Copyright 2009 Starry Mirror
Astronomy From West Virginia
THE JULY 11, 1991 SOLAR ECLIPSE
BRIDGEPORT, WV - The recent solar eclipse in Asia has brought to mind a great eclipse we saw eighteen years ago, in July of 1991.
The 1991 eclipse had been hyped for years in the media. Since it would be total in the Baja region of Mexico, totality was a fairly easy drive for US residents. But a lack of funds and a lack of hotel rooms in the Baja meant that we would watch the eclipse as a partial eclipse from right here in Bridgeport.
Low-priced solar telescopes were just a dream in that time. Even our main telescope was just a small refractor. Such a telescope seems pitiful in light of the cheap, giant telescopes which now come from China. Two decades ago, telescopes were much more expensive and the little refractor was still considered a viable instrument.
We made up a shield of cardboard and prepared to project the Sun's image onto a white piece of paper. The weather on July 11 was perfect. It was warm but not too much, clear, and generally pleasant.
As the predicted time arrived, we eagerly awaited the first touch of the Moon upon the Sun's disk. It is always a bit of a miracle when these things happen exactly when they are supposed to. Sure enough, the Moon started to pass in front of the Sun just as predicted.
Right about then, the eyepiece through which we were projecting the Sun's image began to smell hot. The concentrated solar energy is a furnace, and it melted the cheap plastic eyepiece barrel. The lens held, however, and we continued to watch the eclipse progress.
As the event unfolded, everyone wanted to pose with the tiny projected image of the Sun. The dog posed with the image. The sister posed with the image shining onto her. Everyone posed as though it was a Victorian-era eclipse expedition. The webmaster does not appear in pictures and did not pose with the image.
We don't recall just how long the eclipse lasted. It seemed like only minutes. Soon, the Sun was back to its whole self, and the eclipse was over. But we have remembered the event many times over the years. Though we saw only a sliver of the show which those in Mexico saw, it was still an exciting event - because we made it exciting. -- GW