Solar Total Eclipse 1999
The 11 August total solar eclipse was a unique opportunity to communicate and share our interest for space with the public. Scientists and engineers from ESA's Space Science Department had prepared a range of activities culminating with dedicated eclipse events in Europe. "The experience, the emotions and the memories have been overwhelming, both for those that had clear and those that had cloudy skies. More than 300 million Europeans became eclipse viewers or chasers, and turned into amateur scientists".
From the Atlantic, the UK, Paris, Noyon, Thionville, Strasbourg, Stuttgart, Munich, Hungary and Bucarest, several ESA staff have filmed animated events or captured images to be shared with the European public. Here we give some highlights from these Eclipse99 events in Europe.
The jetplane expedition by the Irish ESA astronomer Leo Metcalfe and his crew to the eclipse shadow from Ireland was successful and very exciting. See also the 12 August story "Eclipse Riders in The Sky".
A large event took place with some 8000 amateur astronomers and general public in the official eclipse viewing site with participation of 380 staff from ESA ESTEC and Paris, and 40 000 people in the city of Noyon. Images and results of SOHO were shown and commented for the public and radio by B.H. Foing and M. Laurent, vice-president of Societe Astronomique de France. Live interviews were given in particular to national radios (such as France-Inter, France Info and even the Washington radio). This was a large PR and communication event for ESA and SOHO. More than 30 interviews were given by ESA multinational staff. However the clouds thickened before the eclipse totality.
A small eclipse imaging team found good weather conditions and took eclipse pictures which were put on the BBC site online.
Chateau de Malbrouk near Metz, France
R.M. Bonnet ESA, Director of Science appeared on French TV on 10/8 and 11/8, twice on France 2 and once on France 3, with large personal success. The sky, however, was cloudy at totality.
The whole week of 4-11 August (16h00-18h00) a daily press conference took place at the France 3 TV auditorium, where SOHO videos, CD-ROM, latest images were presented by the Eclipse99 coordinator B.H. Foing and the SOHO Deputy Project Scientist P. Brekke. On the eclipse day, P. Brekke with F. Perino (conseil general), A. Lancon (Obs de Strasbourg), M. Wirth (vice-president of conseil general) and B.H. Foing (duplex from Noyon), animated a radiophonic event for more than 5000 people in the Strasbourg Petite France area, as well as giving a multimedia show including SOHO images, and eclipse broadcast on a giant projection screen provided by the Conseil General of Bas-Rhin. A successful event organsied by the planetarium also took place on Place Kleber in Strasbourg.
"The eclipse day started with morning rain, then clouds. Just before eclipse totality, the sky just opened up", P. Brekke says. "It was blue and it was dark and people were just stunned". A beautiful eclipse video sequence was obtained.
This was a large PR event for the Sun and SOHO, with participation by the SOHO Project Scientist B. Fleck, and scientists from the Max Planck Institute für Aeronomie (Lindau) and the Kiepenheuer Institute (Freiburg). The Science Fair of Stuttgart attracted some 500 000 participants. It was, however, raining on the day of eclipse.
In the morning of 11 August, people gathered on the airfield of the "Aeroclub Dachau" close to Munich. Together with the "Astronomische Vereinigung West-München", they organised a small internal gathering to view the eclipse. Detlef Koschny and Joe Zender, scientists of the Space Science Department of ESA, joined them with a setup to send images of the Sun via telephone line to ESA/ESTEC.There was a clear sky at totality and great eclipse video images were obtained.
A team from the Space Generation Forum that met previously for the UNISPACE III conference in Vienna, organised an eclipse viewing trip led by the ESTEC Young Graduate Trainees N.Frischauf and G. Weinwurm to the central totality line near Oberwart, where they could watch the eclipse shadow approaching from the west and experienced the longest totality over ESA member states (2mn21.5 s).
At the International Youth Astronomy Camp in Vep, near Szombathely (Hungary near the Austrian border), more than 150 students had assembled since the beginning of August for lectures and experimental activities. They also prepared educational experiments for the eclipse. S. Orlando and his local collaborators also installed the SSD eclipse science experiments which were previously used in total eclipses in Chile in 94 and Guadeloupe in 98. There was rain and clouds on the morning until first contact, but clear sky at totality. Great eclipse video images were obtained by S. Orlando on a soundtrack which shows the local excitement, and were sent to BBC for their web broadcast.
There was a fantastic clear and blue sky, which allowed B. Zufferey (ESA Prodex) to obtain video eclipse images.
Ouside the path of totality
Other media activities featuring the Sun, SOHO and space took place all over European sites undergoing only partial eclipse.
A press conference took place daily at the Museum of Natural History from 6 to12 August, with participation from ESA by R.M. Bonnet, B.H. Foing and P. Brekke as well as of scientists from the SOHO MEDOC center. Some of the ESA Eclipse99 European results have been presented at the press conference in Paris on 12 August, and broadcast on French TV TF1 and M6.
Eclipse99 committee member Ester Antonucci reports an event in Turin, with TV coverage on the 3rd national channel. The initiative was an overwhelming success: 6000 people turned up at the Turin event and the TV live broadcasting on the eclipse got 41% of the national share, with a peak audience of 6 million people.
Noordwijk, The Netherlands
At ESTEC a public event was organised at Noordwijk Space Expo for more than 1600 people, ESA staff and general public. SSD solar scientist W. Chaplin and eclipse veteran T. Beaufort gave presentations about the Sun, SOHO and eclipses. Also from ESTEC, F. Moser and T. Beaufort coordinated the installation of the cameras and data acquisition and transmission system from ESTEC in the six different sites, simultaneously. The images captured from the different sites were transmitted to BBC and were shown live on the BBC web.
Last Update: 22 Feb 2006