Total Eclipse of Sun in Pacific Is Seen by Only a Few

The New York Times

Thursday, October 12, 1977

by Walter Sullivan

Special to the The New York Times

[New York Times] ABOARD S.S. FAIRWIND, in the Pacific, Oct 12—At 2:48 P.M. Eastern daylight time today, the shadow of the moon swooped down onto the Pacific Ocean midway between Hawaii and Japan, and this year's only total eclipse of the sun began.

The shadow reached east and southeast, passing north of Hawaii and then over this vessel and its sister ship, the Fairsea, on whose decks more than 2,000 passengers and off-duty crew members gazed aloft at the most awesome of predictable celestial spectacles as the moon fully eclipsed the sun.

From here, 1,500 miles west of Mexico, the 60-mile-wide shadow went toward South America, moving, with the eastward orbiting moon, even faster than the eastward spin of the earth. It crossed Colombia at the north tip of South America, then almost at sunset touched a few mountaintops of Venezuela before lifting off the earth into space at 6:05P.M.

The partial eclipse occurred throughout North America except in northern Canada. Here, to provide optimum photographic conditions, all but one of the ship's electric generators and all blowers except those supplying the hot engine room were shut down to minimize vibration.

SOME PAID $2,600 Fare

Passengers have paid from $1,300 to $2,600 to ride this ship from Port Everglades, Fla., through the Panama Canal after a stop at Cartagana, Columbia. After another visit in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, the ship will dock in Los Angeles next Tuesday. The Fairsea, which sailed from Los Angeles, will return there by way of Mazatl&eaacute;and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The fares on the shorter route were somewhat lower.

Because the path of totality was almost entirely over water, few if any observers apart from those on these ships were able to witness the eclipse.

The spectacle of a total solar eclipse has a special grip on those who have once seen it, as borne out by the number of repeaters aboard this ship. Many have seen five or more eclipses, in Australia, Africa, Mexico and other remote sites. And no sooner was this one over than they were talking of plans for the next.

The path of the next one, on Feb. 26, 1979, will be relatively accessible, passing from Oregon across Idaho and Montana, almost directly over Winnipeg in Canada and across Hudson Bay. Plans are also under way for the one of Feb. 16, 1980, that will cross Africa and South China.

On that occasion, scientists from the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in New Mexico hope to fire rockets from Kenya so that the eclipse can be observed from above the atmosphere.

Scientific observations during today's eclipse were meager, consisting chiefly of three experiments aboard the Fairsea, all seeking to observe at infrared wave-lengths the corona, or crown of light, around the sun that becomes visible the instant light from the sun is eclipsed.

One experiment scanned the corona outward from the sun to determine variations in the density of the corona's glowing gases. Another experiment was designed to map magnetic fields in the corona, and the third sought to trace its outermost streamer as far as possible into space.

That the sun has begun to climb out of its cyclic period of minimum sunspot activity has been evident in recent weeks, according to Dr. John A. Eddy, for 13 years a solar physicist with the High Altitude Observatory in Colorado.

Dr. Eddy's research into sunspot records suggests that the "little ice age" from 1650 to 1720, when famine affected much of Europe, coincided with a period when sunspot activity was almost nonexistent.

He believes that an earlier century of severe cold that began in about 1450 and wiped out the Viking colony in Greenland may also have been related to reduced activity on the sun, of which sunspots are the most visible index. High-energy emission in X-rays, ultraviolet and particle radiation tend to be most intense at such periods, and some believe that this can affect climate.

Dr. Eddy, who is to continue his research into vast solar activity at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., is a member of the lecturing team aboard this ship. He said in an interview that until recently the slowness of the sun's recovery from the last dip in its 11-year cycle has caused concern. Today, however, 30 or more spots were visible before the eclipse and recovery in the cycle is clearly under way.

One factor that has influenced the observations of the current eclipse has been the development of techniques for observing the sun and its corona from above the atmosphere. A number of observations previously possible only in a total eclipse can now be made from space.

Another factor, according to solar scientists, has been the termination of an Air Force program for sampling stratospheric debris from nuclear explosions, for example in China. The planes used for this are ideal for eclipse observations. So far as could be learned, however, no special flights were planned for this eclipse.

Go To Eclipse '77 Voyages to Darkness aboard Sitmar's Fairwind and Fairsea

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