The Total Solar Eclipse
of August 11, 1999

report by Marion F. Turner with notes
to HTSPWeb front page

The month had hardly begun before the media launched into a chorus of dire forebodings, seemingly aimed at destroying our innocent pleasure in what would be for many people a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle. First came the Guardian with its headline: Street lights may spoil eclipse view. A nasty shock, we heard, lay in wait for stargazers expecting to be plunged into total darkness, as street lights everywhere flickered on, bathing the scene in a bright orange glow. Cornwall estimated that to deactivate the county's automatic lighting system for the occasion would take 26 man-years, cost nearly £1m, and leave the region without street lights for a month afterwards. And for the benefit of any smart alecs who might be planning to avoid the towns, agricultural experts took the opportunity to warn that cattle might panic in the sudden darkness and run amok, causing havoc to life and limb in the countryside.
    Next, the Daily Mail published a special feature highlighting the perils of actually viewing the eclipse. In 1927, during Britain's last total eclipse, a number of people had lost their sight after staring at the sun, and in 1994 11 people in Manchester were blinded by a partial eclipse. A nurse told how she went blind after accidentally glancing up at the sky for only two or three seconds during an eclipse. Keep children in during the eclipse, warned an eye surgeon. Just one moment's carelessness could condemn them to a lifetime of handicap.
    It has been, wrote a Guardian reporter later, a week of alarming news for anyone planning to stray outside at this time. The Chief Medical Officer, Liam Donaldson, drearily advised remaining in the house, keeping away from the windows, and watching the event on TV. Alternatively, make yourself a pinhole camera, turn your back on the sun, and watch the eclipse projected on a sheet of white card, taking care not to look up at the sky even for an instant. A third option, of course, would be to draw the curtains, put a binbag over your head, and hide under the bed until the danger has passed.
    Scientists dismissed much of this scare-mongering as nonsense, pointing out that there were just 13 cases of sight damage during the 1927 eclipse, in spite of millions of people having flocked to watch it. An eye expert from St Thomas's Hospital found that all the 1994 sufferers had used makeshift filters, some of them incredibly primitive. An optics safety consultant described as complete rubbish the suggestion that one glance at the sun could cause instant blindness.
    Astronomers emphasised that while suitable filters—not sunglasses, exposed film or CDs—were certainly needed for the pre- and post-totality phases, there was absolutely no danger in looking directly at the sun, even with binoculars, once it was completely covered by the moon's disk.
    No way discouraged, the gloomsters now turned their attention to the various kinds of eclipse viewers on offer. Even those made from the much-hyped Mylar™ were not to be relied on; they could contain defects, such as small holes invisible to the eye but capable of admitting dangerous radiation. The manufacturers of the material, DuPont, hastily covered their backs by announcing that Mylar™ had never been intended to be used for eclipse viewers.
    A further complaint was the design of the cardboard “spectacles” in which the filters were fitted, which might be too wide or too narrow for the particular wearer. To be perfectly safe, said an expert from the RNIB, each pair should be individually tested and fitted to the wearer. Safeway supermarket immediately withdrew the 99p viewers they had on sale, and which a Guardian reader claimed she'd seen being sold loose from a box, often scratched and bent.
    Other outlets followed this example, and on the Sunday after the eclipse the Sunday Post reported that as a result many people had been frustrated at being unable to buy viewers of any kind, and were therefore tempted to have a squint at the sun with the naked eye.
    Guardian readers wrote—some seriously, others less so—about their own youthful experiences, or those of older relatives:

  • My parents-in-law swear that they were led out to their schoolyards and told to lie on their backs. They were then given pieces of broken glass which had been held over candles to darken them. Their eyesight and fingers remained intact.
  • I clearly recall my school being led out into the playground and given little dark squares with which to view a partial eclipse. Smoked glass? Exposed 120 film negative? My vision remains unimpaired 45 years later.
  • Smoked glass to view a partial eclipse? Heaven forfend anything so sophisticated. We were given empty Marmite™ jars.
  • Marmite™ jars? Exposed film negative? Luxury! When I were a lad we had to scavenge through rich people's dustbins to find discarded coloured cellophane sweet wrappers and have them taped to our eyebrows. Eclipse watchers today don't know they're born.

    And finally, a different consideration:

  • In all the coverage about how looking/glancing/peeking at the sun could damage one's eyes to a greater or lesser extent, the experience of users of sextants has never been raised. As a youngster I used my sextant a lot with no apparent ill effects, viewing the sun through the attached low-power telescope with a combination of one to three not very dark glass filters—or none at all if I forgot to align them properly.

Press and TV went to town on the problem of people crowding into Cornwall for the occasion. Estimates of the number of visitors varied from 1.5m to 3m or even 4m, and there were fears that the county could run out of food and water and that the sewage system might break down under the strain. We were reminded that Cornwall is effectively a cul-de-sac; once in, you could be stranded there for days, unable to get back out again.
    Television showed big stores stocking up with bread, baked beans, and canned or bottled drinks—despite the fact that motorists were being advised to bring their own food and water with them. It was reported that, even at bumped-up prices, hardly any vacant accommodation was available, and what there was would soon be snapped up. Farmers turned their fields into campsites, expecting vast profits.
    As the day drew nearer, hysteria mounted. A plan by Newquay surfers to stage an eclipse wave-ride was wet-blanketed by lifeguards, who warned people not to enter the sea during the eclipse—perhaps under the impression that it might freeze over during the two minutes' chill of totality. Visitors were cautioned to stand back from cliff edges, carry torches, and keep a firm grip on children, while the fire service advised against the lighting of barbecues, campfires and even candles on cliff walks because of the danger of fast-moving fires.
    Coastguard leave was cancelled since, with 500,000 people expected to put out to sea, hundreds of incidents of boats colliding with each other in the dark were predicted. Auxiliary coastguards were to patrol the cliffs on horseback, armed with radios to summon lifeboats if necessary. Hospital and ambulance workers were put on standby, and eye specialists braced themselves to deal with the inevitable flood of injuries.
    Because of the supposed mystical significance of the event, there was some apprehension that Cornwall might be overrun by hordes of Druids and New Agers, leading to a rise in crime. Some travellers had already moved in, reportedly clashing with the police. Anarchists had distributed leaflets in London and Penzance, encouraging people to gatecrash festivals, shoplift from chainstores and smash parked cars. All police officers in the area had already been told not to book holidays for the period, and extra motorbike police were being drafted in for quick access to trouble spots.
    There was talk of huge traffic jams, with the roads completely gridlocked right from Bristol to Penzance. The chief constable of Devon and Cornwall considered closing off the entire region if emergency services were hampered. by the congestion, and the Prime Minister told Truro MP Matthew Taylor that, in the event of local services being unable to cope, he would allow the military to be called in for assistance.
    Not surprisingly, by August 9 we were seeing headlines such as Eclipse gloom as crowds stay away. The traffic chaos was failing to materialise, as were bookings for the various pop festivals, some of which had to be cancelled—including one planning to fly in a bunch of celebs and charge up to £880 per ticket. Campsites where thousands of pounds had been invested in the installation of hot showers, stand-pipes, portaloos and bars remained practically empty and faced financial disaster. A bouncy castle, brought all the way from Yorkshire at tremendous expense, did not attract a single customer. Weather experts, who had previously predicted a high approaching Cornwall that would guarantee clear skies, now changed their minds and dropped the chance of seeing the eclipse to 20%.
    As West Country entrepreneurs lamented the prospect of heavy losses, the Daily Mail's front page proclaimed: YOU'VE RUINED OUR ECLIPSE. The Government copped it—not without good reason—for its negative publicity that had discouraged eclipse tourists and regular holiday-makers alike; but the media with their alarmist scenarios were equally guilty. Only Brigadier Gage Williams, the region's eclipse coordinator, remained resolutely optimistic. Never mind the roads—extra trains, over 20 from London alone, were fully booked and he was confident of seeing a rush of visitors arriving on the day—although even while he spoke the Cornish Tourist Board was actually attempting to deter day-trippers.
    Meanwhile, the weather maps continued to deteriorate, showing a low-pressure system moving in from the west to bring rain and clouds at precisely the time when the eclipse was due. Chances of the sun being visible from Cornwall fell to 10% or even 5%.
    Still, it wouldn't be the first time they'd got it wrong, so on Tuesday evening we set off with cautious optimism, well provisioned for the journey. As the train trundled through Cornwall on Wednesday morning, the sky was bright, streaked with light clouds. Prospects seemed good—eclipse-wise, anyway. But what about the situation crowd-wise? Would it be standing room only? Would we spend the day pushing through milling throngs, queueing endlessly for drinks and the loo, and finding nowhere to sit down?
    In fact, Penzance seemed strangely empty. The only times we queued all day were on the train when we went to fetch some breakfast from the buffet car, and at the railway station to go home. Where was everybody? We had our pick of benches on the promenade, where we could sit watching the few passersby and trying out our assortment of eclipse viewers as the sun peeped in and out of the clouds.
    For once, though, the Met had made no mistake. Towards eclipse time the black clouds thickened and a drizzle of rain began. We went for coffee in a shopping centre on the front, then joined a small crowd on the building's balcony, well above street level and giving a clear view across the harbour and the cloudbank behind which the sun was lurking. The light faded slowly and the sea darkened, although no more than when a heavy shower is expected. But at the last, as the final sliver of the unseen sun vanished, darkest midnight fell with dramatic suddenness.
    Right on cue, a troop of seagulls started flapping about, squawking hysterically, and a dog howled in the distance. Down below us, the street lights came on as predicted, cameras flashed all over the car park and the harbour front, and somebody let off a couple of fireworks which burst into showers of coloured stars against the black clouds.
    I was disappointed for Philip's sake, as he's never seen the real thing, but in spite of that the spectacle was unexpectedly impressive in its own way, and completely different from our first eclipse. For one thing, the darkness this time seemed more intense, and therefore more awesome—but then in 1973 we had the light of the corona brightening up the scene to some degree.
    Towards the time of fourth contact, the rain stopped, the blackest of the clouds blew away, and the sun made a tentative appearance. Everybody in the streets, including us, whipped out their viewers in the hope of seeing the tail-end of the eclipse, but it was too late. We were now left with a couple of hours to spare before catching our return train, and I have to say that Penzance had laid on absolutely nothing to entertain its eclipse visitors. Both the National Lighthouse Museum on the front and the Museum of Geology in the town were firmly closed and padlocked. Penlee House, which promised exhibitions of local paintings and pottery as well as a café, displayed a notice saying “House closed for the day of the eclipse”.
    Thanks very much, Penzance, you made us feel really welcome.
    Even the famous Cornish pasties—handmade and hand-crimped—seemed to be in short supply, and we were lucky to secure three for eating on the journey. I suggested buying a bottle of wine to drink with them, until Harry pointed out that we were in an alcohol-free zone. It's true: alcohol is banned in the whole of Penzance's main shopping street, so no wine shops. Weird.

Wednesday August 11, 1999 has to be a day that will form the stuff of legend among the railway staff at Penzance. The station simply didn't have the capacity to turn so many extra trains around in such a short time, or to accommodate the horde of day-trippers arriving all at once to board them. Things looked like turning nasty as eclipse travellers, instructed to line up neatly in the car park for their respective trains, beseiged the locked gates of the station, demanding to be let in out of the rain and refusing requests to move away so that passengers from incoming trains could leave.
    Penzance's entire police force—two bobbies—had to be called out to keep order. In the end, though, no arrests were made and all the trains got away. Ours left an hour late, but quickly made up most of the time. The pasties had kept quite hot and proved to be excellent, plenty of tasty filling and not too much stodgy pastry. A glass of wine would have washed them down very nicely, though.
    We arrived at Piccadilly around 3.30 am, the taxi I'd booked was waiting to collect us, and half an hour later we staggered into 10 Carlton Avenue. Was it worth it? Well, let's say it was an experience—and one that we're never likely to have again.


The Invasion of the South-West
as reported by John Arlidge in the Observer, August 8, 1999

Cars abandoned as petrol pumps run dry. Mobs fighting as panic buyers strip the supermarket shelves. Police, firefighters and doctors stranded in traffic jams. Women giving birth in laybys. A bonanza for burglars. Water supplies reduced to a trickle. Clogged sewers. No money to go round as hole-in-the-wall machines at rural banks run out of cash. Families forced to sleep rough on Bodmin Moor because every bed and campsite is full. Anarchists stirring the pot.
    Welcome to a thoroughly British eclipse. The crush of the century starts today when the first of a predicted two million druids, ravers, astronomers and amateur stargazers from all over the country crawl on to the A30 and head west. By Wednesday the biggest movement of people since the war will have trebled the population of Devon and Cornwall—the only area where viewers can see the moon blocking out all of the sun's rays.
    One of the greatest natural sights—which has convulsed primitive civilisations—is testing the power of the twentieth-century state. Police, medical teams and the plummy-voiced ex-brigadier who is supervising the operation from his hydrangea-infested garden near Bodmin admit they do not know whether the South-West will survive E-day.
    The poorest counties in England are on a war footing. Over the next five days so many cars will take to the motorways that police admit they might run out of tarmac. Officers plan to keep the 'sun run' moving by reinforcing their own 20-strong team of motorcycle patrols with 24 from the Army and RAF and 16 from other forces.
    An armada of yachts and motor launches will carry 500,000 people into Europe's busiest shipping lanes off Lands End. Coastguards fear that severe gusts of wind caused by the sudden drop in temperature that will accompany the eclipse will topple fragile vessels.
    Richard Day, of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said all 35 lifeboats in the South-West will be on alert and three relief lifeboats will be at sea at all times next week. 'There has never been a maritime gathering like this. It's bigger than Dunkirk.' An air traffic controllers' nightmare of Microlites, helicopters, private planes and airships will soar above the waves. There are also fears for the huge crowds expected to assemble on cliff edges and on crumbling headlands in the West Country. Landslides are common.
    Travel firms predict the big rush will begin in earnest today. Great Western, which runs trains from London to the West Country, has sold all of the seats on scheduled services as well as 10,000 extra places on 21 'Eclipse Specials'. The company says only passengers with booked seats will be able to travel. Tourism chiefs are warning that all 125,000 holiday beds in the region are booked.
    Devon residents have been asked not to go to the doctor next Wednesday to keep medical staff free to deal with emergencies. Major hospitals in Plymouth and Truro have cancelled all routine operations to handle accidents, including possible blindness.
    Water companies have spent £2m to cope with the demand. They can supply 1.3m visitors. If too many turn up, lorry loads of Evian are on standby.
    On the farms of Devon and Cornwall landowners fear hordes of anarchists and New Age travellers will set up makeshift camps, threatening crops and wildlife. Some travellers who attacked city traders in the Carnival Against Capitalism riot in the City of London in June are urging supporters to bring the South-West to a standstill and loot businesses which will close for the day.
    Farmers are warning campers that animals can be spooked by the flickering light which seems to make the Earth move during an eclipse. Birds will fall silent, dogs will howl and nocturnal animals emerge wailing. Flowers will begin to fold their petals.
    Just one man stands between order and moonshadow madness—former Brigadier Gage Williams, Cornwall's eclipse co-ordinator. 'It sounds like a national disaster and the idea is to avoid it,' says the Eton-educated businessman who spent 31 years in the Army, including seven tours of duty in Ulster.
    The man nicknamed the Prince of Darkness has been getting up at 5am every day to try to organise the normally relaxed Cornish folk for the once-in-a-lifetime invasion. 'The biggest difficulty in military planning is the decision based on imperfect knowledge. We call it the “fog of war”. The foggiest part of the eclipse is not knowing the numbers.' But he is a born optimist and is convinced that it will all work out on the day.
    Time will tell. Even if the traffic flows freely, water runs and everyone remembers to bring their Blue Peter-style pinhole cameras, there is still one cloud on the horizon that not even the 'Sun King' can handle—the weather. The Meteorological Office says the outlook is for a dry start to the day next Wednesday, with sunny intervals. Clouds are expected to build gradually during the morning with the odd shower developing by mid-afternoon.
    The only way to guarantee a clear view is to soar 60,000ft above the grime of the Earth's atmosphere—on Concorde. Passengers downing champagne and nibbling smoked salmon will see and photograph the total eclipse for 11 minutes as the aircraft tracks the moon's shadow through the sky at l,400mph - giving jet-setters five times as much darkness as mortals on Earth.
    Whatever you do, don't blink. If you miss this eclipse, you'll have to wait 91 years for another.


Iran's Bazaar Rip-off Greets Backpackers
Genevive Abdo in Tehran reports on a welcome for Western invaders

Iran will set aside its political and religious controversies and welcome an influx of Western tourists arriving to watch the eclipse from the best vantage point in the world.
    One British visitor who came early said she had queued for her visa at the Iranian consulate in London. 'There were so many backpackers anxious to come to Iran. I couldn't believe it,' said Jaqueline. Even before their arrival a certain amount of frenzy had broken out. For two weeks, state television has featured special eclipse programmes.
    An amateur astronomer, Hossein Mirfakhraie, takes to the airwaves on most evenings to talk about the virtues of scientific wonders. On radio, mayors try to lure spectators to their towns, claiming the view is better off the beaten track.
    Greedy tour operators have reserved all the hotel rooms for hundreds of tourists who will pay in scarce foreign currency, not Iranian rials. Flights to Isfahan—a trading centre with a world-class bazaar and said by the US space agency Nasa to offer the world's most favourable conditions for viewing the eclipse—were bought up months ago.
    The altitude of the eclipsed sun will be more than 40 degrees above the horizon. In Isfahan, the chance of a clear sky is expected to be 96 per cent, compared with 62 per cent probability in Bucharest and just 45 per cent in Lands End.
    Everyone hopes the darkness will at last brighten up Iran's tourism industry. But tour operators say last month's student demonstrations in Tehran, the worst unrest since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution, have scared some foreigners away. And if the riots in the streets were not enough to discourage outsiders, hardliners are doing their best to finish the job. They are claiming that a Western scientific invasion is under way ahead of the eclipse.
    A seminar scheduled in Isfahan for world-renowned astronomers, including a few Americans, caught the attention of the hardline newspaper Jumhuri-ye Eslami.
    'The Americans are trying to penetrate Iran's scientific institutions for various reasons, so they can achieve their political goals by different means,' the paper said last Thursday.
    There is, however, one thing Iranian eclipse watchers will share with the rest of the world—the international scam over eyeglasses. As in Europe, enterprising rip-off artists have set up shop on street corners and in bazaars selling substandard sunglasses which will surely fail to protect the retina from being burnt. Once word got out last week that the glasses were a hoax, Iranians stopped buying.
    'I even lowered the prices on the glasses and business still didn't pick up,' said the owner of Sarv-e Naz optics in north Tehran. 'And the glasses I sell are medically approved,' he said, pointing to the sign in his shop window: 'Approved by the Iranian Association of Astronomy.'
    Yet the setbacks that have befallen eclipse enthusiasts in Iran will have a softer blow than they might elsewhere. Iranians do not have to worry about never seeing another eclipse this millennium. According to their calendar, it is still the year 1378, giving them another 622 years to get it right.
    Sheik Mohammed Mehdi Shamseddin, religious leader of Lebanon's 1.2 million Shia Muslims, has issued a ban on watching the eclipse. He reminded his followers that any action that is. harmful to the body is prohibited by Sharia, or Islamic law.


From the Daily Mail Eclipse Special, August 11, 1999

    Apocalyptic predictions that this morning's celestial spectacular will signal the death of Paris have only whetted France's appetite for the eclipse, with concerts, art shows and cocktail parties all laid on. Fashion designer Paco Rabanne, a self-proclaimed clairvoyant, claims the Russian space station Mir will tumble into the capital today, causing the City of Light to disappear in a ball of fire. Meanwhile, TFI television station plans to establish a live link with Mir on Wednesday to keep tabs on its progress. A residents' association in the south-eastern city of Lyon has even created a provisional government to take control of the country if the worst happens, with a Minister for the Reconstruction of Paris On Wheels—so that the rebuilt city can be moved to safety if more disaster heads its way.
    The looming destruction of Paris aside, France was yesterday preoccupied by a dire shortage of special 'sun-safe' glasses. The government has issued some 35 million pairs of specs, but with a total or partial eclipse covering the whole country, demand has been huge and most distributors sold out days ago. Le Parisien newspaper had planned to give out 630,000 free pairs yesterday, and queues had formed at news-stands before dawn. However, many of the glasses failed to materialise. The newspaper issued a statement saying the specs had been stolen. 'An investigation has been launched,' it added.
    More than five million visitors are expected to head into France's band of totality, and trucks have been banned from the roads to try to keep the traffic flowing.

    The biggest talking point in Germany is whether or not workers will be allowed time off to watch the eclipse, which reaches totality in the south of the country. More than 60% of the population, or 50 million people, are planning to watch it, irrespective of their bosses. About half the country's businesses are allowing their staff time off. BMW and DaimlerChrysler factories in Munich, which is in the band of totality, will give their staff a half-hour break, but McDonald's staff are furious that their requests for time off have been ignored. In Saarbrucken and many other towns, church bells will be rung to mark the eclipse; and in Chiemgau, Bavaria, Alpine horn- players will blow their instruments from a l,700m-high mountain.
    Some 10,000 followers of a Spartan cult, the 'Keltic Kultur', are gathering in forests near Stuttgart for the blackout. Keltic Kultur followers believe in simple lifestyles, eschewing all modern technology and taking inspiration from the early Celts who spread throughout Europe more than 2,000 years ago.
    More conventional religions have set up telephone hotlines offering 'Seelsorge'—advice for the soul—for people worried about the spiritual implications of the eclipse. Organisers of the Catholic hotline report a number of apocalyptically minded callers: 'Many people think this is some kind of judgment day, where the Sun darkens and the stars fall from the heavens.'

    Chaos is predicted on Hungary's roads as more than a million people are expected to head for the best views tomorrow morning—despite weathermen warning of low cloud and poor visibility. The country's Minister of Transport has called for calm and warned drivers to pull over to the side of the road for the duration of the event.
    Budapest's street lights will be turned on for 12 minutes when the eclipse reaches its climax, and most businesses are expected to close for the day. Farmers throughout the country have been told to keep their animals indoors because the eclipse is expected to upset their daily rhythms.
    Patients at Budapest's main psychiatric clinic will not be watching the eclipse. They have been ordered to stay indoors, where they can watch the event on TV. Dr Gyorgy Narai, who is in charge of the schizophrenic ward, said: 'We can't be sure how they will behave when it suddenly starts getting dark.'
    Viktor Orban, Hungary's prime minister, has reserved the rooftop of a hotel next to Lake Balaton for himself and his family, arriving by helicopter to avoid the traffic congestion.
    All of the country's border-crossing points falling in the path of the eclipse will be closed for five minutes—not to let the border guards watch the eclipse but to stop smugglers sneaking across.

    In Austria, an estimated 600,000 people are taking time off work to watch the eclipse. Hotels are booked up along the strip of the country, from Salzburg to Graz, where the eclipse will be total. The Upper Austrian lake region of Salzkammergut is expected to get the most visitors. A local brewery, Schloss Eggenberg, has created a special Sunbeer, while the village of Altmunster is holding a Sun-Down-Cocktail and Sun-Dance-Sensation. In Burgenland, where eclipse viewing in Austria is supposed to be the best, there is an open-air concert in Pinkafeld, while the Moerbisch festival will be featuring an eclipse performance of the Strauss operetta A Night In Venice.
    Several observation sites have been set up around the country, and astrologists and fortune-tellers have camped out in the path of totality. An eclipse wedding is even being held in the Lower Austrian town of St Coron am Wechsel.
    Motorists who fail to put their lights on will face an on-the-spot fine of £250. All traffic lights in the dark strip will be turned to red for ten minutes in an attempt to prevent accidents. Public transport will also halt when it gets dark. Soldiers taking part in the annual army exercise in Lower Austria will have to park their tanks and put down their guns for the 15 minutes when it gets dark.

    Bucharest is the only capital city in the world to fall in the eclipse's path of totality; and Romania can also lay claim to being able to enjoy the eclipse for longer than anywhere else on the track, with darkness lasting two minutes 27 seconds in the town of Rimnicu Vilcea in the centre of the country. [This is because it is the point known as 'true noon', where the centres of the solar and lunar disks line up exactly due south and the moon's shadow is at its longest.]
    The country's fire brigade has been equipped with special sunglasses paid for by Coca-Cola™. And the Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti - a man large enough to create his own eclipse - will be giving a concert during the event.
    The Romanian fascination with evil and the occult has flourished. One of the country's most famous clairvoyants, Mama Omida, has predicted that the eclipse will 'release all the powers of evil in this country' and that the only safe place to be is near water, where 'the natural spirit of the lake will provide protection'. Dracula fans are expected to gather at one of the real Count's former castles, at Poienari in the hills of Moldavia, to watch the eclipse. Nicolae Paduraru, who organised the event, said: 'We're pretty sure the Count will be up and about during the eclipse and we want to see if he comes home.'
    Older people in the city of Cluj are frightened of a repetition of a more real danger that appeared during the eclipse in 1961. Thousands of rats ran out onto the streets thinking it was night, causing panic among the watching crowds.

    Thousands of visitors from America, Japan and various parts of Europe are in Turkey. But accommodation is so limited that tent camps have been set up and universities are providing accommodation.
    The province of Amasya is expected to provide one of the best views of the eclipse, and authorities have invited the world-famous Vienna Symphony Orchestra to perform to mark the occasion. But there, too, accommodation is at a premium, which is why the orchestra members were spending last night in an air-conditioned train, with seats converted to beds. The highlight of their concert will be a performance of—what else?—Gustav Holst's Planets Suite, although the concert will have a brief (2 minutes 30 seconds) interval during the eclipse itself.
    Many have opted to view the solar eclipse from the top of a 2,150m mountain among historical ruins: the authorities in Adiyaman province, south-eastern Turkey, have organised an expedition to Nemrut Mountain to observe the eclipse. A couple of hundred foreign and Turkish visitors will be able to see the sunrise from the mount's vantage point at 5.10am (local time), then the eclipse at 14.38 exactly and sunset at 20.30 hours. The eclipse will be seen clearly in the Northern (Black Sea) areas, and then in Central and South-eastern regions of Turkey. Weathermen are predicting clear blue skies, with temperatures up to 30 C, during the event.

    Iraqis have limited resources with which to view the eclipse. International sanctions mean there are no sunglasses with sufficiently protective lenses. The sanctions, imposed after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, also mean that Iraqis will not be able to view the eclipse from aircraft because of the no-fly zone in force over the north of the country.
    Ophthamologists are advising people who don't want to miss out on the event to use the soot from a candle to smoke normal glass, which can be dangerous as the inconsistencies in the glass can lead to eye damage. However, some Iraqis, with scant regard for safety at all, are getting their binoculars ready to view the eclipse.
    The Iraqi cabinet, chaired by President Saddam Hussein, decided on Monday to set up a committee to make people aware of the potential dangers of looking at the Sun, and the media launched a campaign to publicise the dangers.
    Iraq has also asked UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to persuade the U.S. and Britain to halt flights over Iraq on the day of the eclipse so Iraqis can watch it in peace. Iraq's northern city of Mosul is one of the country's best sites to see the eclipse from, but it has been repeatedly targeted by allied planes patrolling the northern no-fly zone in Iraq.

    Iran says its citizens are preparing for 'a new guest in our land', with TV and newspapers heralding the arrival of the eclipse, and an almost certain view because the likelihood of cloud cover is only 5%.
    Tens of thousands of visitors are pouring into the central Iranian town of Isfahan, and there have been media reports that the first man on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, will set foot in Iran for the first time to watch the eclipse from what Nasa is describing as one of the best viewing points.
    However, one newspaper has already denounced U.S. participation in the Isfahan seminar, warning that American scientists were out to infiltrate Iran's centres of learning. Such sensitivities encouraged the government to change the programme of an eclipse extravaganza in the western town of Nahavand. A dance concert was cancelled for fears of angering traditionalist clerics, who are against such activities.
    Authorities have also filled newspapers and airwaves with health warnings about the dangers of solar radiation, urging people to watch the event on television. Government organisations say they have been handing out around 80,000 pairs of safety glasses to shield spectators' eyes. Another 100,000 have gone on sale, newspapers said.

    Residents of Pakistan's biggest city, Karachi, have shown little interest in the eclipse of the Sun and may miss it anyway because of heavy cloud, a top astronomer said. The eclipse will begin in Karachi shortly after 4pm (11.00 GMT) and end about two hours later, with the total blockage of the Sun lasting for one minute and 13 seconds from 5.26pm.
    'People are in a holiday mood in Europe and are acting as if it's a festival for the eclipse there,' said Abdul Majid, chairman of the Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission. 'Here, because of the general education levels, people are not really giving that much attention to the eclipse.' He said his commission had received no requests for information about the eclipse from schools.
    The monsoon season means there is a chance of cloud cover. 'There is only a 60% chance Karachi will have a cloud-free day,' Majid said. However, he added there was a high chance of a clear day west of Karachi in areas of Baluchistan province, which will also have a total eclipse. The last total eclipse seen in Pakistan was in 1995 in Bahawalpur, in northern Punjab province

    A village priest sang Hindu hymns last night to ward off evil from the millennium's last total solar eclipse, even as scientists tried to advise villagers on safe methods to watch it. Science is unable to puncture village superstitions.
    'Pregnant women must not leave their homes or the newborn will be blind,' priest Arjan Maharaj told women, who pulled brightly coloured shawls over their heads as a shield from the Sun. 'Anyone holding a knife or axe during the eclipse will cut himself.'
    India has been billed as one of the best sites in the world to watch the Moon block out all but the Sun's corona. But most villagers said they would stay in their mud and thatched huts during the eclipse. To many Indian villagers and a good number of city-dwellers, the eclipse symbolises the demon dragon Rahu gobbling up the Sun. According to mythology, Rahu deceived the gods and had his head sliced off. The demon's head is thought to resurface once every few years to devour the Sun god. Believers say danger from the eclipse passes only when the Sun emerges from Rahu's head. Until this time, no one must eat or drink.
    Astronomers, scientists and Western tourists are excited about the third total solar eclipse India has seen in 19 years. But for many of the visitors, it will be their first.
    'I've been told this will be a trip of a lifetime,' said British medical student Emily Ferenezi. 'Since the forecast in England was cloudy, I hope my decision to come here pays off.'

    The Moon's shadow first touches Earth 250 miles south of Nova Scotia at sunrise, crossing the Atlantic at 2,000 miles per hour. At this point it is 30 miles across and the duration of totality is 47 seconds. BST time 10.30 am.
    11.10 am: shadow reaches Scilly Isles. At this point it is 65 miles across and totality lasts 2min 4sec.
    11.20 am: Normandy coast. Duration 2min 9sec.
    11.40 am: German/Austrian Border. Duration 2min 12sec.
    11.59 am: Peak of eclipse. Maximum duration, 2min 27sec, takes place in Romania. The shadow is now 70miles across and has a ground speed of more than 1,500 mph.
    12.24 pm: Turkish coast. Duration 2min 19sec.
    12.41 pm: Eastern Turkey. Duration 2min 8sec.
    1.00 pm: Western Iran. Duration 1min 51sec.
    1.20 pm: Baluchistan (Afghanistan). Duration 1min 26sec.
    1.25pm: Karachi (Pakistan). Duration 1min 13sec.
    1.33 pm: Akola (India). Duration 55sec.
    1.36 pm: Bay of Bengal. Sunset. The moon's shadow races to its end.


Matthew Engel on Plymouth Hoe
(From the Guardian, August 12, 1999)

It was total. It was a fiasco. But somehow it was not a total fiasco. Thousands of people packed Plymouth Hoe, the south-west's traditional rallying place at moments of strife, stress and shared experience. Dappled cloud before breakfast turned to regular English greyness by the time the show was due to start. The crowd's worst fears were realised. The sun never appeared, not a sliver of it—not for a second.
    But still it disappeared. The people in Totality experienced something all the poor saps in Partiality never did and probably never will. For one minute 42 seconds they were plunged into total darkness as black as midnight but as sudden as a power cut.
    There was a gasp, a cheer, a few screams of delight, and then a rush for the giant screen on the far side of the Hoe, so they could at least see something. Meanwhile, Plymouth Sound was lit up by thousands of camera flashes, coming from every corner of the Hoe, every boat on the water and from the surrounding cliffs.
    Those who stood on a west-facing cliff got it right, because they could clearly see the dawn racing towards them - from the wrong direction. For the rest of us, it was like the scene in The Truman Show when the mad director commands daybreak, and an assistant flicks a switch.
    Totality was sensational. One begins to understand why Emperor Louis of Bavaria died of fright. For us, it both eased the disappointment at the weather and made it all the more poignant. If it is this dramatic when the weather is bad, many thought, a cloudless eclipse must be amazing.
    Nothing had prepared us for the reality, even though there had been weeks of hype, months of preparations and the Babylonians could have calculated when this eclipse was going to happen.
    As the shops closed in the city, the Hoe was filled with the biggest crowd to gather there, certainly since Tuesday when there was both the national fireworks championship and the Radio 1 roadshow, possibly since 1967 when Sir Francis Chichester finished his solo round-the-world voyage, maybe ever: 45,000 according to the local paper.
    Plymouth's other Sir Francis, on his plinth, stared resolutely south-south-east directly towards the sun, in complete defiance of government instructions. His modern incarnation, Brian Whipp, a financial consultant who is Plymouth city council's official Francis Drake, wandered around happily in Elizabethan costume being photographed. However, he wore his second-best, easy-to-clean outfit rather than the one with all the velvet, for fear of getting beer-spattered by drunks.
    In fact, the atmosphere was surprisingly decorous and phlegmatic. Since no one knew what to expect, most of us—being British—expected the worst. Plymouth's seafaring traditions being somewhat dried out these days, many people had no idea where the sun was supposed to be, and huddled close to the big screen, as if for safety.
    Adam Nunn, 13, an enthusiastic astronomer from Ipswich, knew where to go and set up his elaborate Schmidt-Newtonian telescope near Smeaton's Lighthouse. He was hoping the moonshadow would cool the weather enough to break up the clouds. “It's a long shot,” he admitted.
    It grew cooler but no clearer. By 10.15 it was perceptibly darker. But it was only the dark you would expect on an August morning in Devon when the barometer was falling. It just felt as though it was about to rain. There was a slight hint of brighter skies towards the north-east. Unfortunately, the sun and moon were heading elsewhere.
    By 10.45 various pre-eclipse phenomena could be observed. The fluorescent lights on the candyfloss stall shone very brightly; mobile phones ceased to work because the system was overloaded; and a group near the burger bar tried to start a Mexican wave. By 11, people in T-shirts were starting to shiver; an elderly labrador fell asleep; and small children insisted that they needed to go wee-wee at once.
    Then at 11.12 and 50 seconds it happened. Afterwards, it was as though we had imagined it. The speed of it all left us breathless.
    'Amazing ... something to tell the grandchildren ... we won't see that again,' one group were saying to each other. Actually, it was the grandchildren, accustomed to seeing special effects, who were least impressed by God's rather flawed performance. 'It was OK,' said Ellie, eight, grudgingly.
    The adults were less world-weary. 'I wouldn't have missed it for anything,' said Myra, who had walked from her home in the city centre. And those who had travelled further felt the same. 'Brilliant,; said Nora from Surrey. ''Spooky, but spooky in a nice way,' said Gail from Stoke-on-Trent. 'It's really whetted my appetite', said Tom from Carlisle. 'When's the next one?'
    Well, why should anyone wait for the Channel Islands (2081), south-west England again (2090), the Hebrides (2133) and Yorkshire (2151)? There will be plenty of total eclipses elsewhere in the world in the more reasonable future. Eclipse tourism could be the next travel boom. Count me in.



Ignoring the apocalyptic warnings, millions of people left their homes, offices and factories to watch the eclipse, partial or otherwise, bringing Britain to a near standstill. Most shops closed for an hour or so, and most of the country's businesses gave their staff time off—although a factory in Manchester reputedly docked employees 15 minutes' pay. Some misery-guts at the London Chamber of Commerce calculated that the cost to industry of the hold-up could amount to half a billion pounds, and added sourly that it was to be hoped workers would make up the time lost.
    Road chaos came post- instead of pre-eclipse when a mass exodus from Devon and Cornwall began less than an hour after the event ended. Having seen, or not seen, what they came for, motorists headed off for home as soon as possible. Afterwards, Devon County Council announced that 50 of the special solar eclipse road signs it had erected had been stolen by souvenir-hunters.
    Coastguards' worst fears remained unrealised as no casualties were reported among the myriads of small boats that had put to sea. No one, as far as can be known, fell off a clifftop or set Cornwall ablaze by lighting candles.
    The day after the eclipse, hundreds phoned eye clinics or visited hospital casualty departments, complaining of sore and watering eyes after looking at the sun. Two people rang the Royal Liverpool Infirmary eye unit, claiming they were suffering problems with their sight through watching the eclipse on television.


Tuesday, 19th November 2002


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