Welcome! Bienvenidos! Willkommen! Vitej! Ahlan wa Sahlan! Hoan-geng kong-lim! Velkommen!
NOTE: Here you will find the blog for the 2015 total solar eclipse expedition to Svalbard, Norway, previously at:
Days 0-1: Getting there – Sunday March 15th/Monday March 16th
The 12 members of the Longyearbyen Eclipse 2015–The Solar Wind Sherpas–met up at the Oslo airport in Norway on Sunday March 15th, 2015. Several team members met up in Munich, Germany before heading to Oslo. Two of our members arrived directly from Aberystwyth. We had a long layover in Oslo, during which time the weather in Longyearbyen got really bad. Due to 60 knot winds at the airport, our flight was cancelled. Thankfully, we were given rooms at the Radisson Blu (right by the airport) so we could sleep comfortably before starting our adventure anew.
On Monday March 16th, we finally took off for Longyearbyen, and three hours later, landed in a snow and ice covered town. We got our rental cars, loaded up all of our equipment, and headed to the two guest houses where the team was staying: UNIS and Spitzbergen. We were barely settled when we got the call to send a few members for Polar bear safety training. Naty, Joe, Scott, and Martina went with Paul, our contact and a post doc at UNIS, for a three hour training. After the three hours, Frede had trained them all on how to half load a shotgun, load and shoot from two different positions, how to use a signal gun, and the process needed to go through should a polar bear be encountered. They all passed the certification process and officially became the team polar bear guards.
That evening, the team was only able to have dinner at the Coal Miner’s restaurant due to other food places being booked. The Coal Miner’s restaurant is a new burger joint with a nice ambiance and good food, though a bit limited in its menu. It was nice to finally sit down and enjoy a meal as a team!
Day 2: Tuesday, March 17th, 2015
It was a gorgeous morning in Svalbard – bright and clear and exactly what we hope to see on eclipse day. After breakfast, the entire team met up and headed to UNIS where the polar bear guard picked up their rifle and flare gun. We then all headed to the old observatory where we were introduced to the working area. Thankfully, Shadia had made two scouting trips over the previous two years and had found this excellent location for observing.
We spent the day setting up shop – Equipment was unpacked, Adi started setting up the spectrometer and the airport team spent the day setting up in one of the hangars which was a lot nicer than they had expected.
For dinner we met up at the Radisson Blu in Longyearbyen and had a delicious meal of lamb or haddock. There were very active northern lights this evening, but unfortunately we were not able to see them because Svalbard was right in the middle of the Auroral oval. Folks in Europe had a much better chance of seeing them.
Day 3: Wednesday, March 18th
Teamwork – errands, experiments, work on blog, sign up for excursions, shop, find plate for mount…so much! It is so easy to think that to observe an eclipse you travel to the location, you set up a telescope and camera and you observe. So much work, equipment, lifting, unpacking, such a long process that requires a lot of patience. Suddenly it becomes clear why we arrived days early for the eclipse. Each job is important, no matter how small it seems. Those of us who are new to the team not only look up to the group of scientists we are privileged to work with, but we have come to appreciate the importance of teamwork.
Day 4: Countdown Begins
Fewer than 24 hours – time is flying and the countdown to the eclipse has begun. We each have a job to do, a camera to test, an instrument to calibrate, a screw to turn, a picture to take, a blog to write, an errand to run, a team member to protect…we work diligently, with the occasional laugh in between the stress and the tension. The sun is shining through the window, slowly lowering during it’s short descent to the horizon. “Behave yourself tomorrow, dear star.” We’re stating these words to ourselves without realizing it. Five of us are new to the team…two of us are starting our careers…one of us has never seen a total solar eclipse…all of us are waiting for the chance to do more science!
Day 5: Eclipse Day!!!
The day is here! Four years of preparation, months of building the equipment, weeks of testing, days of assembling and re-testing, an early morning of finalizing details…we are all tired, tense, anxious and excited! A news crew is here, the instruments stand still almost in anticipation, personal cameras are fiddled with perhaps in an effort to ignore the anxiety, safety glasses are ready, so are the warm clothes, it’s 1 degree F (-17 celsius) with a “feels like” temperature of -16 F (-26 celsius), the sun is beaming, a few wispy clouds make their way across the sun like uninvited guests, on the street, buses, snowmobiles, and cars bring the spectators to their observation spot…scientists, students, tourists, locals, artists, and the media…all here, in this spectacular region of our planet, for the same reason. We are all here to observe a natural phenomenon of our universe. How small we are, how big we feel, and slowly as the eclipse approaches, we start to realize how small we truly are and how small we truly feel, realizing how wonderful life is, never losing sight of how fortunate we are to be here as scientists but beyond that, as people who have come together to make this an unforgettable week. What a privilege and honor to be here and to be able to share this expedition with you, our readers. Bring on the show!!
Moment of truth…all is setup!
Day 5: Success!!!
What a show! Observatory doors open, special glasses ready, cameras, all of us standing in the cold, waiting for the moment of truth. Someone in the distance shouts, “First contact, first contact!” The moon has reached the sun, moving in front of it in a slow waltz, spectators watching, taking pictures, doing jumping jacks to keep warm while totality is reached, knowing that the temperature will drop a couple of more degrees. Finally, the eclipse totality is reached. The moon stands between us and our sun, not knowing what phenomenon she has created for us. Darkness comes. The sun’s atmosphere shines over us, deserving of it’s name, corona. The prominences and flares that are visible along the sun’s limb, almost waving at those observing them, remind us of how active our star is. A silence follows a quick cheer from the crowd. No words can describe the feeling one gets when witnessing such an event. The entire world around us has disappeared. It’s just us and the eclipse. How lucky we are!!!
The moon continues to waltz her way across our view of the sun. The sun slowly appears behind the moon. Light once again, final pictures and videos, a few more cheers, lots of smiles. We enter the observatory and we all embrace and congratulate each other. Those two minutes of eclipse time brought us all here and connected us. We head back outside to talk to the media, champagne is passed around, the moon has left the stage, the sun proudly shines knowing we are all talking about him, not a single frown in the crowd, we are happy.
It is quiet again. People have left and the area around the old observatory is empty. Time to look at our data!
Day 6: The Morning After
The Eclipse is Over – With a sense of accomplishment, fulfillment and a hint of sadness, we pack the rest of the equipment. Our time at our observation locations has come to an end. We take a final group photo in the freezing cold outside the old observatory. We clean up and pack the vans putting away our science for the time being. Good data and stunning images await to be sorted through upon return to our respective universities. It is time to be tourists for the next three days until we are scheduled to fly back to our homes.