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The Tower View Eclipse of Costa Rica

Annular solar eclipse on December 14, 2001 in Nosara, Costa Rica

Experience Report

After having successfully observed the total solar eclipse on June 21 in Zimbabwe I wished to experience the second solar eclipse of the year 2001 on December 14 in Costa Rica, just a little while after returning from Africa. I made use of a tempting offer from the internet and joined an American group, with them the "king of eclipse chasers" Fred Espenak, resp. "Mr. Eclipse" himself. Fred Espenak works as a scientist at NASA and publishes all necessary calculations for forthcoming eclipses, which are used by scientists and other interested people all over the world, to plan their journeys into the eclipsed regions.

On December 5 I took a 747 to Miami, Florida. After a one week round-trip with a rental car through southern Florida I spent four additional days in Costa Rica, another 2 to 3 flight hours south of Miami.

On December 13, the day before the eclipse, we (the group) went on a boat tour on Rio Bebedero upstream and could experience the prospering flora and animal world of the tropical forests of middle America. Iguanas, monkeys, crocodiles and lots of different birds came into our view and before our cameras' lenses.

Flock of Herons

Flock of Herons at Rio Bebedero

Iguana at Rio Bebedero

We needed for the drive from San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, to our observation site at the pacific coast the whole day, several hours of the boat tour included. At the late evening we reached our hotel in Nosara, which lies in the midst of wonderful tropical gardens and only a few hundred meters away from the pacific. Above the palm trees, the planets Jupiter and Saturn, accompanied by the stars of winter sky and the meteor shower of the Geminides, whose specimen reached about the brightness of the two planets, in average one in about a few minutes.

After a swim in the pacific at the impressingly beautiful, almost untouched natural beach of Nosara on the next morning, I joined a group meeting in the lobby of the hotel, where Fred Espenak gave some information about the forthcoming annular eclipse and the choice of the best observation sites. Instead of going to the beach, the complete group decided to join Fred Espenak, who followed an invitation by local astronomers to watch the eclipse from a tower, about one to two kilometers north of the hotel.

At the late morning we arrived at that tower. It belonged to a hotel complex which was just under reconstruction. It allowed an undisturbed view to all directions on several floors. I positioned myself a few meters beside Fred Espenak at the second floor. The wonderful panorama over the coast and the sea was fantastic.

Hotel Tower of Nosara

The observation site: Hotel tower of Nosara

TV-team in front of the coast near Nosara during the solar eclipse

After setting up the observation instruments, several rain breaks had to be made. I could move my equipment quite quickly to the roofed middle of the tower again and again. I had no parallactical mount, which I would have to realign.

On the afternoon it became more and more crowded. The rest of the group had arrived (those people without a large-scale equipment). In addition our hosts also used this site for observation, and a lot of Costa Rican TV and newspaper reporters. Live transmissions had been made from the near roof of another part of the complex, and of course interviews with “Mr. Eclipse” were not missing.

3:11 p.m. (UTC –6h): first contact, and an almost completely clouded sky. But several greater cloud holes coming from the mountains moved out to the sea, to the direction where the sun stood in the sky. After 20 minutes time had come. The eclipsed sun increasingly showed up out of the clouds. The cloud holes offered a glass clear blue of the sky, and the same kind of clear views to the heaped clouds and the partial sun eclipse.

Clearly could be seen that the moon, who had lain down into the sun, was smaller than the sun itself and could not be covering it completely.

Now my new Sky Watcher refractor (f=700mm, D=70mm) in combination with an Olympus OM1 camera came into action, and my Canon EOS500N camera with different lenses. Due to the clouds part of the time I photographed without a filter, considering adequate safety precautions.

Partial Solar Eclipse

3:38 p.m. - Partial Solar Eclipse

taken with an Olympus OM1 camera behind a Sky Watcher refractor (D=70mm, f=700mm) 1/1000s exposed on Fuji100 negative film.

Partial Solar Eclipse

3:45 p.m. - Partial Solar Eclipse

taken with a Canon EOS500N camera and Canon 75-300mm lens with 2x tele converter at 600mm, exposed automatically on Fuji100 negative film.

After 10 to 12 minutes more clouds went up from the land, and a rain front moved from the south towards the horizon underneath the sun.

The last time the sun showed up at 4 p.m., just for a few seconds in a tiny hole of clouds. I could catch this only with my Sony video camera DCR-VX700E with a 2x tele converter (840mm equivalent 35mm-camera focal length). I could take some video pictures of the sun eclipse before, at the same focal length.

After 4 p.m. another view to the beauty of eclipse had not been given to us, due to closing of the cloud holes before their reaching at the sun, resp. their drift aside of it. It became darker and cooler. Between second and third contact, during annularity (4:30 p.m. - 4.33 p.m.) it was considerably darker, even if some sun beams through distant cloud holes could be seen.

Horizon during annularity 4:34 p.m.

4:34 p.m. - Horizon during annularity 4:34 p.m.

taken with a Canon EOS500N camera and Canon 24-85mm lens at 24mm, 1/30s exposed at f3.5 on Fuji100 negative film

Then it went brighter again. Greater cloud holes over the coast showed us the view to clouds lighted by the sun. They turned from white to purple red, and the still partial eclipsed sun set behind the clouds, not visible for us. Even if there were so many clouds it was wonderful. The solar eclipse showed up so shortly, but in the beauty of this Central American country. 

Collecting the instruments lasted until darkness.

After driving back to San Jose on 15th, the group left the country, everyone with an individual flight on December 16th. Before returning home, I stayed another nice sunny morning in Miami Beach, but then, right in time for Christmas, dipping in back into the darkness of Germany's December again.

Stephan Heinsius, on the flight back from Miami to Frankfurt on 17.12.2001, entered into PC on Dec. 18.12.2001 and 19.12.2001, corrections and conversion into HTML on 20.12.2001, pictures added on 22.01.2002.

Design and Contents: Stephan Heinsius, D-63303 Dreieich, ┬ęSH 2001 - all rights reserved


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