Eclipse Update:
Perfect Conditions Provided "Spectacular Show"

June 21, 2001

The following field dispatch was sent by the Williams College team from Lusaka, Zambia, soon after the successful observation of the first total solar eclipse of the millennium:

At 3:09 p.m. (local time in Zambia, 9:09 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time), the moon totally blocked the sun over Lusaka for three minutes and 14 seconds, providing a spectacular show of light that drew cheers from Zambians and visitors gathered on rooftops and fields across the city. Researchers were equally excited.

"The sky was as clear as I have ever seen it at a total eclipse, the best since 1970," said Williams College Professor of Astronomy Jay M. Pasachoff. "There wasn't a cloud in the sky, giving perfect conditions for our scientific observations.

"We were studying the solar corona, the outer layer of the sun that is ordinarily hidden behind the blue sky. The total eclipse took away the blue sky for three minutes this afternoon, giving us a view of the corona.

"We had a dozen Williams College students with us," said Pasachoff, "and they played a major role in setting up and operating the equipment. We have lots of data in our computers, recorded with our electronic cameras in digital format, and will have lots to study when we get back to Williamstown (Massachusetts)."

Pasachoff, chair of the Working Group on Eclipses of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), was observing his 32nd eclipse. About a dozen of these expeditions, including the current one to Zambia, were funded by the National Geographic Society.

Pasachoff is already making plans for a scientific expedition to Ceduna, Australia, for the next solar eclipse, which will take place on December 4, 2002.

The Williams College group spent months planning and nine days setting up and testing equipment on site, all in preparation for the three minutes of totality of today's eclipse.

Read the National Geographic News earlier report which details today's solar eclipse experiments. The report includes links to the research institutions and general information about eclipses.

This story will air in the United States on the cable television news showNational Geographic Todayon June 21 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.




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