Two Minutes of Splendor

The Shreveport Journal
July 28, 1972
Douglas F. Attaway, Publisher, Shreveport Journal

Photos by Jack Barham, Photo Editor

[Shreveport Journal]

Your chances of seeing a total eclipse — when the Moon moves between the Earth and the Sun and completely blots out the Sun —are not very good if you spend your life in one locality — maybe once in about 350 years. And then the skies might be cloudy that day and you couldn't see the eclipse and would have to wait another 350 years, and it might be cloudy that day, too.

The way to solve the problems of locality and weather is to get some form of transportation — car, airplane or ship — and go to a place in the path of totality where there aren't any clouds in the sky.

A TOTAL ECLIPSE occurs somewhere on the face of the Earth every year, the path of totality being roughly 110 miles wide and several thousand miles long. One will take place in 1973, on June 30, and the path of totality will sweep across the Atlantic Ocean from South America to Africa and on across the Sahara. Totality, at any one place will last seven minutes, the maximum possible.

Two years ago I tried to see a total eclipse down in central Mexico but couldn't get any hotel or motel accommodations in the path of totality and had to settle for an eclipse of 95 per cent totality in Yucatan. An eclipse of 95 per cent totality just doesn't come close to comparing to 100 per cent totality.

SO WHEN Jack Barham, the Journal's chief photographer, came to my office several months ago with an envelope of information form the National Press Photographers Association — an organization of which The Journal is one of the charter members — reporting that a Greek Line ship, the Olympia, would steam out into the path of a total eclipse on July 10 of this year, it required less than 30 seconds to reach the decision. "We'll go."

We went to New York and on Saturday afternoon, July 8, we sailed from Pier 97 down the Hudson River past the skyscrapers of Manhattan, past the Statue of Liberty, under the Verrazano Bridge and out into the Atlantic.

THIS BRIDGE spans The Narrows from Brooklyn to Staten Island and was named for Giovanni Verrazano, a Florentine explorer of the Atlantic Coast. Its center span is the longest in the world, 4,260 feet.

Sunday morning we started going to school aboard ship to learn something about astronomy, eclipses and astro-photography. You could spend your whole day attending lectures as there were at least three every morning and three more every afternoon. Those who attended 15 hours got a Science at Sea certificate from New York State Maritime College.

ON BOARD to conduct the lectures and classes were heads of planetariums, professors of geophysics, astronomers, oceanographers, meteorologists, environmentalists, photographers — both professional and amateur— representatives of camera manufacturers, bird watchers and many others. It was quite a collection of brains.

Dancing and entertainment were offered nightly in the Calypso Room, a name which the passengers soon change to the Eclipso Room

On Monday, July 10, 1972, as the Greek liner Olympia paused in the Gulf Stream and all aboard watched the black disk of the Moon creep across the face of the Sun, Jack Barham, The Journal's chief photographer and Showcase photo editor, followed the progress of the lunar shadow as it progressed to and from the dazzling show. He used a 500mm lens on a 35mm camera with Ektacolor professional firm, Type S, with 5.00 neutral density filter for the partial phases of the eclipse, shooting at f/11 1/125 second. He shot the corona at f/8 1/15 second and the "diamond ring" (the Sun's flash of sunlight as it emerges from the shadow) without filter. Below is Showcase artist Ron Rice's map of the Olympia's position during the eclipse...under a clear sky ringed by clouds.

[Shreveport Journal]

ON SUNDAY night the head weather man on board announced over the loudspeakers that the Olympia would reach its destination at 2 p.m. Monday with totality to occur at 4:48. Monday noon he got on the speaker again and told us that he had been in touch with Washington and that a weather satellite high above us showed a picture of clouds at our destination.

However, the picture also showed clear weather to the south and west so that's where we were now headed. We steamed into the Gulf Stream and the weather turned warm and balmy and the water got about as calm as the ocean can get.

AT 4 O'CLOCK the ship's engines were cut off and as we drifted, the Moon, moving from right to left, began to bite into the Sun.

You could feel the tension building up. Every foot of deck space was occupied with every conceivable type of camera and telescope. There was easily more than a million dollars worth of photographic and optical equipment on board.

WHEN THE MOON was about halfway across the face of the Sun a lone cloud drifted in front of us. A loud groan went up from everyone on board "Oh, no! Not to us. Not after we've traveled so far!" But it was a nice cloud and floated on away.

The ship was in the hole of a weather doughnut. We could see clouds on the horizon all around us, but none above us — except the one that drifted by. The weather man on board, the satellite above, and the ship's navigator had put us in a perfect spot to watch the eclipse. We had an unobstructed view, just great.

AT 4:47 the announcer got on the loudspeaker and said, "Sixty seconds until totality." Bird hunters will understand when I say it was just like the feeling you have when you see the dogs on point, knowing that at any instant the quail are going to burst into the air and a lot of things are going to happen real fast.

Fifty seconds to totality, forty seconds, thirty seconds, twenty seconds, and then the countdown — 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, NOW!" Gasps, exclamations, shrieks and all sorts of noises all over the ship. Twilight had descended suddenly upon us and the temperature had dropped noticeably, but it didn't get pitch dark.

AT THE CRY of NOW! I looked up at the Sun and a big black plate — the 'Moon' — had been placed in front of it. Around the edge of the plate was a fiery halo or corona, brilliant and beautiful, and extending for out into space. I aimed the camera Jack had given me at the eclipse, and started firing away.

Totality lasted slightly less than two minutes so totality soon ended. Jack and I were waiting for this so we could get a picture of the diamond ring. This takes place at the instant the Sun starts peeping from behind the Moon. A brilliant burst of light flashes out looking like a gigantic diamond. The corona or halo around the dark face of the Moon completes the circle of the ring. It is easily the prettiest part of an eclipse.

THE MOON then continued its journey across the face of the Sun and the big day was over. It will live forever in our memories.

Go To Eclipse'72 — Olympia's Voyage to Darkness

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