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New Millennium's First Total Solar Eclipse Seen in Africa

Aired June 21, 2001 - 09:00   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to begin with our eye on the sky.

The first solar eclipse of the new millennium is beginning. Totality is supposed to be now just 11 minutes away. There you see the live picture that we've got right now set up. The cosmic show can be seen best from the nation of Zambia, which is in Southern Africa, and that's where this picture is coming from.

CNN's science correspondent Ann Kellan is with us here live this morning. She's been in the studio all morning looking at this great picture.

Ann, take it away.

ANN KELLAN, CNN SCIENCE CORRESPONDENT: Exciting moments here as we're watching as the moon is going to cover up the sun and it's going to totally block it. And this probably takes the longest time that we're going to be seeing it for a while. Four minutes we'll be able to see it in darkness. It gives scientists a chance to study the atmosphere of the sun and it also brings chills to people watching it. They say it's an "event to behold."

We don't get to see it here in the United States, except right here on CNN and over the Internet in some places, if you're lucky enough to log on, but the people in Africa are getting quite a show. It starts in Angola and it will head out to the Indian Ocean in about a half-hour or so.

So it's exciting to watch, and we'll be watching. As you have seen, it's actually moving, as we speak, as it -- the moon totally covers the sun for about three to four minutes in just about 10 minutes from now.


KELLAN: Back to you, Daryn.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Ann, we will have you standing by to help us talk us through that total solar eclipse.

Meanwhile, stargazers from around the world are in Zambia for a front-row seat of the solar spectacle.

CNN's Cynde Strand has their story.


CYNDE STRAND, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Five thousand solar eclipse celebrators have come to this farm outside of Lusaka --a different generation, but the same flower power feeling of Woodstock.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a global peace gathering. It's basically young people from all over the world to come together from all different countries, nationalities, to show respect for the planet Earth and for each other.

STRAND: The reasons for coming to the 10-day Solipse Festival are as varied as the hairdos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This party's good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is coming back to the Earth, Mother Earth, just Mother Earth.

STRAND: Some people took the long way to get here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: New York via London, via Cape Town, via Miami -- via, via.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We drove from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe.

STRAND: From music, to massage, to liver rejuvenation -- it's all here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, it's -- you feel the -- really you feel -- you feel something here.

STRAND: And when the feelings get too much, festival-goers can go to the chill-out tents and chill out.

And, yes, there is the eclipse itself -- almost three-and-a-half minutes of totality.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, it touches the heart very deep. And it's a very moving moment.

STRAND: According to the Zambian Ministry of Tourism, more than 11,000 visitors will be here for that moment.

(on camera): Some of those visitors will be watching the eclipse from the game parks. Some scientists will be watching the animals. Jet setters will be touching down at the Lusaka Airport for a party on the tarmac. And in this poor country, for a few days, some Zambians will watch the tourist money pour in.

Cynde Strand, CNN, Lusaka.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HARRIS: Well, the first solar eclipse of the new millennium this first day of summer coincides with a spectacular appearance by the planet Mars. We've got everything going on up in the skies this morning. The red planet is closer now to Earth than it has been in 13 years.

Joining us now, live, from Miami to discuss both of these magnificent celestial events is astronomer Jack Horkheimer. He's host of the television show "Star Gazer." Most of you folks will recognize him from that.

Good to see you, again. How are you?

JACK HORKHEIMER, ASTRONOMER: Good morning, Leon. It's wonderful and what a first fabulous day of summer this is for the year 2001. The year that a lot of astronomers consider the year of the new millennium.

First of all, this eclipse that's going on and then tonight, just coincidentally, the...


HARRIS: Oh no, for some reason it looks as though we've lost our video transmission that was bringing us Mr. Horkheimer.

Do we have him back? Do we have Jack back? Is Jack back?


Jack is -- Jack is not back, so instead of Jack, let's go back to Ann Kellan. We'll try to get him back -- Ann.

KELLAN: Well, I can try to pick up where he left off. Tonight, if you're here in the United States, you can actually see Mars bigger and brighter than you've seen in 13 years. You want to go out about 10:00 tonight and look into the horizon. It'll be a goldish, orangish ball out there but close to the tree line. That's the tricky part is you're going to have to look low in the horizon for it. But it's exciting to watch because Mars is going to be probably bigger than you've seen it in quite a while.

Now we're getting close, as you can see, of our total solar eclipse. It's getting close to totality now. We're a few minutes away and pretty soon the skies will be black. And apparently the animals react to this. I have never seen it personally, but I am -- I'm interested to hear if they actually go to sleep and think it's nighttime for about three or four minutes and how -- what their activity. And scientists will be there watching that as well.

People are looking through special glasses because that can damage your eyes looking straight at a total solar eclipse.

HARRIS: Well that wasn't Ann.

KELLAN: Yes, who was that? (CROSSTALK)

HARRIS: I was going to say, Ann, how did you...

KELLAN: Who was that man?

HARRIS: How did -- how did Ann get a mustache that quick?

KELLAN: It's quick, isn't it?

HARRIS: The eclipse makes -- the eclipse makes...

KELLAN: It's amazing.

HARRIS: ... everything happen, you know? It makes ladies grow goatees in a matter of minutes here.


HARRIS: Actually, as a matter of fact, makes Jack Horkheimer disappear and come back.


HARRIS: Now, Jack -- see, Jack, you had an eclipse there by Ann Kellan. She just kind of jumped in front of you and kind of -- and now you're back so we'll let you pick up where you left off. We apologize for that interruption we had because of technical difficulties.

HORKHEIMER: Well, strange things -- strange things happen during eclipses. It could be sunspots, you know.


HARRIS: There you go.

HORKHEIMER: Well, as I -- as I said, this eclipse is the first of the new millennium, if you count the way a lot of scientists, astronomers count the years. But not only do we have a wonderful eclipse today, we have this wonderful thing with Mars. Only people in the path of the eclipse can see the eclipse, but everyone, all around the world tonight and for the next couple of weeks, can see Mars at its closest and brightest since 1988. That's 13 years ago.

HARRIS: Yes, that's amazing. We'll talk about that in just a little bit, but I think right now we're looking at a live picture that we're getting. Is this picture coming in from Zambia?

HARRIS: This is a picture we're getting in from Zambia. You can see how dark it's getting there now.

I want you to explain two things to me, Jack. Well, first of all, do you know for sure whether this is true, I heard somewhere this morning that this is the first solar eclipse that has happened on the solstice since like 1617 or something like that? Do you know if that's true?

HORKHEIMER: I haven't researched that but I will accept it because, you know, eclipses don't usually occur on the same dates very often. We're getting close to what we call totality. And some of the things that you may want to watch for, and I don't know if you discussed it in the last hour but I'll refresh, is that what we're going to watch for is when the moon finally covers the face of the sun you're going to see little flashes of light along the edge of the sun. And those flashes of light are called "Bailey's beads." What they are is it's the last bit of sunlight that's being seen between mountaintops on the moon in the valleys.


HORKHEIMER: These were named for an astronomer back in 1836 named Francis Bailey.


HORKHEIMER: Bailey's beads. Now the last bit of light you will see will be a brilliant -- a brilliant flair, and it'll look like a diamond ring as it's called "the diamond-ring effect," and we can see that going into a totality and just after totality.

HARRIS: Yes, I've seen that before, yes.

HORKHEIMER: So that's really something to watch. And ,of course, if you're at the scene of an eclipse -- we can't really get the feel of it completely on TV, but on TV you can see the sky, it looks kind of metallic. I don't know what there is about solar eclipses but not -- it never gets completely dark but the sky takes on this eerie, grayish, metallic glow, which is really, really exciting.

HARRIS: Yes. Well, hang on a second, Jack.

KAGAN: Well, the good news -- and, Jack, you'll stay with us -- the good news is that it looks like it is good viewing weather in Zambia for our pictures.

Let's bring in our Chad Myers who can give us a weather report on what the viewing conditions are in Zambia.

CHAD MYERS, METEOROLOGIST: Well, very good there. A lot of clear skies all across Africa.

Now, what I want you to understand across North America is don't go outside and look at this. You can't see it here. It's not good for your eyes to ever look at the sunshine so just keep watching it on television. We will, though, in many spots today, be able to see the Mars eclipse or the Mars event later this evening. The very low in the sky event for Northern Hemisphere, a great event for the Southern Hemisphere, but clear skies there, as you can see, and it's getting a little bit dim.


MYERS: Love that shot right there.


MYERS: That is really going to be...

HARRIS: That is beautiful.

MYERS: ... a fantastic shot here in just probably two or three minutes.

KAGAN: Chad, in the last hour we heard Charlayne Hunter-Gault reporting from Zambia saying how she could feel it getting cooler there.

MYERS: Oh, yes.

KAGAN: Do you know how many degrees the temperature drops with a solar eclipse?

HORKHEIMER: During totality, from the time the eclipse starts until totality begins, the temperatures can sometimes drop as much as 15 to 20 degrees.

KAGAN: Really?

HORKHEIMER: Your average is about 15 degrees. And the wind direction changes just like when you go before sunrise or sunset, let's say sunset, the wind temperature changes. Animals do weird things. Animals go to roost. All of nature turns upside-down, the planets are visible in the sky, but you have this eerie glow that looks like a metallic kind of a deep twilight.

HARRIS: Wow, and look at what we're looking at right now? What would -- how would you describe this? This is a...


HARRIS: The sun is going -- about -- it'll be gone in -- totally in about 30 seconds, we're told.

HORKHEIMER: That's right. Now watch for little -- the last little bits of light that'll look like beads of light. That's sunlight racing through the valleys of the moon...

HARRIS: Like that?

KAGAN: Yes, you can see that


HORKHEIMER: ... between mountains. There we go. There they go. That's...


HORKHEIMER: Then look for the diamond ring effect, which will be a final burst of light. It looks like a...

KAGAN: Oh, yes, there it is.

HORKHEIMER: There you go.

KAGAN: There it is.

HORKHEIMER: That's the diamond ring coming out. Now -- but we should see a circle. There we go. There's the diamond ring.

HARRIS: There you go.

HORKHEIMER: See. See the circle -- the faint...

KAGAN: Yes, what is that?

HORKHEIMER: Now, we're seeing -- we're -- look at the prominences as -- at 3:00

KAGAN: Oh wow.

HORKHEIMER: The prominences and look at the top, you can see prominences also. That faint glow is the -- is the corona. That is the outer atmosphere of the sun. It's extremely, extremely hot. It's about a million degrees hot whereas the surface of the sun that we usually see is only 10,000 degrees hot. We see wonderful, wonderful activity on the sun in this eclipse. You're seeing solar prominences. That one...


HORKHEIMER: ... at 3:00 is probably two or three million -- two or three million miles.

MYERS: Yes, that's huge.


HARRIS: Let me give you -- let me ask you another question, which will explain the scale here. I also read this morning that this corona of the sun is larger than the constellation Orion, is that true?

HORKHEIMER: Well, it visually as seen from Earth, yes, but not as -- not intrinsically.

HARRIS: Got you.

HORKHEIMER: Well, what this is, the corona goes out millions of miles from the son. We must remember what we're seeing here. We're seeing a 2000-mile wide moon, which is 400 times closer than the sun. Wow, there's a fabulous shot..

KAGAN: What is that?

HARRIS: What is -- that's... HORKHEIMER: Yes, there's the corona.

HARRIS: Here's a...


HORKHEIMER: You can see -- you know this is the year of solar maximum so we're seeing a lot of active regions on the sun. These are some of the best prominences. These are plums of hot gas and energy and...


HORKHEIMER: Wow, you -- that's terrific when you pull up -- look at that corona.

HARRIS: That's -- that is


HORKHEIMER: Now that -- the corona...

MYERS: It really is fabulous.

HORKHEIMER: The corona is the outer atmosphere of the sun, and we really see a lot of activity on the sun in this eclipse. We are looking at...

KAGAN: Oh, look at that picture!

HORKHEIMER: This corona extends millions of miles way out into space, even further than we can see during the eclipse, but, boy, that's an active...

HARRIS: Yes. Let...

HORKHEIMER: ... -- an active sun.

HARRIS: Let me ask Ann Kellan, who's standing by, a question. Ann, is there a reason why we're seeing this in different colors when we switch from shot to shot?

KELLAN: I think it has to do with filters and the different cameras that are actually being used and the angles that we're getting. But it is interesting to see the corona. You really can understand why scientists wait for this moment to actually study all that activity going on. I've never seen such dramatic images myself of this.

KAGAN: And, Jack, explain the difference in the temperature between corona and the center of the sun.

HORKHEIMER: Well, the photosphere of the sun, which we usually see, is about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The corona is about a million degrees Fahrenheit. Now, if you see a little thin line of what looks like magenta color... HARRIS: Yes.

HORKHEIMER: ... around the sun, that is the chromosphere -- the sphere of color. That's a few thousand miles thick. But what we're seeing is, is when you look at the bright lights on the edges, this is the chromosphere -- the outer atmosphere of the sun. And because this is a very active year, solar maximum, we see just a beautiful corona and look at the purplish colors are flares, of course.

KAGAN: There's that metallic color you were talking about.


HARRIS: The most...

HORKHEIMER: But -- oh, yes, the flares on this one are fabulous. They usually don't show up this well on TV, but these are really active regions of the sun which stands to reason because this is the year -- oh, there comes the diamond ring again.

HARRIS: There it comes.


HORKHEIMER: See the diamond ring.

HARRIS: There you go, the diamond ring on the way out.

HORKHEIMER: You see the whole circle. The diamond ring now -- wow. This is...

KAGAN: What is that effect? What's causing that to happen, Jack?

HORKHEIMER: Well, that is light passing through. This is the longest diamond ring I've ever seen. I've never seen it this long.

MYERS: It really is. This is a very long eclipse.

HORKHEIMER: Oh my gosh. This longest -- it's unbelievable! This is so -- and look at the flares there.

KAGAN: You can see the solar flares.

KELLAN: The flares. You can actually see...

HORKHEIMER: Those are prominences and loops and flares. These things that we're getting -- wow, this is just one of the neatest eclipses I've ever seen -- on television.

HARRIS: Jack, do you have an idea of why this diamond ring would last this long?

HORKHEIMER: It's obviously the light is coming through a large valley on the moon between a couple of mountain ranges.

KAGAN: So the placement had to be impeccable for where -- how the moon passed in front of the sun?

HORKHEIMER: It's just the geometry. You really got the right geometry for this eclipse, I will tell you. Where you happen to be today, these are some of the best televised pictures of a solar eclipse I've ever seen in my life!

HARRIS: Well, this is CNN.


HARRIS: You should -- you know you should come to expect that from CNN.

KAGAN: And to our crews in the field, kudos to them.

HARRIS: Definitely.

KAGAN: How long...


KAGAN: You mentioned, and we heard Chad talking about this, that you thought that this was long for a solar -- for a total solar eclipse. How long would you expect it to last?

HORKHEIMER: Oh, now -- well, this is pretty good. It's three- and-a-half to four minutes depending where you were, but -- at totality -- but eclipses can be as long as seven minutes. I've seen one that's gone for five minutes and -- but I'll tell you, when you're there, it goes so fast you can't believe it. It's the fastest four minutes or three-and-a-half minutes in your life. And...

MYERS: Now, if you were a little bit farther to the west, would you just be getting to totality now?

HORKHEIMER: No, no. If you're farther to the east, you'd be just getting to totality.

MYERS: Just to the east.

HORKHEIMER: This is going to...


HARRIS: Well, let's go...

HORKHEIMER: To the east.

HARRIS: Let's -- well, I tell you what, since you mentioned that, let's go to ground zero. Our Charlayne Hunter-Gault is in Zambia. She joins us now live. Well that...

KAGAN: Nope, that's not Charlayne.

HARRIS: That's not Charlayne. We've got this eclipse...


HARRIS: ... thing with the women and goatees again.

Charlayne, sorry, we had a picture that was not you that just popped up.

KAGAN: Not nearly as beautiful as our Charlayne.

HARRIS: But we're using the videophone with Charlayne.


HARRIS: There she is.

KAGAN: Oh, we can see you using your glasses to look at the eclipse.


KAGAN: We're all jealous.

HUNTER-GAULT: Yes, because it's just now coming out from behind the -- the sun is just now emerging from behind the moon. And I was turning around because I was hearing ram horns. I didn't know quite what it was but the Ngoni people who are commemorating this event are suddenly blowing ram horns, so it's taking us back to the -- to the 1800s here.

Now the light has changed. Night has suddenly left us and we're back in daylight. Everyone here is transfixed. In addition, I recognized the car horns. They were blowing car horns. Now they're blowing the ram horns. I don't know if you can hear them now because everybody has just been so amazed at how you could go from pitch-black suddenly back to daylight, but that's what's happening now.

You still see through the glasses the crescent shape of the moon. It looks like a little bit of a fingernail. But it has suddenly gotten very bright here. And, as you look around, people have their backs to this event. They're trying to watch the shadow in their background. They've been warned, if they don't have glasses, not to look directly at this event, and it looks as if most people here are paying attention to that. But this -- that was an incredible, incredible phenomenon.

HARRIS: Well that's amazing and we're sure -- just glad -- we're glad that we had the...

HUNTER-GAULT: The other thing that's happened is that...

HARRIS: I'm sorry. Go ahead, Charlayne.


HARRIS: I'm sorry.

HUNTER-GAULT: No, I was going to say that the sky itself has changed back from its color because during the eclipse, it was a sort of a subtle orange and blue color and that was being reflected in the Zambezi River. But now the Zambezi, which is joined on the Luangwa River right here, has gone back to its colors of brown and blue and the mountain ranges of Mozambique and Zimbabwe are back in a bit of a haze. But you can see the green of the mountain and you can see now just as you could see before the totality began. And most people now are starting to stream off. There's a lot of beer around to celebrate this occasion.

HARRIS: I can imagine that.


HUNTER-GAULT: And so people are streaming off to the places where the beer is being served.


KAGAN: Well, we'll let you go partake, Charlayne. Thanks for that very descriptive coverage from Zambia. We also want to thank Ann Kellan with us here in Atlanta and also Jack Horkheimer and our Chad Myers. And we're going to have more coverage of the eclipse and show you those pictures again.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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