The Total Solar Eclipse of March 29, 2006

Observations from Side, Turkey

Awesome! Overwhelming! A lifetime experience! There simply are no words to describe the thrill of observing a total solar eclipse. I’m into amateur astronomy for over 35 years, and never really had the opportunity to observe an eclipse before. After days of splendid weather, I was completely clouded out during the August 1999 event that was visible from Belgium . At that moment, I decided that – whatever it might take – I would observe the March 29th, 2006 solar eclipse from Turkey .

Getting started ...


Preparations for the journey started a few months in advance. I definitely wanted to share the eclipse experience with my wife and 2 young children. Unfortunately, eclipse day was a Wednesday, in the midst of a school week. 

So, I had to work out arrangements to reduce the trip duration as much as possible, as to keep the days missed at school to a minimum. I finally managed to book a flight leaving Belgium on Tuesday evening (Mar 28th), with a return on Mar 31st in the afternoon. 

During the week before eclipse, I followed the weather forecast for Turkey at least a few times a day. Ten days before the event, the predictions already were very favourable, and they remained like that till the very last hour before departure. 

Eclipse day ...  

We leave Brussels airport on Mar 28th around 8:30 PM. When we finally arrive at our (overbooked) hotel in Side, Turkey, it is already 4 AM local time. Only 10 hours left before totality ! 

We have a good, but short sleep and wake up under a deep blue, cloudless sky. Breakfast is kind of a formality, as I am much too nervous to eat at ease. 

Our hotel is located close to Side beach, so we spend some time looking for a decent observing spot near the sea shore. Although there are several hundreds of people at the beach, there is plenty of space for everyone. 

An international crowd of amateur astronomers at Side Beach, Turkey

It is a true pleasure to see the large amount of amateur astronomers, equipped with telescopes and large telephoto lenses, amidst other tourists. We decide to observe the eclipse visually, and to spend limited time only in taking pictures and making video shots.

On the way to totality ...

First contact is predicted at 12h38m local time, and a few seconds later we hear the first telescopic observers shout “Yes, it has started”. Shortly after, we have first contact too, through our eclipse glasses. 

Temperature at the beach is around 22° C, and sky conditions are still perfect, although we notice some thick clouds near the western horizon. 

About 40 minutes before totality, the temperature starts to drop, while the wind increases. Our T-shirts no longer feel comfortable.

About 15 minutes before totality, the sky very clearly starts to loose brightness and colors become somewhat artificial. From that moment on, one can feel and hear the tension rise amidst the crowd of people.

During the last 10 to 5 minutes before totality, the sky brightness further drops, and it’s now easy to tell that something absolutely spectacular is about to unfold. 1 minute left. Despite our attempts to observe the approach of the moon’s shadow, we fail. It was very apparent during the August 1999 eclipse, under a cloudy sky, but is totally absent in Side.

On the way to totality. Images taken with Panasonic Lumix FZ-30 at 420 mm. 
ISO 80, f3.7 at 1/15 sec, 8 MP. (c) Tonny Vanmunster.

Totality - at last ...

Totality at Side, Turkey, showing the outer corona and coronal streamers. 
Picture taken with a Panasonic Lumix FZ-30 at 420 mm. 
ISO 80, f3.7 at 1/15 sec, 8 MP. (c) Tonny Vanmunster.

Half a minute left and people start to shout, waiting for the diamond ring. There it is, splendid and more beautiful than any picture ever can tell. Everybody is yelling and applauding, when the marvelous corona appears, in concert with the “black disk” in the sky. The scene is unrealistic, as well as the darkness. The horizon remains light colored, and Venus shines brilliantly. We grasp for our binoculars and admire the purple colored limb of the sun and the prominences near the north border. The coronal streamers are awesome, extending along an axis defined by the Sun’s equator. Flashlights everywhere along the beach, as far as one can see. We are breathless. This indeed is a lifetime experience. My children and wife admire the view, and so do I.

Diamond ring at the end of totality. Picture taken with a Panasonic Lumix FZ-30 at 420 mm. 
ISO 80, f3.7 at 1/15 sec, 8 MP. (c) Tonny Vanmunster.

Everyone had told us upfront that totality would be over, before we realize. It simply isn’t true. We enjoy every second. Wind is completely gone now, and the few clouds in the sky are harmless. Then it becomes clearer towards the east. We realize that the show is almost over now. The diamond ring reappears and the audience goes wild again. For sure, this is one of the most beautiful events during an eclipse.  

Life after totality ...  

We turn our eyes towards the sand and shortly after, we see the shadow bands, as they ripple across the ground. They last for half a minute or so, but are easy to spot. For several more minutes, Venus remains an obvious naked-eye target, high above the ocean. Sky brightness continues to rise, and we decide to look for the “camera obscura” effect : we locate a couple of trees and immediately see tiny images of the waxing crescent Sun. Nice.

We look at our shadow cast on the ground and notice that one side appears fuzzier than the other.  

A few seconds past totality. The diamond ring and the Sun's disk switch places. Panasonic Lumix FZ-30 at 420 mm.

Camera obscura effect showing tiny images of the Sun, 
created by the leaves of a tree.

The sky becomes normal again, and as the Sun’s disk continues to grow, we all share our wonderful experiences. “Absolutely cool” and “highly above expectations”, that’s the way my two sons look back at the event.

Four hours later, I’m walking with my family along the beach in Side, in an attempt to enjoy the sunset, but the sky is almost completely overcast. Gosh, we have been lucky this time !

Sunset at Side Beach on Mar 29, 2006  





Copyright © 2006 - Tonny Vanmunster.