< Live
   New >

Twitter link

Comet Bruenjes
Comet C/2012 C2 (BRUENJES)
Eclipse '10
Eclipse '10
SSSP '10

Eclipses Meteors Solar System Deep Sky Spacecraft Observatory

Satellite Photo
Satellite image courtesy Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land
Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC. Taken April 8, 2004.

The 2005 Annular-Total Solar Eclipse

April 8, 2005
by Fred Bruenjes


Two and a half weeks off from work... check
Plane tickets... check
Two week supply of seasickness medicine... check
Satellite phone... check
Quest for adventure... check

... and so begins another one of my crazy vacations to fascinating and desolate corners of the globe. My goal is to observe a total solar eclipse in the middle of the ocean. This area happens to be ground zero for El Niņo. The nearest land will be 900 miles (1500 km) away, and even that is just an uninhabited French coral atoll off the Mexican coast, named Clipperton Island. The journey is most of the fun, so I'll be going through Ecuador and touring the Galapagos Islands before heading out to sea for the eclipse. I won't be doing this alone, the trip was arranged by Astronomical Tours and a hundred or so friends will be along.


My previous trips to see eclipses are listed here. What is a total solar eclipse? Well, through an amazing coincidence in geometry, every few years the Moon blocks out the Sun creating a solar eclipse. The Sun is 400 times the size of the Moon, and 400 times as distant, so they appear to be the same size when viewed from Earth. When the orbit of the Moon takes it between the Sun and the Earth, the shadow of the Moon is cast upon the Earth. If the Moon is close enough to the Earth, someone located near the middle of that shadow will see the Moon exactly block out the Sun in a spectacular show. This is a "Total Solar Eclipse", arguably the most spectacular show in astronomy. This particular eclipse is a special version, called an Annular-Total or Hybrid solar eclipse, because the Moon is just barely close enough to create a total eclipse in the Pacific. Because of the curvature of the Earth, people near the beginning of the eclipse track (off New Zealand) or the end (Panama) are too far away to get a total and they'll see an annular eclipse.

Full Trip Report

Here is my 78 page report, containing about 420 photos from the trip in Adobe PDF format. This is my definitive report, with better photos and more explanations than the simple daily updates below. Choose a version:

  • PDF trip report: high resolution (26.7MB, 150dpi) - for printing, high speed internet
  • PDF trip report: low resolution (8.4MB, 72dpi) - for slower internet connections

    Daily Log / Updates

    If possible, I will upload a picture or two and a short description during each day of the trip. Scroll down to the latest. I will NOT be checking email during the trip, please hold your questions until April 17th.

    Day 1: Wednesday March 30, 2005

    I can finally relax. For weeks I have been preparing and testing equipment for this trip, and working feverishly to get ahead at my electrical engineering job. I crossed off the last items on the 'to do' list just hours before embarking on this adventure.

    Today I flew from San Diego, California to Quito, Ecuador. I had to change planes in Houston, Texas. Quite a few members of our tour group were on the flight down to Quito, including several friends from prevous eclipse trips. It was great to see them again, and to meet some new folks.

    I got a great view of downtown San Diego after takeoff.

    We took a 737-700 from Houston to Quito.

    Sunset 39,000 feet over the Yucatan Peninsula.

    Day 2: Thursday March 31, 2005

    The day started a few minutes before 5 AM (2 AM California time) at a hotel in Quito. Luckily, all of the passengers and most of the luggage made it this far. Some of Jay Pasachoff's luggage was mistakenly sent to the Dominican Republic, and Vic & Jen Winter missed their flight from the USA (but made it onto a later one). Jay's luggage will supposedly be ferried out to the ship when it arrives.

    The morning was organized chaos as the 90 or so tour members had to check out of the hotel and be bussed to the Quito Airport. We gave up on trying to find our assigned seats on the old AeroGal 727 jet. After arriving in the Galapagos Islands and paying the park entrance fees, we had to take small zodiacs out to our ship, the Galapagos Legend. I'm sharing a cabin with Olivier 'Klipsi' Staiger.

    The long day wasn't over. The ship sailed to Bartolome Island, where in the afternoon we went hiking and (some folks) went snorkeling. We saw amazing volcanic craters and a surprising assortment of wildlife. Swaths of volcanic moonscape are broken only by small tufts of gray plants and an occasional lizard. Crusted volcanic cones of wide-ranging sizes abut small lava tubes. The island is mostly brown, but with a stark grove of green bushes that seems completely out of place. I instantly recognized the view from the peak of the island, as shots from there were used in the Master and Commander movie.

    It's great to be among fellow amateur astronomers, both longtime and newly made friends. We are getting to know each other and having a great time swapping stories of past trips.

    Unfortunately, I learned that Canon's claims of the 1D Mark II digital camera being water resistant are pure lies. A wave kissed a small corner of my camera and completely killed the camera and attached 17-40mm F4L lens. I may try them again after they've had a few days to dry out, but for now it appears that I'll have to rely on my backup D60 camera and do without wide angle views. Insurance will replace the camera, but the loss of potential photos a big blow, especially on just the first real day of the trip!

    We had to take small zodiacs out to the ship.

    The Galapagos Legend, home for the next 15 days.

    The view from the peak of Bartolome Island.
    (Seen in the Master and Commander movie).

    Blue Footed Booby.

    Day 3: Friday April 1, 2005

    Today was Turtle Day for us, in the morning we visited El Chaco Tortoise Reserve, in the afternoon Darwin Station. We saw tortoises large and small, old and unborn. We also walked through a lava tube, and did shopping in Puerto Ayora.

    A meeting was held among the group leaders where we made some decisions about the eclipse chase. We'll arrive at the view site about 18 hours early, after sailing continuously for three days 19 hours. We've decided to keep EST (UTC-5), and to NOT observe daylight savings time. How often does one get the opportunity to decide what the clock should say?! However, this will significantly change the sunrise and sunset times as we go west.

    Last night quite a few members of the trip went stargazing. The Captain obiligingly turned of all of the lights on the upper deck of the ship, so we had a prime dark sky observing session. Tonight it was cloudier until about midnight.

    Fred Espenak photographs a small (300 kilo) giant tortoise.

    One of the larger tortoises.

    20 foot tall lava tube.

    The main town on the island is Puerto
    Ayora, where we went shopping.

    In the evening, Jen Winter introduced our
    special guests. Left to right: Jen Winter, Wendee
    and David Levy, Fred Espenak and Pat Totten,
    Jay and Naomi Pasachoff. Dave Eicher not shown.

    Day 4: Saturday April 2, 2005

    Today we visited Espinoza Point on Fernandina Island, and Tagus Cove on Isabela Island. Fernandina was spectacular, complete sensory overload, we couldn't decide which way to point our cameras! Marine iguanas, sea lions, flightless cormorants, eagle rays, crabs, and many more species were teeming above 120-150 year old lava.

    In the afternoon we sailed to Isabela Island, the largest island. It's a collection of large volcanoes, and we hiked to Darwin Bay, a crater with ultrasaline water. Along the way we saw several of the types of finches Darwin studied.

    Fernandina's volcano last erupted in 1995.

    Marine iguanas are ghastly looking
    reptiles, nearly a meter long.

    Flightless cormorant, note the small wings.

    What appears to be gray sand is actally a collection
    of ground up lava and pulverized shells and bone.

    Day 5: Sunday April 3, 2005

    In the morning we hiked near Urbina Bay on Isabela Island in search of land iguanas. In contrast to marine iguanas, the land iguanas are more solitary, and are orange or brown instead of green. We also looked for tortoises but did not find any. Another large ship arrived (the MV Santa Cruz) and we actually had a traffic jam of tourists on the narrow paths. Finding the iguanas was not a problem, we just looked for the nearest gaggle of people!

    In the afternoon we visited Moreno Point, also on Isabela Island. This area is covered in sharp fragile lava, with half-acre lagoons of water and fields of grass inexplicably dotted though the landscape. We saw four flamingoes, a variety of other birds, a white tipped shark, and Galapagos penguins. Near the end of the hike, in a vast field of lava, I saw a spectacular panorama of five massive volcanoes spaced all around me. It was breathtaking, I had to stop and let the view soak in for a few minutes.

    Weather forecasts for eclipse day are looking good, maybe a few puffy clouds (just enough to make for good pictures).

    Land iguana, about three feet long.

    Say ahh!


    White tipped shark, about four feet long.


    Day 6: Monday April 4, 2005

    We left for the eclipse view site at 10:12pm last night. Now that we're on the open ocean, the waves are much larger. The ship has been rolling +/- 15 degrees every eight seconds since we set out. For people on the upper decks that means having to brace themselves so they don't get thrown out of bed. As I write this on Monday evening, my deck chair just went flying about three feet towards the swimming pool, with me and laptop and satphone along with it. Four seconds later I went flying back towards the edge of the ship!

    Today was a bit of a rest day after the hectic shore visits. Breakfast at 9. We staked out our observing positions for the eclipse and cleared them with Jen Winter. I'll be in a corner on the upper deck overlooking the pool deck.

    I saw a school of small flying fish. In the evening we saw the zodiacal light a clear as day. The only light pollution out here is what we bring with us.

    Weather forecast for eclipse day looks better than it did yesterday - very good instead of just good.

    Jay Pasachoff giving a talk.

    Fred Espenak giving a talk.

    Day 7: Tuesday April 5, 2005

    Today we continued our course to the west to intercept the eclipse path. There were more lectures, more stargazing, and a whole lot of relaxation.

    Day 8: Wednesday April 6, 2005

    Today was yet another day of relentless sailing in our quest to meet the Moon's shadow. We have less than 24 hours until we arrive at our location of 109 degrees West, 0 degrees 56.18' S. We were originally targeting 110 West longitude, but that appears to have inferior weather prospects and would cost us precious fuel (we are pushing the ship to its maximum range!)

    We continue to see schools of dozens of flying fish. They are about a foot long and can fly up to 100-200 feet. The pop up aside and ahead of the ship and fly away from it in synchronized swarms. They're not simply jumping, I have seen them navigate around waves to maximize their range. We have also seen two whales, both very distant. I personally did not see the whales.

    Two nights ago was the last time we saw another ship. During a tour of the ship's bridge, our captain told me that it was a cargo ship hauling fruit from Chile to Los Angeles, he had a nice chat with them on the radio. Nothing else is nearby, we are alone out here. I don't even recall seeing any aircraft. On the plus side, light pollution is nonexistent and the zodiacal light is as bright as the Milky Way. All of us amateur astronomers are having a blast. A side effect of the wonderful night skies is that the crew is getting fatter... According to the Captain everyone is sleeping in late and skipping breakfast, so the crew is enjoying the leftover breakfast food!

    Eclipse preparations are in high gear. Vic & Jen helped make solar filters for the 25 or so people who needed them. Fred Espenak gave a talk on the vital statistics of the eclipse, including the Moon's irregular shape and what we should look for.

    Predawn crescent Moon.

    Flying fish, with bad fin (wing?).

    Bridge of the ship.

    Captain explains the water currents.

    Day 9: Thursday April 7, 2005

    We sailed into the eclipse path at 7:37pm today. At eclipse time (4:17pm ship time, 21:17 UT, 2:17pm pacific) we did a dry run of the ship's heading and our equipment. We determined that the best stability is obtained by travelling with the waves and wind, which means a northwesterly direction perpendicular to the eclipse path. This means we are in for some tricky navigation, our Captain will be doing some fancy math to make sure we hit the center of the path at mid-eclipse. Even while travelling with the waves, the ship still rocks about five degrees, so I've pretty much abandoned my original plans for photographing the eclipse. I'll be lucky to get much of anything with the ship rocking that much. Oh well.

    I'm getting nervous about the weather, it looks like it will be a close call, possibly with clouds at the start of the eclipse and clearing in time for totality.

    Day 10: Friday April 8, 2005

    WE SAW IT!!! WE SAW IT!!! WE SAW IT!!!

    The morning started with rain and much nail biting. With a ship we have the luxury of picking any nearby point to see the eclipse. It also means we have the duty to find the BEST point. Forecasts that had been predicting spectacular skies during the past week were revised to progressively worse outlooks after a massive band of clouds decided to jump in front of us. As the sole person on the ship capable of obtaining high quality weather information, it was up to me (Fred Bruenjes) to download and interpret the satellite images and computer model outputs that would indicate where to find clear skies at eclipse time. In the days just before the eclipse, that meant pulling new data every three hours and continually reassessing our aim point. Meteorology is one of my interests so I enjoyed the task.

    We originally targeted 110 degrees west, but several days ago had revised that to 109 west to put more space between us and predicted clouds. As eclipse day neared, it became clear that even 109 west was not going to work. We had two options: head northeast and try to outrun the clouds, or head southwest and speed their passage. On eclipse morning it was heavily overcast and raining. It was too late to head northeast (the ship is slow and would not outrun the clouds), so we (myself, Jen Winter, Fred Espenak, and Olivier 'Klipsi' Staiger) decided to head southwest with no particular aim point. This meant sailing perpendicular to the swells, which would cause the boat to roll side to side up to 30 degrees, so Jen gave a PA announcement for people to batten down. I sat down to breakfast and had to hold my food in front of me.

    At 11 AM, I downloaded the latest satellite image from under the cover of my jacket because it was raining. Not a good sign on an eclipse morning. The computer models were now predicting that the clouds would burn off and the remaining crud would push past us in time for the eclipse, and I could actually see the hole in the clouds coming on the satellite image. Would it get here in time? The group leaders and myself agreed that we should push as far south as possible to try and reach the clearing before the eclipse. Here's a GPS track showing our inital forays, trial runs, and ultimate postion:

    As the day progressed, it seemed hopeless. There were multiple cloud layers, occasional rain, and no signs of improvement. I tried to remain outwardly optimistic but inside I was getting nervous and the people who knew me well enough could tell. If those clouds were to clear they had better start moving... and they weren't moving!

    As time ticked down towards the start of the eclipse, we finally got some signs that the computer predictions were coming to fruition. "Sucker holes" opened in the clouds and we saw flashes of blue sky. The burnoff of the upper cloud layer had started. Now we just needed the low stuff to blow out of here. Still moving southwest, Fred Espenak supplied eclipse coordinates and the 109° 30' West intercept was selected.

    First contact (when the Moon first touches the Sun) came on time and provided confirmation that we were at the right place. Clouds were still covering the sky, but were thin enough and had some breaks that provided satisfactory viewing. Things were looking up!

    20 minutes before totality... clouded over.

    I (and everyone else on board) set up equipment and prepared for the main event: Totality, when the Moon completely covers the Sun and turns day into night. About 15 minutes to totality, it looked like we would still be covered in clouds, while a nearby area would be clear. Some of us contemplated ordering the ship to steam for the clear area at maximum speed, but it was decided to press on and view the eclipse from here clouds or not.

    In a near miracle, seven minutes before totality the last of the cloud layers cruised past us, heading northwest (as predicted but running a little late). Hooray! The sky was clearing at an astounding pace and we were assured of our view of totality.

    7 minutes before totality... clear view!

    David Levy provided commentary via a microphone and directed us to look for shadow bands, Venus, the corona, and other sights before the eclipse. Shouts of joy from all of the passengers began to drown out all other noises.

    The Moon's shadow was seen as a darkening in the southwest and all of a sudden it was upon us. The Sun faded to near nothingness behind the Moon. With my 15x50 binoculars the view was simply glorious. The sky was bright from the unusually narrow shadow, and so the corona (wispy manifestation of the solar wind) was less bright than previous eclipses, but it was elongated with delicate and unmistakeable polar brushes that are seen only when the Sun is at a lull in its 11 year activity cycle. The real star of the show was chromosphere and prominences, pink to ruby red 'flames' coming from every direction off the Sun. Normally, the Moon appears larger and only a few of them can be seen at a time, but with the eclipse the Moon was nearly the exact size of the Sun so we saw the prominences all around. The smaller Moon also provided a fantastic show of Baily's Beads, the best I've ever seen. These occur when the Sun's fantastically bright surface shines just through valleys and canyons on the Moon.

    The ship was rolling from side to side because it was at a slow speed. I took off the binoculars and Venus was absolutely dazzling just a couple of degrees above the Sun. I looked around the sky and could see the 360° twilight horizon that is characteristic of a total solar eclipse.

    I raised my binoculars back into place just in time to see third contact, when the Moon no longer completely covers the Sun. We got a spectacular show of Baily's Beads, including a double diamond ring that Fred Espenak had predicted.

    After totality we reviewed photos, discussed impressions, and most people began to pack up. The topic of the 2006 eclipse came up only six minutes after this one ended. I stayed, photographing the partial eclipse all the way to the end. I was rewarded for my patience not only by seeing the eclipse from start to finish but also because I saw a whale perhaps a half mile from the ship. It's very possible that it experienced totality with us.

    Some technical notes: Our coordinates at mideclipse were 1° 19.554' S 109° 30.190' W, with mideclipse at 21:15:22 UTC. Our course was about 320 degrees, speed about 5mph. The ship was about 100 meters from the eclipse center line at mid-eclipse time, a perfect bullseye by our Captain. I haven't determined the exact length of totality yet but it's very close to 30 seconds.

    Diamond Ring, start of Totality

    Prominences all around.

    Corona and planet Venus

    Double Diamond Ring

    Crescent Sun

    Eclipse almost over!

    Here are some shots from the all sky video camera:

    Second contact.

    Mid eclipse.

    Mid eclipse, reprojected to panoramic format.

    Third contact.

    My G1 camera took a time lapse sequence of people near the pool:

    Just before totality.

    During totality.

    After fourth contact.

    Because the G1 camera recorded the exposure settings for each image, I was able to reconstruct the ambient light intensity during the eclipse by plotting the camera's autoexposure selection over time. Light intensity measurements normally require a fancy and expensive light meter, so I was quite pleased with the results of this experiment. The formula is log2(Aperture^2/(Shutter*ISO)), and below is a plot showing how lighting was reduced by a factor of 1000x during the eclipse.

    Below is the weather data I collected during the eclipse using my Kestrel 4000 weather meter. Our altitude didn't actually change; the slow rise in altitude is really a slow decrease in air pressure. The spread in altitude meaasurements is larger than the measurement noise, so the altimeter was detecting the rise and fall of the ship when it rolled with the swells!

    In the evening a cocktail party was held, and I wolfed down my dinner in order to make it outside in time to see the sunset:

    Day 11: Saturday April 9, 2005

    Not much went on today. It rained for a good part of the day, as yesterday's hole in the clouds has long moved on.

    I spent the day reviewing my pictures and preparing the report posted above. I helped a number of people to process and/or upload their own pictures. In the evening the Captain invited me to his table for dinner, and I had a nice time chatting with him, his chief engineer Jimmy, and a half-dozen other guests.

    It's been five days since we have seen any ship or airplane.

    Day 12: Sunday April 10, 2005

    Today we continued our trek east towards the Galapagos. We expect to arrive back to the islands on Tuesday afternoon.

    We saw two fishing boats today, some dolphins, and a whale. The day was capped by an amazingly colorful sunset.


    Fishing boat.


    Crescent Moon.

    Day 13: Monday April 11, 2005

    It's been eight days since any land has been sighted, and I am SO ready to get back to the Galapagos. As a sign of our boredom, sunrise and sunset have taken on epic proportions, they've become must-see events because not much else goes on out here. Dinner was announced and it was a few moments after walking into an empty dining hall that I realized everyone was delaying dinner so they could see the sunset!

    I spent some time today to scan the horizon with my binoculars. In every direction there was nothing but waves. Waves of every size and shape, from small ripples to massive swells that toss the ship. I cannot imagine how sailors of yesteryear and today cope with the isolation and monotony.

    We've had an amazing array of special speakers covering everything from astronomy to eclipses to Darwin and the Galapagos. I've been busy almost the entire trip, and skipping a lecture feels like cutting class in college. Still, I've found the best way to pass the time is to crash onto my bed and sleep the hours away. I've never spent so much time sleeping, and we make jokes about how much exercise we get while sleeping because of the effort it takes to stay in bed - the ship has been in non-stop motion since leaving the Galapagos over a week ago.

    The highlight of the day was 'Eclipse Show and Tell' where folks got up and shared their videos, photos, poetry, and stories of the eclipse and the trip so far. I played my time lapse video of the pool deck, and the all-sky video showing how close we came to being clouded out. Both seemed to be a big hit.

    Ice Cream Festival.


    Day 14: Tuesday April 12, 2005

    Land ho! We've made it back to the Galapagos. Everyone instantly feels better. Obscene amounts of film and digital memory were used today as we passed several islands on our way back. Starved for wildlife, dolphins, rays, false orcas, sea lions, and a dozen bird species drew everyone to the deck railings. There were no landings today, just several sightseeing stops before positioning for tomorrow's land visit. The rolling of the ship has stopped now that we are in protected waters, but everyone still instinctively holds onto their plates and cups at dinner time.

    Crew of the Galapagos Legend upon returning to the Galapagos.


    Round Rock.

    Volcano on Isabela island.

    Neptune Party

    Day 15: Wednesday April 13, 2005

    Today we visited land for the first time since April 3rd, at Puerto Egas (James Bay) and Rabida.

    We are madly packing our belongings in time for tomorrow's 6 AM wakeup call, so today's update will be short. Beginning tomorrow I will be travelling and so updates may not happen every day.

    We took a group photo today. I'm in the red shirt behind the guy in the alien shirt. Astronomy Magazine editor Dave Eicher is just to my right, somewhat obscured.

    Group photo of most of the 80 passengers on the ship.

    Galapagos Hawk.

    Sea lions.

    Day 16: Thursday April 14, 2005

    This morning we toured North Seymour Island in the Galapagos. We saw hundreds of sea lions and blue footed boobies (birds), and just one land iguana. It was startling to see prickly cactus overgrown with lush vines and brush.

    People then began to go their separate ways as the cruise was now over. After some normal confusion, I flew from Baltra in the Galapagos to Guayaquil, Ecuador, and then on to Quito. In the afternoon several of us took a tour to the equator, where I got my picture taken with one foot in the northern hemisphere and one foot in the southern, with GPS in hand to prove it. At the equator museum they did the standard Coriolis scam where they attempt to prove the location of the equator by draining a sink in various places. It was hilarious because it's a total sham scientifically, and they did it some 120 meters from the REAL equator!

    In the evening Bob Shambora arranged a farewell dinner for about 25 of us. It was great to sit down together as a group one last time.

    Frigate Bird on North Seymour.

    Can't tell where sea ends and sky begins.

    Straddling the equator.

    Farewell dinner.

    Day 17: Friday April 15, 2005

    Today I took a tour of the cloud forest near Quito. Not to be confused with a rainforest, a cloud forest is at a high elevation and has humid, cloudy conditions nearly continuously. We first visited an orchid preserve and climbed up slippery mud steps to a waterfall. Then we visited a butterfly sanctuary in Mindo where we saw them in all stages of life. Finally, after a looong lunch we viewed hummingbirds.

    As I write this in the evening a cacophany of car horns is wafting into my hotel room. Ecuador has been in political turmoil the past few days as the general population has decided to stand up and fight the corruption and conflicts of interest in the government. The car horns are part of a citywide protest and have been honking nonstop for over two hours now and they will probably continue late into the night.

    Tall waterfall.




    Day 18: Saturday April 16, 2005

    Today I got up at 3:20AM Quito time and flew home to San Diego, California. I got home safe and sound and with all of my luggage.

    I came home to about 900 emails, slightly over half of which are spam. It will take me a few days to reply to everyone who sent comments or questions.

    My satellite phone bill was about double what I expected, but that's OK, it made the difference between seeing the eclipse and not seeing the eclipse!

    This ends the daily updates. Please check back over the next few weeks, I'll be posting video of the eclipse and a much more detailed report.


    Please visit my main astronomy page, or check out my homepage.

    Comments? Questions? Click here to send email to me, Fred Bruenjes.

    All text and images are © 2005 Manfred Bruenjes - All Rights Reserved. Image inlining (aka hot linking) and framing are strictly prohibited. Email for permission before using an image or text.