Lusaka, Zambia, June, 21st, 2001

Basically it was just a silly idea.
But then again, that's not really a reason for not doing it.
I watched the eclipse 1999 in Karlsruhe and got lucky and had a clear view of the sun during the eclipse. In the press coverage of the event, there were also a couple of items about the next eclipses. And I noticed that the next one, the 2001 eclipse was right on my birthday. So it seemed like an interesting idea to spend my birthday watching an eclipse. I mean, when the most spectacular astronomical event happens just to honor my birthday (yes, sometimes I've got a slightly inflated sense of self-importance), I had to be there, hadn't I? (An eclipse happening on my birthday is not an event that's likely to happen again during my lifetime, so it was either 2001 or never.)

But, for a while, it remained more at 'it would be a neat idea' level than an actual plan. In autumn 2000 I looked around a bit for eclipse trips, but the only ones available were two or three week long safaris with a bit of eclipse watching in between. After the rather expensive trip to Iceland that year, I didn't really want to spend that much money on what was basically just a silly idea. But then I came upon a web site of some Austrian astronomy enthusiasts, who had the idea to charter a plane and fly down to Africa just for the day of the eclipse. Which turned the trip to the birthday eclipse from 'would be a neat idea' to 'I could actually do that'.

Sunrise over Lusaka
Technical area
Post Office
Projecting the sun
The president of Zambia
Cool looking shades

So the morning of the 21st of June found me under African skies, specifically in Lusaka, Zambia. The plane arrived in Zambia around 3 am, after a nine hour flight. [This was the first (and hopefully the last) time that the time for travelling was longer than the time at the destination. The flight time from an to Vienna was nine hours each, plus the hour it took me to fly to Vienna from Berlin, while the total time in Zambia was a bit more than 17 hours.] So after passport control and two hours of sitting on the floor of the terminal building, writing postcards, I went out and enjoyed the sunrise. Which, given my normal sleeping habits, is not something I do often on vacation.

In front of the airport building there was a large field set aside for eclipse watchers. One half of the field was the 'eclipse village', with various food stalls, a 'post office', some stalls with local handicrafts and so on, the other half of the field was the 'technical area', where the eclipse watchers could set up their equipment. Since I'm not a serious astronomer (I was mostly there because it was my birthday, remember?) I didn't have that much stuff to set up, so all I had to do was to enjoy the day.

It was a nice day, not a cloud in sight, warm, but not really hot. While the eclipse watching back in 1999 was rather hectic, since it had been cloudy in most of Europe and finding a spot to watch the eclipse was difficult and you had to be fairly lucky to catch a glimpse, there wasn't a single cloud in sight all day in Lusaka, so there weren't any worries about the visibility of the eclipse at all, so it was a relaxed day, waiting for the eclipse, enjoying a leisurely outdoors breakfast and generally having a good time.

As the eclipse drew nearer, there were a couple of things happening. Some people had the foresight to prepare a sheet of plastic with holes in it and used it to project the day and the place onto a piece of white cloth. Since the holes in the plastic worked like little pinhole cameras, the image on the cloth was a collection of tiny projections of the sun, which, as can be clearly seen, was crescent shaped at that time.

Around the same time, the President of Zambia, Frederick Chiluba, visited the site and walked around a bit. As a place for tourism, Zambia always used to be a bit of an 'also ran'. While it wasn't outright dangerous for travellers, like Angola or Mosambique, Zambia was always overshadowed by Zimbabwe as a tourist destination. Which is slightly strange, since the main attraction in that area, the Victoria Falls (a "must see international icon product" as the announcer at the eclipse village liked to call it) is actually in Zambia. But since it's right at the border to Zimbabwe, which has a better infrastructure, tourists tended to go to Zimbabwe and just do a day trip over the border to Zambia. But currently Zimbabwe seems to be destabilizing fast, so Zambia, if it remains politically stable, has a good chance to become the main tourist attraction of the area. So a presidential visit at the site where the eclipse tourists are, is a sign how important tourism as a source of income is for Zambia.

Enjoying the early morning sun in Lusaka
Technical area
Waiting for the eclipse, less than an hour to go
Partial eclipse has started, note the crescent shaped sun images
The president of Zambia
Setting up equipment
Equipment all set up
Phases of the eclipse
Sun during total eclipse
Sun during total eclipse
Then it was time for the total eclipse.
It was an impressive sight and it's difficult to explain why, since the pictures of the eclipsed sun always look a bit dull, eben though it looks spectacular on site. Let's just say that I liked that way of spending my birthday, even though it's rather unlikely to become a habit.
Sun during total eclipse
Sun during total eclipse
Full sun over 'Monolith'
Eclipsed sun over 'Monolith', probably Jupiter to the lower left
So what about these rather odd pictures?
Well, that might require a bit of explaining. I've always liked the move '2001: A Space Odyssey' and I watched the re-release earlier this year. The first monolith in that movie is supposedly somewhere in Africa. So somehow the idea 'I will be in Africa in 2001 when something rather impressive will happen with the sun' struck me and I liked the image of the eclipsed sun over a large monolith on an African plain in 2001. It didn't quite work out as I expected, since, for one thing, huge portable monoliths are sort of difficult to get, so in the end a black cardboard folder had to stand in for it. Also, my 'main' camera was used for taking pictures of the corona during the eclipse (see images above), so I had to take the 'monolith' pictures with a small handheld digital camera with automatic exposure control, so the sun is a bit overexposed, making it difficult to see that it is actualy totally eclipsed in the lower two pictures.
But I like the pictures anyway, especially since (as far as I can tell) the small dot of light visible to the lower left of the sun (right on the edge of the 'monolith' on the lower left image, a tiny bit above it on the lower right image) is the planet Jupiter, which fits nicely into the '2001' theme. (Since the first monolith in the movie is in Africa, the second on the moon, which is right in front of the sun here, obviously and the third near Jupiter.
Full sun over 'Monolith'
Eclipsed sun over 'Monolith', probably Jupiter to the lower left

Early morning site QT panorama

Click the image above for a 360 degree QuickTime VR panorama of the observation site shortly after sunrise. The size is about 626 kB.
Early noon site QT panorama
Click the image above for a 360 degree QuickTime VR panorama of the observation site in the early afternoon. The size is about 332 kB.
Happy Birthday to me! Looking smug into the sunset. After the total eclipse was over, I stayed in the technical area to take a couple of pictures of the partial eclipse, celebrated the event with a bottle of local cider (ok, it was a rather small celebration) and stayed on to watch the sunset.
Then it was time to get back to the airport, check in and fly back to Europe. And that was how I spent my birthday on the southern hemisphere.
Sunset over Lusaka

'Hundertwasserhaus' in Vienna I arrived in Vienna early the next morning (about 6 am) and went from the airport directly to my hotel. (I don't sleep well in airplanes and I had been awake 48 hours straight, so I was rather tired.) I did a bit of sightseeing in the inner city in the afternoon and went to see the 'Hundertwasserhaus' (to the left), which I didn't like much, and the 'Haus der Kunst' (to the right), which I liked a bit more, on Saturday morning, before flying back home. 'Haus der Kunst' in Vienna
'Hundertwasserhaus' in Vienna 'Haus der Kunst' in Vienna 'Haus der Kunst' in Vienna

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