Let there be light – and darkness

28 July 2009

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Solar Eclipse, July 22nd 2009.  Viewed from a mountain top near Feilaisi, Deqin County, Yunnan, PRC (28°26’37.87″N, 98°52’38.20″E).

The eclipse

Directly beneath the longest solar eclipse of the 21st century. The black silhouette of the moon covered the sun in perfect alignment and proportion, a bizarre coincidence which defies the odds.

We never realised just how great our position was until the night before when a bloke mentioned he had travelled 16 hours by bus just to see the eclipse from our location. Even then, we didn’t expect too much, especially given the thick clouds the previous few days. Nonetheless, we got up early and hiked to the top of the nearest hill at 3,600 metres and sat down on a mud wall in anticipation.

For at least half an hour we watched – or tried to without burning our retinas – as the sun was slowly engulfed by the moon.  If you looked for a split second you could close your eyes and see the image of the partial eclipse on your own eyelids.

Once the last slither of light vanished it was as dark as night, the temperature rapidly dropped to single digits and the animals fell silent as the locals stood in awe.  After four minutes of darkness, the very slightest amount of sun reemerged and a halo of purple and orange filled the sky for a few seconds before bursting outwards to instantly illuminate the sky and earth.

The moon moves away from the sun

Our wildest expectations were smashed.  The difference between totality and a few percent less became immediately evident, as even the slightest shard of light was enough to keep the valleys illuminated before the moon blacked out the sun completely.

Talk about being in the right place at the right time.

The result?  10AM beers to celebrate and a  grin for the rest of the day.

Steve Goddard is a Law/Arts student at La Trobe University.