Friday, August 1, 2008

Glimpses of 1980 Grand Solar Eclipse

As most of us know that a solar eclipse occurs when the Moon comes in between the Sun and the Earth. I just recall one particular solar eclipse in India occurred on February 16, 1980, while I was with my grandparents in our native village. That significant event prompted me to write an article when one more eclipse is just passing on today. That was one of the spectacular events that I have ever experienced under enthusiasm and scientific temper.

Much before the event occurred, newspapers and radio (TV was not popular during those days) were widely publicizing about significance of that rare event occurs only once in a life time. I also heard about how the scientists all over the World coming to India with special equipments to record the event amidst fears that cloudy weather during that moment can spoil all their efforts. According to scientists, those scientific observations provide crucial clues about Sun’s surface. Similarly, I read the news that biologists were also making their own arrangements to record specific observations. The news had created lot of zeal in me. I was 18 years old young boy, just passed class XII, having lot of interest to explore science. My curiosity increased further when the eventful day was fast approaching.

The danger
At the same time, there were severe warnings about total blindness that might happen to people who will directly watch the event without protective measures. The scientific reason they explained was that because it was a total solar eclipse, there will be momentary darkness that creates eagerness to watch the event with naked eye. At that time, the pupil in the eye dilate more, because of low light... allowing harmful rays to pass through and touch retina. Within no time, as the moon slides away, more intensity radiation passing through, while the eye’s pupil would take a moment to adjust itself. This situation is more dangerous than directly watching the bright Sun. Keeping those precautions in mind, I had decided to do something special.
I still remember those stories heard during my childhood about the eclipse that occurs when a big monster snake swallows the Sun.

My objectives
While the people in the village were busy making arrangements for rituals after eclipse, I had my own plans to record each moment of those precious minutes realizing that it will never come again in my life. Though, I had limited knowledge of experimentation, determined to make few observations based on text book knowledge. I set the following simple objectives for my study:
Objective 1: Making scientific observations on the sequence of events during this solar eclipse.
Objective 2: Observing momentary influence on birds, animals, insects, plants etc.

A no-cost observatory
One plain paper was taken and put a pin hole on it and placed on a mirror covering it, projected into a room on the wall. Clearly I could see the full size of sun and watch the eclipse sitting in my room. Used X-ray film (now considered unsafe) having dark portion was taken and covered on a plain goggles. Those were my simple equipments. That how, I avoided direct exposure to Sun but still watching the event.

My Observations
Phase I: As eclipse had commenced, initially there was no much significance.

Phase II: Couple of minutes before full eclipse, I had clearly observed shadow bands appearing on walls like waves on the surface.

Phase III: The time of full eclipse was highly significant. Slowly the light intensity decreased to a stage that all objects were visible in a typical dark gray shade at that low light intensity. All of a sudden, there was phenomenal change in the behavior of birds. Birds were making typical noise as if there was sudden sunset and they failed to reach their trees on time. They were in a hurry to move quickly. At the moment of total eclipse, I could see a ring shape. Few seconds later, I could clearly see a diamond on one side of the ring appeared as the moon was sliding away a little bit. This was spectacular event I never forget in my life.

Phase IV: After the diamond ring, light slowly coming to normal and the behavior of the birds also found normal.

I could not find any behavioral changes on domestic animals as well as insects (particularly ants) with in my vicinity. Human behavior was significant. Every one stopped doing work and curiously watched at the change.

My experiment on plants (iodine test) indicated that there was considerable reduction in starch content on a portion of leaf exposed during the period of eclipse indicating low photosynthetic activity during eclipse.

Years passed. Several eclipse events occurred. Still the 1980 solar eclipse marks special significance in my book of memories.

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