“This is a much bigger deal than you think!”

The American total eclipse is coming up fast, just over six weeks away. We’ll be trying to go four-for-four, watching from our vantage point in Georgia. Here is a nice, long piece here that tries to explain why eclipses are such a big deal to those who seek them out.

This video covers the period just before, during and just after totality at Svalbard during the March 2015 eclipse. If you’re in a hurry, skip to just before the two-minute mark to see the onset of totality.

Impromptu Eclipse Tour in the Sky

Here is the path of an EasyJet flight from Belfast to Keflavik on 20 March, 2015, the day of a total solar eclipse across the Arctic. At the right moment, the pilot turned circles in the sky so that passengers on both sides of the plane could witness totality. Then they all headed on their way. Dee-lightful.



Here are some photos (1, 2, 3) and a short video of that day as we lived it in Svalbard. And here is a photo of how the eclipse itself looked from the tundra. Click to enlarge:



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

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.

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.

Svalbard Total Solar Eclipse, 20 March, 2015


Quick, first photo from the total eclipse this morning here in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, 78º north latitude. Today started out clear and cold, -16C as we set out down to the waterfront to get around the mountains that ring the town, because the sun only rises to around 12º above the horizon at this latitude at this time of year.

This photo is a phenomenon called the ‘diamond ring,’ just as totality begins and ends. And totality today was the longest we’ve yet seen, at 2:27, but just like both times before it seemed to go by in seconds.

Likely more photos and perhaps a short video to come. Also photography from a trip by snowmobile to the Russian settlement at Barentsburg yesterday.

Just now, this afternoon in Svalbard, we’re a self-satisfied three for three on sunny skies for total solar eclipses. And each time that moon moving over the sun like that, creating a ring of fire, is a reminder that human = little and the universe that can do things like that = way, way bigger. Every time is a real, deep privilege.