Total Eclipse of the Sun - 1998 February 26

Kavan U. Ratnatunga - Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15206, USA

It was mostly broken cloud cover over Willemstad in the Island of Curacao of the Nederlands Antilles since I had arrived on Monday 23rd February 1998. It was very clear before sunrise on the morning of the Eclipse, giving me a beautiful view of the crescent Venus. However, the sky became completely overcast after sunrise and remained so while we traveled by bus to Christoffel Park to get to the site at "Boca Tabla" chosen by the "Capital Area Astronomer group" for Observations. The site, within walking distance of north-eastern coast line of the island was fairly windy.

I setup on the ridge, although it was slightly more windy hoping to record the shadow pass over the island using the video camera. The sky was soon perfectly clear. This fast moving band of clouds had past over Curacao and was over Aruba around the time of the Eclipse, but they too had a lucky hole for brief period during Totality. The 3m 30sec of Totality was predicted to start at 14:11:27 and end at 14:14:55

 Prediction for
My first attempt at photography through the 3.5-inch Questa with a Topcan camera I borrowed from CMU, gave me some nice pictures of Solar prominences seen during Totality. I did not expose long enough for the full corona since the field of view though the Questa is only 1.6 times the Suns diameter. I also watched the eclipse more than concentrate on photography and therefore missed taking photographs of the Diamond ring etc. I anyway expected this to be difficult without a power drive for the camera to forward the film. I also could not use the clock drive since the altitude of the Sun was 60-degrees during totality and the camera hits the Questa mount at about 45 degrees when setup AltAzm. The geographic latitude of the site was just 12.4 degrees North.

This time I had traveled close to the center line since the first two Eclipses I saw from close to the edge, in Boliva on 1994 Nov 3rd and in India on 1995 October 24th when traveling with the expeditions organized by David Dunham and Wayne Warren. It was nice to see a much longer eclipse, however the Baily's beads, Diamond ring phenomena are clearly more spectacular close to the edge.

 Eclipse Prominences
This is a large prominence with a jet sticking out of it. These initial attempts at scanning do not reproduce what I see on the photos. The scanner seems to be not optimized to reproduce small bright regions on images which are almost totally black.  The large Prominence
Curacao is an island which gets many tourists during winter. The estimated 2000 who came to see the Eclipse just replaced the high spending standard tourists with astronomers who don't spend that much. The Holiday Beach hotel where I was staying tried hard to sign persons up for a pre-Eclipse party on the night before. They couldn't understand why they got low attendance.  Boca Tabla site
The tourist board took a lot of effort to give publicity about the Eclipse. They sold T-shirts, hats and beach towels with the Eclipse logo and distributed information books for and posters for the children. However they advised that children particularly, shouldn't look directly at the Sun even during totality. They were to use the Mylar glasses or watch on TV. An astronomer close to my site placed a portable TV on my table since he wished to record the broadcast. This attracted the security personal to my site since they wished to view the eclipse as advised by the govt. I don't think any of them looked directly during Totality. An opportunity of an lifetime missed for all of them. They were shocked to see me look at totality through my Binoculars without even a filter ...

The Nederlandse Antillen government issued a special set of 3 stamps with eclipse views and a different higher value 3-D stamp on a souvenir sheet. The 1.10 Guilder stamp have solar prominences pointing inwards :-)

0.85 1.10 2.25
Tuesday night was the last night of Carnival. The procession took about 2.5 hours to go past any place on the route. It was a mixed bag of floats from different commercial institutions on the island with many of the employees taking part in fancy dress. Not on a grand scale like I expect in Rio, but not bad for a small island. Some of the floats used the eclipse as a theme, and they even had one with the Space Shuttle and models of the Hubble Space Telescope. Must have been a high tech company.
Visited the Hatu caves close to the airport on Wednesday morning. Not the best I have seen, but OK. Some of the structures were nice, but no photography was allowed except at one site. In the past the caves had been used by slaves who lit fires, and the caves seem to have undergone a major cleanup effort which was not all that successful.  Hato Caves
An interesting place close to downtown Willemstad is a Platoon bridge which is used for pedestrian traffic, but swung to aside a number of times to let ships through into the harbor. When the bridge was closed one needed to take a ferry. It was nice to stay on the bridge while it was opening. On the night of the eclipse I saw the Eclipse celebration party fireworks from a moving bridge. The fireworks went on that day a number of occasions very late into the night as it had on the last night of the carnival.  Curacao Platoon Bridge

Fred Espenak's Eclipse Home Page ; Reports of the 1998 - Total Solar Eclipse Stamps
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