Astronomical Society of Edinburgh
Journal 40

The Solar Eclipse of August 11 1999

... described graphically by Maurice Frank ...

Just before dawn entering Cornwall, there was enough clear sky at higher altitudes to see the whole of Auriga. Those billows of cloud do spring on you out of nowhere. We should all evolve into Arctic terns, they can go anywhere, they're at the peak of evolution, not us. All an ape could do was anxiously scan the radio, but at 9:40, with 20 minutes to spare to go there, news of the pessimistic mood at Falmouth with a thick roll of cloud heading for them decided me to stay in Truro which seemed to have the least bad prospects but still a total cover of light billowing cloud.

With 4 ASE folk and a few others in a low lying piece of park by Mon Quay, centre of town but well shielded from lights. We went through torment, sinking into even sticking up a paper cutout (from a newspaper) "consolation eclipse, and giving a mopey interview of the defeated to a radio reporter. [we never heard it - Ed]. I'm glad not to have been part of that: never give in even when you've given up.

A break showed us the crescent sun in its extreme partial phase. In the event it lasted for several seconds. In a couple of minutes it was repeated. Twice the cloud was just right to filter out the sun's brightness to show us this wonder, safe to look at directly. The moon appeared slightly brown, not outshone, I don't think this was an optical trick, even if there's nothing except Earthshine it could have appeared by. What a contradictory thing to say you've seen the New Moon. The radio played "Moonlight Shadow . We wanted to be there.

The curious electric silence grows on you. A dark stormy look brewed on the western horizon, before sweeping over our heads in a spilt blueberry pie effect as its deep colour imprinted on successive cloud billows. There was some red in its folds, but dark blue like a moonlit night dominated. It wasn't completely dark : it was enough to set off a big flock of birds from a nearby tree, to fly out squawking in loud confusion above us. Really ominous all those things they write about the unreality are true. Knowing where the sun was, we could see a patch of white light there, whiter than the cloud cover. We called to each other as every thinning crossed it, I saw at least 2 split-second beams of a pure white pierce through. We must have had over a minute of totality gone when there was a decent patch of thinned cloud to the sun's lower right. A brightening of the white light came with a streaming effect in the 5 o'clock direction, all aligned that way. A flaring structure was apparent for only perhaps 3 seconds, that was as much as we saw of the corona.

The watching for breaks had thrown my sense of time, it was unbelievably dismaying how soon light was announced to the west. A point gleam of sun switched on through the occlusion as abruptly as a light switch, in the same instant as the wonderful darkscape dissolved off the land into too sudden normality. The last shafts of the hand from another world rolled off the eastern sky like peach peel. We'd been there. We got treated to a third good look at the crescent sun, but half an hour after totality solid cloud and rain set in.

Maurice Frank