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2017 Jan 15 15:49 UTC

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Good and bad fortune in Mongolia

After four fine crisp sunny days in Beijing and Ulaan Baatar, Murphy brought a weather front down from Siberia across the Mongolian border just at eclipse time; although most observers based at Darhan (250km north of UB) missed the event, some (including myself) were lucky and saw it through a fortuitous gap in the cloud. According to news media, the skies were clear at Chita, Siberia, and Mohe, northern Manchuria, where the temperature was minus 30 degrees C.

Our group of 218 mainly British and European observers drove overnight in eight buses from Ulaan Baatar, capital of Mongolia, to the northern industrial city of Darhan, stopping once along the way to see comet Hale-Bopp from a totally dark site: although impressive, the comet was not as sharp and clear as it should have been, and the stars were hazy. Within an hour we were driving through falling snow. At first light the snow had stopped and it seemed possible the cloud was breaking up behind the front, so we moved on quickly northwards towards the Russian border. The first two buses (led by Brian McGee) kept going until 10 minutes before second contact, but the others dropped out sooner behind us. In the event good luck was with us and our choice proved wise.

We finally stopped on the side of the road overlooking a vast, empty treeless landscape of rolling hills and thin, snow-covered grass. With the partial phase of the eclipse well advanced the sky seemed dark and overcast, but ridges of cloud were blowing across quite fast, and between the cloud were clearer patches. Soon we saw it was a race between a particular clear patch and the inexorable passage of the Moon. Behind me on the bank an American voice could be heard cheering on the wind, "Come on... come on... come ON!" The edge of the cloud became golden in the rapidly diminishing sunlight, and to a chorus of "Yes, yes, YES!" the finest sliver of crescent Sun broke through above us. Second contact came almost immediately, with a flash of diamond ring, and as the corona shone out it was impossible not to join the American in cheering, shouting, and in my case laughing hysterically into my tape recorder.

The corona was remarkable for its difference from the two recent eclipses (1994 November and 1995 October) which both showed the classic east-west streamers of solar minimum. These streamers were now entirely absent. The corona appeared evenly circular, with one spike or streamer at about seven o'clock (south east), and a wide helmet, or streamer, which was centred at about three o'clock (south west). The sky was not fully clear so the structure could not be seen well from this location; reports and pictures from Chita or Mohe are eagerly awaited! With binoculars, no prominences were seen. The temperature at the site was measured at minus 8 degrees C, with negligible breeze at ground level, but fast winds pushing the clouds across the sky above us. The eclipse was much darker than recent experience but this could have been an effect of the cloud.

All too quickly a shimmer of pink appeared at the top right, followed by a momentary string of Baily's Beads and the full solar crescent reappearing - and almost immediately the cloud blew over and again covered the Sun.

Returning to Darhan for breakfast we met the remainder of the group and found out how lucky we had been. Strung out along the road, some had seen the corona very briefly and then third contact; most had seen only cloud, with the gap arriving at their location a few minutes after the eclipse was over. Ironically, a few people who chose to remain in Darhan also seem to have seen the whole of totality.

Hazel McGee would be grateful to receive information on any WWW sites with reports and pictures from Chita or Manchuria.

Other 1997 eclipse resources

Daniel Fischer travelled to Siberia to see the eclipse and his report shows just how interesting such a trip can be! Patrick Poitevin experienced -30 degrees C in Mo He but he lived to tell the tale of an eclipse seen in gloriously clear skies.

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