Nail-biting eclipse



Not that I’ve ever been a nail-biter, but this could be a term for the intermediate kind between triumphs, where a clear or sufficiently clear sky allows you to see all or most of the prelude and then the full glory of the total (or annular) eclipse; and failures, that is, cloud-outs. I’ve had two cloud-outs (1980 in Kenya and 2003 in Orkney), ten triumphs (of which one was annular), and two nail-biters, which in their way are the most exciting: 1979, my first eclipse, on the shore of the St. Lawrence, when a gap between rolls of cloud came along just in time; and 1997, in Mongolia, when by racing a snowstorm along a desert road we caught the moment of totality past the edge of it.

As we sailed north toward Faroe we expected to be clouded out: I think the average cloud cover at this time is 65 percent. We planned to go ashore into Torshavn town and watch the 20-degree-high sun with this huge ship in the foreground. But the captain announced that the wind (to us. there didn’t seem much of it) would not allow us yet to dock.

So Tilly and I stayed on the top deck with everyone else. The sun was at first in view, in a bright distant region below the roof of cloud. But that was before partial eclipse began. Then there was cloud, and some rain, and thin patches, through which (looking through our safety goggles) we could see the crescent of the sun dwindling) and fragments of white or blue that might move toward where the sun was but did not.

But at the last moment one did. You can see a black bulk of cloud moving away, crepuscular rays shooting upward from the almost unhidden sun.

Then the sun showed: the remaining sliver of it, but bright in contrast to the gathered darkness; then the diamond ring, and the complete ring of the corona. It was distinct but not outspreading, because still muted behind some thin cloud. You’ll be able to make it out, just, in the iPad photo, but this is a grainy travesty of what we could see. I’ll make a drawing of it at home, and I probably won’t try to post anything else during the rest of our voyage; it’s too difficult.



total solar eclipse 2015 March 20