The Solar Eclipse Conference 2007

Jean-Luc Dighaye

EurAstro report - Around SEC2007

Thanks to the organisational skills and human qualities of Patrick & Joanne Poitevin, Mike Simmons, Ed Krupp and many others, the Solar Eclipse Conference 2007 was a great success. Since the proceedings of the conference itself will be made available by the organisers, we concentrate on remarkable side aspects.

Part one - Californian observatories

On August 24th, before the official opening of the conference, the attendees were given the rare opportunity of a guided tour of Mount Wilson comprising the 100-inch 'Hooker' telescope with its dome open, and several solar telescopes, from the veteran 'Snow' telescope to the 150-ft Solar Tower.

Fisheye view of the Hooker and its dome

The Hooker

The Snow coelostat

Inside the Solar Tower: from the lens to the focal plane

Sunset on the Solar Tower

The conference took place in the magnificent and fully renovated Griffith Observatory, with its telescopes, sundials, planetary models, animations, planetarium and much more.

Sundial at Griffith

Planets at Griffith

On August 27th, as a special add-on for EurAstro subscribers, a detailed visit of the Palomar Observatory was organised, including the 200-inch Hale Telescope - the world's most famous historical telescope, yet still a workhorse of modern research. The guests were delighted by the highly professional and friendly team of docents led by Scott Kardel.

The dome of the Hale Telescope

The tube of the Hale

The mount and the Hartmann test screen

It's not Oppenheimer - it's Prof. Dimitrie Olenici!

The interferometer among the trees

Part two - A magic eclipse

The lunar eclipse of August 28th 2007 was total from 09:52 to 11:23 UTC, and lasted from 07:52 to 13:22 UTC including the penumbral phases. Greatest eclipse occurred at 10:37 UTC i.e. 03:37 PDT.

SEC2007 attendees observed the TLE from all over California and beyond. Yet I opted, with Susan and Lloyd Franklin, to simply stay at the Glendale Hilton, the main hotel of the conference, in spite of nearly certain air and light pollution at a location that close to downtown Los Angeles. And it was a surprisingly good choice!

Half an hour into the penumbral eclipse, limb darkening was already noticeable. The partial eclipse began, and the Moon got close to ...planet Mars?!

In effect, the mock Mars was a red lamp at the top of a crane. Just for fun, I had chosen a viewing spot such that the Moon would pass behind the lamp. There was already a 'magic eclipse' with a red globe close to the Moon back in 2004.

A multicultural group gathered around us. Word spread that we were looking at an eclipse, although it was not clear, in some minds, whether the eclipsed object was the Moon, the Sun (at 2 am...), or Mars. Indeed, the urban legend according to which, in the night from August 27th to August 28th, Mars would be as big as the Moon, had resurfaced. It wasn't easy to debunk the legend, since the real Mars, that night, was not much fainter than the eclipsed Moon! (In the image below, Mars is near the middle, with Aldebaran to its right, close to the Hilton building, and the Pleiades above them).

The totality was rather dark, Danjon 2 according to some observers. Since the sky was remarkably transparent, it was worth going to the roof of the hotel for the side show, which turned to be dramatic: the Moon getting bright again, crescent Venus rising, and the Earth's shadow at dawn, literally reaching to the Moon.

The eclipse ended shortly before moonset. A breathtaking quasi-selenelion occurred then: an orange, oblate Moon setting while the skyscrapers of downtown LA were already brilliantly lit, in orange hues too, by the rising Sun.