The Day of the Black Sun
by Erika Valdueza
I could still remember watching a newscast about the occurrence of total and partial solar eclipses in the Philippines. I went out of the house with my younger sister, stared at the cloudy skies, and saw the crescent sun while using sunglasses.
Fourteen years later, I went to mainland China together with ten members of the U.P. Astronomical Society to observe and document the longest total solar eclipse of our lifetime.
My colleagues in U.P. Astrosoc, who have decided to join the expedition, started preparing months before the event. Some have already booked a flight to Shanghai, arranged hotel reservations, and applied for visa. Everyone was obviously excited. Sadly at that time, I was still struggling whether I would join them or not.
After learning about the great total solar eclipse on July 2009, I realized that I was missing a significant part of my life. I’m an astronomy enthusiast for years, yet I failed to witness solar eclipses after that day on 1995. Thus, there was no excuse not to join the expedition. It also dawned on me that I haven’t closely encountered and studied our sun. The sole reason was the fear of observing it through the telescope, which could cause blindness if the equipment is not properly set up. As a result, I considered our Star as the least interesting celestial object.
Eventually, I gathered enough courage to practice all the safe methods to view the sun. Only this time, I observed it by projection and used solar filters. No sunglasses. My fear of observing the Sun dissipated on that very moment and redefined my perspective about it – from least to a challenge. I was ready to face Sol once again on July 22.
The most awaited day came and I woke up at 4:30 am with only two hours of sleep. My whole body seemed to quiver out of nervousness and excitement. I could hardly calm myself not to think of all possibilities which might happen during the event. I knew for sure that I wasn’t alone feeling this way. All members of the expedition team have been waiting, praying, and preparing for this momentous day. As amateur astronomers, we’re ready to sacrifice and risk a lot of things only to see right before our eyes the glorious and spectacular sights of eclipses, meteor showers, comets, and other astronomical events.
The team arrived at the observation site one hour before the start of the eclipse. The place was off the coast of Jinshanwei, 70 kilometres south of Shanghai city proper. Luckily, it was near the centerline of the path of the totality that would give us 5 minutes and 58 seconds of darkness. To our dismay, the weather didn’t cooperate even before we reached our destination. Clouds and misty rain blanketed the sky, making it difficult to view the Sun.
Nonetheless, we didn’t lose hope.
All members, despite the overcast, prepared their telescopes, cameras and solar filters. Each has their own tasks in observing the total solar eclipse. Some would capture videos and images of the entire stages of the eclipse while others would document the observations of the group in action.
As the countdown of the longest totality neared, onlookers began to appear everywhere. The crowd, including us, was curious, excited, thrilled, ecstatic and mystified. We were all in awe as our team leader shouted, “Totality!!!”.
I couldn’t believe it was actually happening. I almost cried with joy. Day turned into night as the moon covered the entire sun in a matter of minutes. Although the clouds hindered us from viewing the black sun, we could utterly feel the totality. It was eerily dark, cold and windy.
A remarkable 5 minutes and 58 seconds of our lives. It will not happen again until 2132.
Thankfully, I saw these surreal episodes with my fellow astronomy enthusiasts. They have and always been part of my journey as an amateur astronomer. Without the organization and its members, I wouldn’t be what I am now – passionate and dedicated to the field of astronomy.
Moved by this awe-inspiring experience, the group is now planning for another solar eclipse chase. The next total solar eclipse in Southeast Asia will occur in Indonesia on 2016. I hope this time, I’ll be able to see, not just feel, the black sun.
*photos by Vivian Limpin