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The Webfooted Astronomer - October 1999

 

Tutuimosi in Tokat, Turkey

by Jim and Kathy Warner

My wife Kathy and I were very fortunate to replace a couple who had dropped out of a small organized tour to Turkey specifically for the August 11 tutuimosi (eclipse in Turkish). The tour was headed by the owner of a book and map store in San Diego who had previously lead eclipse tours to Baja California and the Caribbean. The tour was hosted by Turkish native Mehlika Seval, who usually does Turkey tours for Rick Stevens (Mehil-Tours).

Our small group of 28 consisted mostly of people from Washington and California and six "Kiwi’s" from New Zealand. Ten of the group were experienced eclipse chasers. One has seen nine solar eclipses, one was a professional astronomer working at Mauna Kea, and the resident eclipse expert was a professional photographer who brought along his top photography equipment and C-8.

The timing, location, weather, and environment couldn't have been better. It was perfect! People in the charming town of Tokat (population 30,000) were excited about the event. The local winery even bottled a special red wine for the event. The local agricultural research station hosted a lovely sit-down dinner for our group under a grape arbor where we were introduced to the local families that were putting us up for the night. The whole town turned out in the central square later that evening for a celebration with entertainment of folk instruments, folk dances with elaborate costumes, a comedy routine (I didn't understand a word, but it was still funny), a couple of Turkish pop singers, and a great show of fireworks. We were the guests of honor, seated in the front row. What a welcome!

The next morning we left for our observation site, which was up a winding dirt track into the hills some 1500 feet above the town. There was a spectacular view into the valley with the whole town spread out before us. The weather was clear and bright with only one low cloud to the north. The temperature was about 97ºF, but a dry, gentle breeze made it comfortable.

We were in position before first contact and nobody rushed as we staked out our own locations and set up our various pieces of equipment. Several of us began making pinhole projections onto white shirts and handkerchiefs through cards, straw hats, and even crossed fingers. Tension was building, especially among us first-timers, as the sunlight began to take on a yellowish hue and the shadows became sharper. About 30 minutes before second contact, our whole group stood quietly in place as the gentle sound of a far away amplified voice wafted up from the local Mosque in downtown Tokat. It was the Hoja chanting the mid-day call to prayer.

During the tour, we were asked to write our impressions of the eclipse for a memory book. The following is what I wrote a day or two after the eclipse. It begins with me looking through my glasses at the orange crescent getting narrower and narrower just before totality.

This is my first eclipse experience, and I thought I was well prepared, mentally and physically, for what I was about to see. I had a special place to lie down, special filter glasses, a camera loaded and ready, and so forth. I felt the rising excitement from everyone as the time approached. I wanted to cover all the bases of what to see and do, yet save time for drinking in the beauty and all the visual details.

"Here comes the shadow!" a nearby friend yelled. Yes! I quickly snapped off my glasses and glanced towards the northwest. It looked much like a very dark Pacific Northwest storm squall rapidly coming towards me as if a shade were being drawn over the hills beyond.

"Baily's Beads!" someone yelled. I quickly snapped my head back, but my glasses somehow fell back over my eyes. Drat! I took them off. Gasp! There it is! Yes, there it is! Am I really seeing it! I saw a spectacular black orb with shimmering strands of light completely surrounding it against a black sky. It was then that I realized how much I was totally unprepared for the overwhelming emotional impact this spectacle was having on me. I was weeping. I couldn't help it! The surprise of being so suddenly and deeply moved stunned me.

I just stared. I tried to remember the shape and structure of the streaming outer corona, and the intense ring of the inner corona. My weak eyes just couldn't detect anything red or moving, even though I really tried to locate prominences. I did notice that the inner edge of the corona was uneven and "notchy," which must have been caused by the prominences. My wife, who had binoculars, and others later told me that they could see several prominences emanating around the entire circumference, so perfect was the match of the two discs.

Then I looked at the black eye of the disc, which was blacker than anything else in the sky. I had the distinct impression that it was truly three-dimensional and bulging towards me. Was I seeing the dark side of the Moon?

I managed to sneak in a few other things. I took three pictures with my telephoto point-and-shoot camera, including one with Venus. Unfortunately, they didn't turn out well. I took a quick glance at the surrounding twilight all the way around the horizon, which revealed a few glowing reflections off low clouds—beautiful! All of a sudden we could hear fireworks from the city below, although nobody was looking at them. Then came a scramble to find my glasses as the eclipse leader called out what was left of the two minutes and 13 seconds of totality and the approaching third contact.

Someone else called out, "There she goes!" I watch, stupefied, as that beautiful black disc gracefully stepped aside in one gentle movement and a glorious sunrise occurred for the second time that day over some distant and unnamed craters. A necklace of little points of light spread out around the circumference. Bing! A brilliant golden diamond suddenly flashed. I snapped my glasses back on and a little orange bug grew into a curved worm before my shaded eyes. It then became the thin left-facing crescent, twin of the one I had been watching seemingly hours before. Of course, all the subjective three-dimensional effect is now gone as that stately celestial ballet ever increased the shape of the brilliant crescent.

Then it was over! It was a time of celebration and thanks. What a beautiful event, at an incredible place, at a propitious time, with such wonderful people. Breathtaking!

After this highlight experience, Kathy and I went on with the group for 15 more days travel in central and western Turkey with a new wonderful adventure each day. Fortunately, we completely missed the tragedy of the earthquake on August 16. We were 200 miles away and didn't feel a thing or see any devastation when we returned to Istanbul. Turkey is a beautiful country with wonderful people. It was a memorable experience for both of us.

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