Marie Drake Planetarium

Where the stars always shine in Juneau, Alaska

2009 Eclipse - July 22nd

The July 22, 2009 total solar eclipse was the longest of the 21st century. It passed over the most populous lands of the world. Three planetarium volunteers witnessed it: John Kramer, Steve Kocsis and Cristina Della Rosa were on a cruise ship commissioned for the eclipse. This is a blog of personal experience watching eclipse from a cruise boat by Steve Kocsis

Eclipse day! The three of us slept well. The deck of the ship was wet from night rain. No clouds at the zenith.  Ship at 25 degrees latitude just north of the tropic of cancer. Yoga class in the bow solarium looking out over indigo blue waters of the Pacific. We have been two nights out at sea. Squalls along the horizon.

The island of Iwo Jima is in sight. There is a navy veteran on board who was present at the battle. A ceremony is held.  Iwo Jima is barren flat volcanic rock except for the hill, Mount Suribachi, where the flag was raised. It is now a  Japanese military base. Once a year Americans are allowed to visit. There are thermal steam vents along the beach. Frigate birds follow the ship and we watch them catch flying fish. We pass close to the island then head towards center line of the eclipse and max duration.

Greatest eclipse is where the shadow is widest but, it is not the same location as max duration. The plan is to track the moon's shadow at center line so that the speed of the boat adds a few more seconds to totality. Captain Chan succeeds in this mission. The  clouds are clustered on the horizon but, fortunately the zenith, where the eclipse starts and finishes, is clear.  First contact is announced over the PA. I see the initial notch of the moon through my filtered binoculars.


1500 passengers and crew are spread out over the upper deck. Telescopes, bed sheets and lounge chairs are filling the open space. Flashes are covered with black tape. John , Cristina and I are at the bow with a strategic view to aft where the shadow will approach at 2000 kph. The time between first and second contact is 1.5 hours. There is no noticeable change in the lighting until the sun is 90% covered. The light is then pearl blue and shadows have become well defined. The remaining crescent of sun is approaching a point source.

As second contact nears, the time is announced on the PA. Clouds on the horizon begin to darken as if a storm is brewing. The light dims. We are on our backs since the sun is almost at the zenith. Just before third contact there is a bright spot of light with a continuous ring. We had a sheet out but, no shadow bands. My right eye has been covered for the last 30 minutes to dark adapt for viewing the corona. The clouds turn an  ominous purple black as if they are thunderheads. The shadow is approaching.

Second contact is announced. I take the eye patch and filters off. I immediately see a symmetrical corona 3 solar radii out. The planets Venus, Mercury and the star Sirius are visible. Where the sun was is a black hole. Someone calls it  "God's Eye." People are cheering. Then there is silence. The audience is awed and absorb the event. I describe the scene with two quotes: "I am become death the destroyer of worlds.", and "It is better to go into that next world in the midst of some great passion than to wither and die of old age."


The viewing is superb. I alternate between my binoculars and naked eye. The quotes will suffice for my description of totality. The time between second and third contact is 6 minutes 42 seconds. This is my sixth total eclipse. I now have a cumulative time of 26 minutes under the moon's shadow. During totality I paid no attention to those around me. Just before third contact there is a brief crimson-pink solar flare at 3 o'clock.
The sun appears again as a diamond ring of light encircling the moon. Third contact is announced. The lighting goes through its sequence in reverse. The light to 90% partial is a pearl blue color that looks unreal.

The sun is close to a point source hence, shadows are crisp. Everyone begins talking again after the hushed awe of totality. John, Cristina and I congratulate each other for a majestic experience. We were each in our own mind space during totality. The serious observers are still recording the partial phases. Some are already talking of next year's eclipse over the south Pacific and Easter island.