mosque, Aya Sophia, a personal cruise on the Bosporus, and a farewell dinner at a lighthouse on an island, were just some of the highlights. Our local guide, Atilla Mahir, is by far the best we could ever hope for. He presented us with a grand view of his country and we returned the favor by giving him a taste of space that he says he will never forget. Even with thousands of others all along the eclipse path, Atilla dubs us “The Best Solar Eclipse Group.”
Some in our group had seen a Tam Günes Tutulmasi (Turkish for Total Solar Eclipse) before, and knew some of what to expect. The virgins at this eclipse had no clue what the veterans were talking about until it happened to them. Now they all understand—they’ve all become shadow chasers.