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Solar Eclipse observed in Zimbabwe - 21 June 2001

Posted by Shelagh Godwin. Photo by Jim Godwin.

On 2001 June 21st I had the privilege of observing the first total solar eclipse of the new millennium. The observing site was the banks of the Ruya River in northern Zimbabwe. The combination of sand, trees, vegetation and the flowing water enhanced the eerieness of the light as the moon encroached over the Sun from the bottom left. We could hear the crickets singing, as if in the evening, as we had fun playing with our shadows, sharp in one direction fuzzy in another. At just before 3-15 local time (1315 UT) an impressive diamond ring to top right announced the onset of totality. The excitement was palpable as the shadow rushed over the river towards us and the moon, amazingly black, blotted out al the parts of the Sun that we can normally see. There was a fantastic pearly corona, well structured, of equal intensity all round the Moon's disc, with amazing streamers. Almost immediately a brilliant red prominence appeared on the right hand side of the Sun, at about the 2 o'clock position. Almost simultaneously a bat flew across our field of vision. Somebody standing further away from the river remarked afterwards on the number of LCD screens as we desperately tried to catch the spectacle on film. Stars were visible, but I could only see Jupiter. This being my first total eclipse there was a lot to take in. Two more magnificent prominences appeared at about the 7 o'clock position. As we looked at these in awe, the diamond ring appeared in almost the same position. It was a long one, about 7 seconds. Then it was all over. Cheers and clapping all around.

Photo of eclipse in Zimbabwe by Jim Godwin - 21 June 2001

To reach the observing site we went through a school: we walked past basic single storey classrooms and wildly excited children. Pens, notebooks, and books were donated to the teachers, who also distributed eclipse shades. These children were the lucky ones as many in Harare observing the 98% partial phase were unable to obtain the shades and improvised with film negatives and anything they could lay their hands on. The children at the school were as bemused by the sight of 450 foreigners, all with sophisticated equipment, as by what was happening to the sun! As the buses pulled away along the dirt road towards Harare, 3 and a half hours away, all the children and adults raced out of their villages and waves. For them, as for us, it had been an incredible day.