EurAstro TSE 2009 mission to China

EurAstro 2009 & Total Solar Eclipse of 22.07.2009

The EurAstro 2009 Mission to China started by an ambitious tour of Tibet, supervised by Eclipse-City's Xavier Jubier, for a group of Belgians comprising Jessica ("Jess") Vandijck, Chairwoman, Cercle Astronomique Mosan & EurAstro West; Anne de Klerk, Chairwoman, Cercle Astronomique de Bruxelles, and friend Didier Claeys; and myself.

We first visited Lhasa and the famous Potala, then a number of Tibetan cities and monasteries.

A demanding excursion led us to the Everest base camp.

To our delight, weather was sunny and warm, a rare circumstance in an otherwise rainy season. After sunset, the sight of the Milky Way spreading over the Himalayas with streaks of shooting stars was breathtaking - not only because of the 5,200m elevation above sea level...

En route back to Lhasa, we stopped for an astronomy camp on the shore of the Gamdrok Lake - the weather, though, had become stormy, resulting in dramatic night scenes. Unexpectedly, light pollution (apparently caused by a power plant next to a dam) was substantial.

A large EurAstro party of 26 participants led by Dr. Manfred Rudolf met in Shanghai. On July 20th, we visited the Shanghai Observatory, of unmistakable Jesuit style. It houses a historical refractor and a more recent reflector. Dr. Pedro Russo, IAU Coordinator for IYA2009, was with us. Surprise! Prof. Dimitrie Olenici was also there (besides Pedro on the refractor picture), oscillating his pendulum.

The day after, Eclipse-City had organised the second edition of the InterSoles eclipse symposium at the luxurious Shangri-La Pudong Hotel.

Pedro and a panel of distinguished speakers gave well-attended presentations. The atmosphere of the symposium became tense as word spread that weather prospects for the eclipse (less than 24 hours away now) in the Shanghai area were terrible. Here, Pedro and Xavier are about to decide to stay in the Shanghai region anyway.

Eclipse-City swiftly provided a relocation itinerary by plane to Chongqing, on the totality zone some 1,500km west of Shanghai. Manfred, the Belgians and several EurAstro participants thus left Shanghai. Under punishing humid heat and air pollution, our group could observe the whole of the eclipse from one of the few sunny places in China. Images show the onset of totality under somewhat hazy skies.

A crowd of Chinese spectators had gathered in a park of Chongqing to see the eclipse. Some of them noticed planet Venus almost at zenith. A broad rumour announced the end of the totality, with small-size shadow bands being seen, then a halo surrounding the Sun.

With our special thanks to Anne, whose husband provided us with crucial professional weather information, and Didier who helped Eclipse-City organise the Chongqing observations. In view of her outstanding dedication, Jess was not only confirmed as head of EurAstro West, but also elected as manager of our LAC observatory in Jalhay, Belgium.

Picture credits: Didier Claeys, Jean-Luc Dighaye, Jérôme Marot-Lassauzaie, Xavier Jubier, Jessica Vandijck