Nature India | Indigenus

Of eclipses and giant leaps

This week belongs to the heavens — the Sun and the Moon, to be precise!

The world is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on moon (I loved this NASA-Google virtual exploration thing). Though India struggled with a technical glitch in the Chandrayaan mission, it wasn’t such bad news after all as ISRO claimed to have achieved all misiion objectives by April 2009, when the onboard star sensor used for determining the orientation of the spacecraft started malfunctioning. To overcome this anomaly, ISRO used redundant sensors – gyroscopes – along with antenna pointing information and images of specific location on the surface of the moon, for determining the orientation of the spacecraft. “All primary mission objectives of Chandrayaan-1 have been successfully realised during the eight months of its operation. The spacecraft continues to send high quality data as per planned sequence to its ground station at Byalalu near Bangalore,” an ISRO statement said.

And now, I can’t but admire the science popularisation centres in India for having created such unprecedented interest in the ‘solar eclipse of the century’. It helps that the best place to see the longest solar eclipse of our lives is a small hamlet in the Indian state of Bihar. Also helps that the media has put together a multi-hued coverage (1, 2, 3) in the run up to the rare cosmic event, stoking our collective apetitie for the real thing!

Like earlier heavenly events, Nature India will host pictures of the solar eclipse on this blog.

The first picture we received this time from amateur astronomer Madhur Patel sums up the spirit of the week. “This photo might not be of an eclipse but it is one of my best till date. It was taken during the ‘Bombay Air Sappers Show’ held in Pune in January, 2008. See how the paraglider eclipses the early morning sun. With the birds in the background, it represents the undying spirit of a man to fly”, Madhur says.


Let’s soak in the optimistic goodness of this thought as we wait for the action to begin and the pictures to trickle in! Send us your pictures of the real event ( and we will put up the best here.


And now it has happened, finally — the sun’s 3 minutes of fame. What if it came with fancy flights, nasty stampedes and a dampener for the thousands who thronged Taregana.

From among the first eclipse pictures we got today, here’s a neat one from Kolkata. Ace photographer Ian Umeda clicked this from his rooftoop on the Eastern Metropolitan bypass. He and wife Maureen woke up at five in the morning to catch the feast. They spent an hour and a half watching and photographing the sun, moon and clouds play hide-and-seek and came back for a deservedly satisfied snooze. The couple says, “It was cloudy. No sun to be seen. But after around 5.40 a.m., the clouds parted a bit to reveal a weak, sickle-shaped sun. The glimpse lasted perhaps 30 seconds before thick clouds obscured the view again. An early morning well spent.”



Here’s a picture taken from the ‘Chausatti ghat’ on river Ganga in Varanasi. “We could see the diamond ring both times,” says Upendra Deglurkar, who took the shot. The picture shows the total eclipse and corona of the sun over a still river.



Over the weekend, we received some brilliant video footage shot by Anurag Chaurasia, a biotechnologist at ICAR’s National Bureau of Agriculturally Important Microorganisms (NBAIM) in Mau, Uttar Pradesh. Anurag shot the celestial show at the Bhadaini Ghat of Varanasi. Here’s a combination picture grabbed from the video showing the various phases of the eclipse (clockwise).



We got video grabs from a unique balloon experiment conducted by the Indian Centre for Space Physics (ICSP) in Kolkata. The balloons flew from Raiganj district of West Bengal to Madhepur district of Bihar, a distance of about 200 km. They were tracked by GPS. The balloons carried cameras recording the horizon that looked as if the sun was setting during the eclipse. They captured very uncommon colours of the cloud due to diffraction effect of the sunlight by the moon as also the total eclipse in the background of a dark sky. “These pictures were taken from a height of around 22 km (67,400 feet) showing the blue earth and stratospheric and tropospheric clouds,” says Sandip Chakrabarti, in charge of academic affairs at ICSP. More on this first-of-its-kind mission on Nature India soon. For now, the breathtaking pictures of one of the balloons, the eclipse (taken from their terrace) and the horizon.



And now we move on to some eclipse adventure. Chasing the eclipse of the century was Captain C. Kishore, a commercial pilot from New Delhi, on a flight chartered by seasoned eclipse chaser Robert Arcott from USA. This was Arcott’s 11th eclipse but Kishore’s first such flight. “We took off from Paro International Airport in Bhutan at 6.50 in the morning so as to be at the Central Eclipse Line by 6.58 a.m., two minutes before the eclipse started. It was a cloudy morning with the hill tops not visible,” Kishore says. They managed to get airborne ahead of the Druk Air Airbus 319, which was also doing an eclipse flight and climbed to 26,000 feet. The weather was perfect as they hit the central eclipse line.

“The experience of the dance of the sun and moon was so dazzling, it was close to a heavenly feeling. I am not sure if I have seen anything more spectacular in my 16 years of flying career both as an Air Force fighter as well as a commercial aviator,” Kishore says hoping there were more such eclipse chasers in India. Here’s Kishore in the cockpit of that flight and what Arcott’s camera caught.



The Bihar hamlet of Taregana, thought to be the best place in India to see the eclipse, wasn’t the best after all. Here’s what Debiprosad Duari, the research and academic director of M. P. Birla Planetarium in Kolkata, came back seeing. From under a thick cloud cover, this is the best lakhs of people thronging Taregana got. Duari gives us a detailed account of lessons learnt from Taregana despite the celestial no-show on Nature India.



Kanad Mandke of Akashmitra Association, a Pune-based group of amateur astronomers, traveled to Bihar Sharif to film this amazing diamond ring among many other spectacles of the sun that day. “The photos were taken from a film camera, the negative was developed and then scanned. So don’t mistake the white dots for stars, they are some defects in the scanner!” he says.



  1. Report this comment

    Archana Sharma said:

    Excellent article, Subhra! As usual you convey the key message loud and clear “Let’s soak in the optimistic goodness ..” well said, well written !


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    Carey Wagner said:

    What a beautiful eclipse photo. Ian has captured the art in nature.