Love In The Moon's Shadow

Brian Nitz

© Copyright 2002 by Brian Nitz

Photo of a full eclipse of the sun.

I'd seen several eclipses before. Some of them darkened the sun more than 80%, but none were total. My fiancee had seen a total eclipse from southern Canada when she was ten years old. She assured me that I would appreciate the experience. "Sure", I told her, "Last Winter's total eclipse was in Siberia, this one is a little more tropical. Even if we don't enjoy the eclipse it will certainly be warmer than Wisconsin, Canada or Siberia."

As we stepped off the plane onto the runway in Antigua, one of the flight attendants asked me, "Do I look at the eclipse with regular shades or like 3D glasses?" We had ordered some extra shades, so we gave one to her. "Here, these will work." Soon the pilot and other flight attendants were all trying to look through the shades.

The next day we sailed, kayaked and snorkled in the deep bay adjacent to our hotel. While we waited for lunch, we overheard a persistant beach salesman pushing his product.

"Eclipse shades for sale, they'll keep you from going blind!" The woman on the beach was unimpressed. "How much are they?",she inquired. "Only $5.00." She laughed,"That's alot, I could buy some rum with that."

On Feb 26 at 10:00 a.m., we took a taxi south from our hotel to Shirley Heights, Antigua. Our taxi bumped over potholes and past spray painted signs which warned people to use eclipse shades. Astronomers and eye doctors had appeared on television the night before to explain safe ways of viewing the eclipse. The rest of the world could learn from Antigua, their government did an excellent job of educating the people about this magical event which would not arrive again for approximately 300 years.

We viewed the eclipse from the fort at Shirley Heights. The fort dated from Antigua's early British Colonial days and offered an excellent view of the boats moored in English Harbor, Nelson's dockyard and Montserrat off in the distance. People were selling beads, braids, T-shirts, and eclipse shades. A Steel Drum band played as the crowds began to appear.

Nearly everyone already had their silvery eclipse shades. We set up our telescope and binoculars (both equipped with mylar solar filters.) When a few children grew curious, I aimed the telescope out to sea where a navy boat was circling. Further out, a large cruise ship had positioned itself midway between Guadeloupe and Antigua, near the center of the moon's shadow.

The Shirley Heights pub was selling flying fish burgers and various other carribean "jerk" dishes. The noon sun was high and hot as I stood in line for lunch. The circular hole in my lunch ticket projected an image of the sun onto the shoes of the man in front of me. Soon a small bite was taken out of the sun. This is about how it would have looked from my home in Wisconsin. But here there was much more to come...

The moon gradually crept across the face of the sun. At approximatly 13:45 local time it swallowed a particularly large sunspot. As the sun narrowed into a crescent, more people crowded towards the edge of thecliff to see if they could catch a glimpse of the oncomming shadow. We had to relocate. The first place we tried was already occupied by a cactus obscured by the deepening shadows. My fiancee found this, ouch! We finally found a tiny spot astride a rock crevice on the edge of the hill. It was just big enough for the two of us. I left the telescope behind.

The sun was 49 degrees above the horizon to our southwest. Below and to the right was the island of Montserrat. Grey clouds of ash and steam rose from Montserrat's Souffriere Hills volcano. There were a few false reports of the shadow's advance as clouds darkened the waters in front of us. Soon there was an obvious darkening of Montserrat. Then almost without warning, totality arrived to Antigua. "Wow!" There was no other way to express it, we cheered along with the crowd. The sky became a deep dark blue, the corona a whispy blue-white and all around us was the orange-red color of sunset. The smoldering volcano was backlit by the eerie glow from outside the shadow. The planets mercury, venus and jupiter shone brightly to either side of the eclipsed sun. It was almost as though we'd been suddenly transported to an ancient volcanic world and observed our solar system from the outside.

Streetlights came on below, as did the anchor lights of the boats in the harbor. It was as dark as twilight perhaps 1 hour after sunset. The light reminded me of the blue glow of a clear cold Wisconsin evening. We were no longer hot. The combined Sun Protection Factor's of our suntan lotion and the moon was probably over 1 million. I tried to capture a little bit of the eclipse by aiming the videocamera towards the eclipsed sun and I attempted some 35mm photos on Kodachrome. Unfortunately I'd forgotten to switch the camera to manual mode, so the camera chose a 30 second exposure, almost 1

4 of the eclipse. Less than 3 minutes after totality began, we saw the 2nd diamond ring. Someone was married just before totality, and just when the first bright beam of sunlight shone from behind the moon to create a diamond ring in the sky, I asked the beautiful girl next to me to marry me. The taxi driver congratulated us on our way back to the hotel. He told us that he didn't see the eclipse because his wife was afraid. He said that when you marry, the individual self no longer exists.

We travelled to Germany the following summer to celebrate our honeymoon. Our honeymoon coincided with a rare european total solar eclipse. We viewed it from southern Germany. Rain fell during the entire eclipse, but we experienced it together. There is no way to capture the experience on film, video or with words. If you appreciate the beauty of the sky or if you are a romantic and would like to experience another perspective on our small world, try to find your way into the moon's shadow.

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