Prof. Pasachoff will be blogging his trip to southwestern China to watch the longest total solar eclipse of the century on the New York Times’ TierneyLab bog. His first post:

Excitement reigns across southwestern China, as a total eclipse of the sun will cast us in darkness on Wednesday morning here. Broad daylight will turn to the darkness of twilight, and the dazzling diamond ring at the edge of the moon’s silhouette will mark the beginning of totality at 9:33 a.m. here, conveniently for calculation equal to 9:33 at night the evening before in New York.

I’m an astronomer at Williams College, and I’m here with five of my students and two of my Williams professional colleagues, as well as veterans of our past eclipse expeditions. Eclipses are so fantastically beautiful that almost everybody who sees one tries to come back for the next. So we have scientists from Australia and Greece with us, our hosts from past eclipse expeditions.

Everything depends on clear weather to view the eclipse, which will last 5 minutes and 36 seconds at our site, perhaps the longest totality that I have ever seen.

We’ve been planning for 18 years for this eclipse, since there is a set of eclipses of various lengths that repeats every 18 years 11 1/3 days, with the 1/3 of a day giving the Earth a chance to turn one-third of the way around.

This year’s is again the longest in that cycle. Eighteen years ago, we were in Hawaii, and 18 years before that, we eclipse scientists were in northwest Kenya. Our more detailed planning started a couple of years ago, when my wife and I came to China to reconnoiter. Yihua Yan, the chief Chinese solar astronomer at the National Astronomical Observatory in Beijing, was our host, and he introduced us to Jin Zhu, the director of the Beijing Planetarium. My wife and I traveled with them to Shanghai and environs, since Shanghai with its twenty million or so people are in the zone of totality. But we worried about our view being impaired by smog in the city or perhap even at the seaside an hour south.

We thus drove inland about 3 hours to the lovely city of Hangzhou, famous for centuries for the beauty of its West Lake area. En route, we went into low mountains, and finally I chose a site at an altitude of about 3000 feet to be sure that we would be above any smog. My grant application to the Committee for Research and Exploration of the National Geographic Society was successful, and it is supporting our basic team.

So here we are, at Tianhuangping, at a hotel next to a pumped-storage reservoir. We have a large terrace, over 50 feet square, reserved for us. Dozens of friends, alumni, and colleagues will be joining our original dozen people by next week. We are working away to get ready.

Check TierneyLab in the next few days for more updates.

Link to NYT article about Pasachoff’s previous eclipse-watching trip to Kastellorizo in 2006

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