End of an Eclipse


In Norse mythology a chariot carried the sun across the sky and two wolves chased it (or more likely the horses pulling it). When they caught it, an eclipse occurred. There are expressions in old French and German, something like “God protect the moon from wolves.”

To Transylvanians eclipses were humans’ fault. Our bad behavior caused the sun to shudder and turn away in disgust, covering herself with darkness. Evil fogs gathered and ghosts swarmed the earth. Animals acted strangely and poisonous dew fell from the sky. Foreshadowing Chernobyl, after an eclipse, humans and their livestock wouldn’t consume water or produce.

This belief persisted into the 19th century. The poisonous dew could bring plague. Humans huddled indoors. If they had to go out they would cover their mouths and noses. They sometimes destroyed clothing caught drying outdoors.

Native Alaskan peoples, too, believed eclipses sent something vile descending to earth. This vile thing could cause sickness if it settled on cooking tools so at the onset of an eclipse women rushed to hide them or turn them over.

Since northern people were accustomed to the sun disappearing for long stretches during the winter, it’s hard to say how alarmed the Norse and Alaskans became at the loss of the sun, but elsewhere people clanged and pounded on pots and pans, screamed, shouted and cried out to scare away whatever evil spirit had descended. The Chippewa shot fiery arrows into the sky hoping to rekindle the sun. Continue reading

Travel Day: Photos from Svalbard

Today is a travel day, heading back down to Oslo for a couple of days before moving on later in the week to the Faroe Islands and then sailing to Iceland. While we’re traveling I’ll leave you with these impressions of Svalbard.

Here is the capital, Longyearbyen, with the Advent Fjord beyond.


This is the modest crowd gathering on the Advent plain east of town for Friday’s eclipse. The crowd grew, but not by much.


The Advent Fjord.




A snowmobiling stop.


They were putting this balloon through its paces prior to filming the eclipse.


And four more photos taken while snowmobiling across Svalbard. Note the avalanche in the second photo.





We visited the Russian mining settlement of Barentsburg. I’ll have some photos from there soon.

Celestial Diamond Ring

It’s cold and snowy with a stiff wind in Longyearbyen, Svalbard today, so it’s a good day to be indoors and in front of Photoshop, albeit on a tiny 13-inch MacBook screen.

Here we have another iteration of the ‘diamond ring’ from Friday’s total solar eclipse. The more technical term is ‘third contact.’ First contact is when the moon first touches the sun, second contact is when totality begins, third contact is when the moon begins to move from in front of the sun and fourth contact is when the moon finally leaves the sun’s disc entirely.

The time between first and fourth contacts on the Adventdalen plain at Svalbard Friday was two hours and about half a minute, but all the action took place in the two minutes twenty seven seconds between 11:10:42 and 11:13:10, the time between second and third contacts. That’s called ‘totality.’

The moon moved across the sun from lower right to upper left as you watched, and this photo shows third contact, the moment the moon began to move away from the sun’s disk to the upper left, resulting in the bulge of sunlight known as the diamond ring. Note also the solar prominence visible just above nine o’clock.


The next big event is the 9 March, 2016 total eclipse, mostly visible across Indonesia.

More Photos around Longyearbyen, Svalbard

Just a quick, walking around tour from this afternoon. I’m hopeful I can share a 360º panorama I shot on this excursion, but that will have to wait until I get back to the big screen, at home. Here we have the glacier above town. We came thundering down that thing on snowmobiles day before yesterday. No broken bones, all big fun.


Here’s the church.


City center and it’s rules.



And the main town parking lot.


Eclipse Video, Svalbard

Here’s a short video beginning just before totality and running until shortly after, from the eclipse at Svalbard today. At the beginning, the sun appears to be out as usual while obviously something is up because meanwhile it’s getting dark on the ground.

This is why as it was seen across other parts of Europe and Africa today, a partial eclipse just won’t do. Annie Dillard wrote that the difference between a partial eclipse and a total one is the difference between kissing a man and marrying him.

That’s it. The two just can’t be compared.

Totality seems really long on this little video screen, but that 2:27 went by in an instant out there on the tundra.