Totally Eclipsed, 11 August 1999

by Dave Levermore

On the evening of 10 August, 1999, I flew from Moscow to Paris, where early the next morning Claude, Norbert, Paula, and I headed north to try to catch the total eclipse. As predicted, the weather was cloudy, giving little chance for a clean view of the eclipse. Still, we had a plan. We headed north toward the path of totality on Autoroute 16 (A-16), a road which is not as well connected to the center of Paris as many others. We had also picked up a fine French picnic lunch (freshly baked bread, ham, pate, wine, four cheeses, mineral water, fruit, and more). We were determined to have a great time no matter what the clouds decided to do. It was a good plan.

As we headed north on A-16 the eclipse began. About twenty minutes before totality we stopped at a rest area. Several hundred others were there too. Cars filled the parking lot and the grass around it. We found a great spot on the grass just off the pavement where we laid out our picnic. As we enjoyed the fine wine and pate, we watched the eclipse through our EU approved dark glasses as the sun got nibbled away by the moon.

A few minutes before totality, the clouds broke to give us an unobstructed view for the next half hour. It was spectacular! When totality hit, the sky dramatically darkened, we took off our glasses, and some planets and a few stars appeared. The corona that framed the dark lunar disk was so rich in structure that one could easily see how it gave rise to the ancient explanation that a dragon was swallowing the sun. It gloriously shined somewhat brighter than a full moon and danced high in the noon sky among the stars. The sight was unforgettable and caused the air to be filled with exclamations and applause. It was quite a show, far more spectacular than the partial eclipses I had seen previously. The next picture does not do justice to the whole phenomenon, but you can see several stars in it if you look to the left of the eclipse and up and down a bit. This spectacle lasted for a couple of minutes, after which the sun peaked through a lunar valley, the glasses were quickly returned to our eyes, and the moon began to slowly drift out of sight. We then toasted our good fortune and finished our picnic.

Of course, the roads and trains on the way back to Paris were jammed with people who had tried to see the spectacle. Not all were as lucky as we were, as clouds frustrated many. It took us about three hours (in each direction) to make a trip that most days would take a bit over an hour. Still, it was worth it. The next day I flew back to Tucson spiritually refreshed. If you get the chance to see a total solar eclipse, take it!