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The Webfooted Astronomer - September 1999


Despite Rain, Eclipse Parties Go On

by Rob Miller

I just got back from two weeks in Paris, France. We had a great time. Though there was great concern regarding the weather for the eclipse we did see it, including totality. On the morning of the eclipse we started out by car from Paris to drive north hoping to get as close as possible to the centerline of totality.

What traffic! The local press reported between 10 and 20 million people were on the road trying to get to a good viewing location. After about four hours of driving we managed to get just south of the town of Beauvais, about 60 kilometers within the path of totality.

We stopped at a roadside rest area at 11:50 a.m., about 30 minutes before totality. Cloud cover was about 95 percent. The sun kept popping in and out of view as the clouds slowly moved by, not that there were clear spots but rather there were areas of thin clouds that the sun could shine through.

I took about 25 photographs (slide film) with my 200mm lens and filter including three shots of the total eclipse with no filter. Unfortunately, however, in the excitement of the moment I loaded the film in my camera incorrectly and thus got nothing. That was a really big disappointment for me but at least I got to see it. I'll have to live with that.

There's nothing like a total eclipse. The luminosity dropped dramatically in the last few seconds before totality. There was also a noticeable temperature drop. Its like stepping under a shade tree. After about a minute of totality, during which the diamond ring was visible through thin cloud, a heavy gray cloud covered the sun, and we did not see the sun again for 45 minutes. Even so, it was great. We could not see the sun anymore but we could see the light return. It was like the hand of God pulling back the covers. The dark gray clouds started to turn yellow in the distant horizon and then the light just swept over us. It was well worth the trip.

In the weeks before the eclipse the French news media was filled with warnings about eye protection. Millions eclipse "glasses" were sold for 5 French franks each (about 90 cents). Every news outlet had eclipse articles. Also the advertising business picked up on it. We saw many billboards and posters for various products using the eclipse theme. The night before the eclipse we watched the eclipse parties on TV. Just about every town within the path of totality was hosting some kind of celebration.

It was a big chance for a lot of small towns to attract tourist. It was funny though, most of the parties were held in poring rain. Everybody kept a positive attitude.

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