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Amazing eclipse at Enewetak, Marshall Islands


The total eclipse of the sun is the most visually stunning natural phenomenon there is. It leaves the other natural wonders like the Grand Canyon far behind. Through an amazing set of circumstances I got to see my 4th on Enewetak, an isolated atoll in the Marshall Islands. Enewetak was the site of 43 nuclear explosions including Mike, the first H-bomb (which erased one of the islands in the chain.)

The eclipse was astounding and we saw it clearly, other than one cloud which intruded for the first 30 seconds of our 5 minute and 40 second totality in otherwise generally clear skies. We were fortunate, as most of the eclipse path, which went over hundreds of millions of people, was clouded out in India and China. After leaving China the eclipse visited just a few islands, including Enewetak, and many of those were also clouded.

What makes the story even more dramatic is the effort to get there, and the fact that we only confirmed we were going 48 hours before the eclipse. We tracked the weather and found that only Enewetak had good cloud prospects and a long runway, but the runway there has not been maintained for several years, and hasn't seen a jet for a long time. We left not knowing if we would be able to land there, but in the end all was glorious.

I have written up the story and included my first round of eclipse photos (my best to date) as well as photos of the islands and the nuke craters. I will be updating with new photos, including experiments in high-dynamic-range photography. An eclipse is so amazing in part because it covers a huge range of brightnesses -- from prominences almost as hot as the sun, to the inner corona (solar atmosphere) brighter than the full moon to the streamers of the outer corona, and the stars and planets. No photograph has ever remotely done it justice, but I am working on that.

This eclipse had terror, drama, excitement and great beauty. The corona was more compact than it has been in the past, due to the strange minimum the sun has been going through, and there were few prominences, but the adventure getting there and the fantastic tropical setting made up for it.

Enjoy the story of the story of the jet trip to the 2009 Eclipse at Enewetak. You'll be a bit jealous, but it was so great I can make no apologies.


fab story brad. thanks very much for sharing it! love the photos too.


I've never been so jealous in all my life! I was in Atlanta for the eclipse in the 80s and would love to do it again one day...

There was no eclipse in North America during the 80s, there's never been one in Atlanta in living memory. There was one in 1970 in the SE corner of Georgia, is that what you refer to ?

NASA has a bunch of stuff on eclipse dates and locations around the world.

Here's a couple of maps if you can make sense of them:

Not Total, sorry. It was the Annular Eclipse on May 30 1984

Look at

While normally the difference between an annular and total eclipse is quite literally night and day, that particular annular was a very tight one, so close to total you could almost taste it. So that one would have gotten many of the special phenomena I suspect -- sharp shadows, fairly good darkening and perhaps even shadow bands and the odd bead. But not the wonder of totality. I would be curious to know how close it got, from somebody who saw it and who has also seen a total.

No cigar but it was probably interesting. I am both surprised (and sad) to see reports from people who went to Shanghai and describe it as a great experience. I mean, I presume it is a really cool thing to be under clouds and see the sudden night and the mostly eclipsed sun through some clouds, perhaps even a diffuse diamond ring. Had you never seen the real thing it would look quite cool. For anybody how has seen one, the Shanghai experience could not help but be a big disappointment. The Atlanta experience would not be a disappointment (as you would know just what was coming) but I would like to know what it's like. I will see an Annular in 2012 probably, over Mount Shasta, about 6 hours drive from here, but it's a .967 annular, and Atlanta was a .998, and that's a big difference.

It was a bright blue sunny day and the eclipse came right over the Georgia Tech campus near mid-day. There is no substitute for being surrounded by a few thousand engineering and science students for a near total eclipse. The darkening at the peak was very surprising even though we knew what to expect, but also remarkable was the duration of some level of darkening on such an otherwise bright spring day.

Brad, have you figured out whether the annular eclipse will be visible from Shasta in the west, or behind the Trinity Alps? It's going to be late in the afternoon.

It's possible to drive to 6800' (Bunny Flats). Depending on what kind of optical gear you're bringing, there's a good trail up to the Sierra Club Horse Camp stone cabin area at 8000'.

I haven't been able to locate contact info for any local astronomy club to get their thoughts.

Shasta, of course, will be really magical ... but if the logistics are bad, there should be many good spots for viewing at Lassen Volcanic National Park (another wonderful place).

Shasta is a tempting location. The eclipse will be 16 degrees up which may allow some interesting photos, but you would have to play exposure tricks for some of them. There is a temptation to go to west texas like Lubbock where it takes place at sunset, and you can observe it with the naked eye. Or Albuquerque where it's a little higher but would still get some of that. Greater cloud risk though.

If you want to see from Shata, the azumith is 279, which means 9 degrees north of due west. So from Bunny Flats you would be looking above and to the right of Black Butte. To get Shasta in your view you have to go east of it.

16 degrees ... that suggests Cassaval Ridge might be in the way.

And that north of Lassen Peak, if that's the alternative, possibly somewhere on the south side of the road at the Devastated Area.

It's only 96% coverage for the annular. So you need a solar filter to photograph the sun, and there will be no background visible. Unless you can line something up to do an outline. Like the ring of sun over the crown of Shasta. Should be possible to map where you would see that. If you go to west texas or NM it is a different story, through the thick atmosphere you can see and photograph it though I would not stare at it for too long.

We were planning to watch the eclipse from Shanghai, but it rained out there. We took a train over to Hangzhou, and it was cloudy all the way but started clearing up a little after first contact. It was pretty clear by totality, but hazy, so we didn't get as clear views, but still had a great experience.

I was living pretty much on the centerline for an annular back in the early 90s. Was very cool, but that's just dimness, not darkness, and none of the extended solar atmosphere stuff. But then, I just walked outside, didn't need a friend with a jet. (And I gather a rather long-range and thus even more expensive one at that. I'm curious the type, though I suppose you didn't give it out of privacy considerations.) Wonderful story and amazing photos.

I've now seen two annular and two total eclipses. The two annular were the 1984 near-total from Louisiana and the 1994 "garden-variety" annular near Chicago -- both of which happened to be very near my residences at the time. The total ones were July 1991 from Baja and July 2009 from Chongqing.

The 1994 annular seemed more like a deep partial eclipse. It never looked like anything but daylight. Some of the "weird stuff is happening" effects occur: it gets chilly quickly, and it's definitely dimmer. The best description I've heard of a ~90-95% eclipse is that it seems as if you're wearing sunglasses that you can't take off.

The total eclipses were everything people say they are, though for a few reasons the one in China wasn't quite as dramatic as the one in Mexico. There was lots of haze versus a desert-clear sky, so the dimming wasn't too different (until the final stages) from what it would have been like if the haze thickened slowly into clouds. And the early-morning hour and oppressive humidity reduced the dramatic cooling effects. From my vantage point I couldn't see the Moon's shadow moving on the ground. And (as Brad noted) the corona was much more compact and there were no really visible prominences.

I took a video of the eclipse in Chongqing, looking over the Yangtze with the crowd reactions. My travel story isn't as dramatic as Brad's, but it did involve a last-minute diversion (funded by frequent-flyer miles) from Shanghai the night before the eclipse when it became clear the weather in Shanghai would be dreadful.

So, to answer Brad's question, the 1984 eclipse was ... different. It was certainly dramatic, far more so than an ordinary annular eclipse. Seeing 360 degrees of Baily's Beads is something I'll never forget. The experience really was something halfway between a normal annular and a total eclipse. Very dim sky and ground: perhaps the amount of light you would get under a big thundercloud. Annularity only lasted 12 seconds, so things were happening very quickly: I didn't even think of trying to photograph it.

I live in louisiana and I was in middle school in louisiana when the May 30 1984 Annular Eclipse happened. what I remember about the eclipse is that it was not totaly dark but very close. more like dusk like it always is before it gets totaly dark at night. I could see some stars in the sky at the max part of the eclipse.

I live in south louisiana too, I was 8 years old when that eclipse happened. I even remember the day of the week it was. I have a very vivid memory of it like it happened yesterday. One of my best childhood memories. I'm not sure exactly the time of day it was but I think it was early afternoon.

Hi Brad, supper pictures of the atoll! I miss that place like no place I’ve been. I was one of the Navy folks who helped clean up Enewetak in 1977 and back again in 1979. I was a small boat operator the first trip where I carried people, both Military and civilian from island to island. The second trip I operated a 75' landing craft hauling trucks, equipment and fuel. The times there are imbedded in my memory for ever. Saw a 16' Shark while diving on the tower pinnacle off the coast of Runit. Huge fish! By the way, not trying to be putz but the debris in the covered crater on Runit is from the islands up north near Engebi. The debris from Bikini was stored elsewhere. I spent many a night on Lojwa, Engebi, Medren, Japtan and Enewetak. Lived thru tropical storm Nadine too. That was something else! Coral and sand was blown clear across the wide spot on Enewetak. There was a Typhoon the first trip and the Military evacuated us to Guam for a day for safety. Anyway thanks for the beautiful pictures, very nice.

My father was an atomic veteran stationed at Enewetak in the late fifties, when the US government conducted some 35 tests, knowing there would soon be a moratorium. He died of multiple forms of cancer at age 67 and during his illness was under an oath of silence that prevented him from telling his doctor that he'd been exposed to massive doses of radiation. After his death my mother tried to get compensation for his loss and the government denied that his cancer was a result of his time in Enewetak, as his dosimetry badges had conveniently disappeared. In 2005 (?) give or take a year or two, the Marshall Islands was declared the most poisonous place on Earth. Just last year I was able to get my mother DIC, a pension to compensate the loss of my father due to cancer from radiation exposure. I'm now waiting to find out if my siblings and I will get a settlement for our loss. Though I very much appreciate seeing these images, the next time you want to photograph eclipses, I hope you find a safer place to shoot.

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