2006: Total Eclipse in Antalya
I have always been fascinated by eclipses. But I never got to see a total solar eclipse until I was sixty.
My father was a part-time astronomer who had explained to me at an early age the mechanisms of the celestial events in which one body temporarily obscures another. I have seen dozens of lunar eclipses, and even the 2012 transit of Venus across the Sun. That occurs only once in around 250 years. But I had never seen a total eclipse of the sun, which occurs once in around 1½ years, somewhere in the world. The path of totality, which is the narrow band on Earth where the Moon completely blocks the Sun, is typically only a few miles wide. This means that only a very small fraction of the Earth’s population will have the opportunity to experience a total solar eclipse in their lifetime.
In a previous article I described how in 1999 the universe had transpired to stage a total solar eclipse in the birthplace of my father. We traveled to Wellheim in Germany and waited for the minutes of totality in the hilltop city burg. But then clouds spoiled it all for us. All we saw was day turn into night, for a few minutes.
In March 2006 a total eclipse was due, in an area that was not too far from home. The path of totality crossed southern Turkey, where I had a good friend. He arranged for us to stay in Antalya, where the moon would completely block the sun.
Well, my friend Ali Nihat arranged for us to stay in a luxurious hotel in Antalya, and in fact explore the historically fascinating surrounding area.
We also drove to Aspendos, 40 km east of Antalya. Aspendos is an ancient Greco-Roman city, known for having the best-preserved theatre from antiquity. It was built in 155 AD by the Greek architect Zenon, is 96 metres in diameter, and provided seating for 7,000. The theatre is still in use today, and hosts a variety of performances, including concerts, operas, and ballets. It is also a popular tourist destination, and is one of the most photographed sites in Turkey.
In addition there are many other well-preserved ruins, like this aqueduct, which was 19 km long and transported water from two springs in the Taurus Mountains into the city of Aspendos.
But of course the main reason for our visit in Antalya was the eclipse, and I had prepared carefully for the event.
The Sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, could be clearly seen, but is exaggerated (overexposed) in my photo. Through the binoculars it looked like the following image taken by Luc Viatour with his Nikon SLR. It is of the eclipse we had missed seven years earlier.
During a total solar eclipse, when the moon completely occludes the Sun’s disk, protuberances, which are normally too faint to be seen, become visible as bright, flame-like features around the edge. The Bradly beads are caused by sunlight shining through the valleys and mountains on the Moon’s jagged edge.
And this is a NASA photo of the March 29, 2006 total eclipse taken by an astronaut on the International Space Station:
The ISS was in position to view the umbral shadow as it moves across southern Turkey. The astronaut photograph was taken at approximately 2:00 p.m. local time. Unfortunately the magnification is not high enough to show us reclining on our deck chairs in Antalya, watching the moon occlude the sun.
It is a testimony to the power of mathematics that astronomers can predict solar eclipses so accurately. New computer technology allows them to map out the path of the moon’s shadow on Earth to within feet, and that for centuries in the future.