The Annular Solar Eclipse of January 4, 1992

From: Jay Keller, Sunnyvale, California
Subject: The Annular Solar Eclipse of January 4, 1992

I'm not an astronomer, but my wife and kids and I caught the eclipse-bug bigtime after seeing the great total eclipse in July '91.  So we couldn't pass up the chance to see the annular eclipse which was only a six-hour drive away.  My hobby is photography, for which there may be no better natural subjects than good eclipses (and this was a good one!).

We arrived in the general vicinity of the centerline on Friday night, so by mid-morning Saturday we were exploring Encinitas (just north of San Diego) looking for a good spot.   I decided a while back not to go to Catalina Island, because my photographic aim was to get a picture of the maximum eclipse at sunset, just grazing the pacific.  I also wanted a shot of a semi-annular sun halfway set below the ocean.  It looked like Catalina and other offshore points would have sunset after the point of maximum annularity, based on the Naval Observatory charts and other information I'd seen in the Astro-rags.

We settled on Moonlight beach in Encinitas.  Weather was fair and mild with scattered clouds in early afternoon.  I was packing a Nikon 8008 with Nikon optics (lens/teleconverter combinations up to 840 mm), and a Sony CCD-V5000 Hi8 camcorder, on 2 fairly sturdy Bogen tripods.  I had Solar-Skreen mylar filters and viewers, and also a pair of binoculars and another 35mm camera.

By 3pm there were at least a thousand people on this beach and the cliffs overlooking it (where we were).  I guess we were about 100' or so above the sea.  Many amateur astronomers had their Meades and Celestrons set up. It brought us right back to Mexico, when we joined Tom Van Flandern's Eclipse Edge group to see the big one, only this crowd was less sophisticated about eclipses than the die-hards who went down to Mexico in July.  The weather looked pretty OK as we waited for first contact.

We got first contact with no clouds (I made no effort to accurately record timings, I leave that stuff to the real astronomers).  Then we got into some fairly thick broken clouds for a while, but the crescent-shaped Sun looked fantastic through the backlit cloud formations.

First the bad news.  Tragically, a thick cloud bank was sitting on the horizon about 1.5 solar diameters high.  The eclipsed sun began to disappear into the cloud bank exactly at the moment of second contact.  So we saw the full annulus for only a brief instant, we were cheated out of the last moments of the eclipse.

However, no one was complaining.  During the time between first and second contacts, the sun was well-visible most of the time.  The effect of the broken clouds was actually an enhancement to the beauty, not a detraction from it.  The scene was about as magical as I can imagine, almost even rivalling that incredible day last July.

The videotape looks spectacular. We even caught some birds flying across the partially-eclipsed Sun. When played in slow-motion this part looks likes something out of Disney, most unreal.

I shot Ektar 25 and Fuji Velvia, I'll know in a few days how these worked out. I'm optimistic but I never count my photos until they're hatched.  I shot some wide-angle stuff in addition to the telephotos.  Due to the clouds and the filtration of the atmosphere near sunset the solar filters were not needed very much of the time.

I have an eyepiece for the Nikon lens which made it into an 84x telescope, this provided the best visuals, especially when it was possible to remove the Solar-skreen.   Many sunspots were observed.

At the point we lost the Sun we did have the maximum eclipse in the sense of obscured area (over 80% obscured), although the disc of the moon was still almost tangential to the larger disc of the Sun, and slightly inside it.

It was Beautiful, incredible, awesome, and all the rest of the words that we apply when words don't apply.  We watched the video the minute we got home.

I just saw CNN's video, ours is much better.

My 4-year-old son and almost 2-year-old daughter have now seen 2 spectacular eclipses each, they are off to a good start.  For my wife and me, we just hope we can get to another one someday.

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