On June 21, 2001 a total eclipse of the Sun darkened the continent of Africa. The Moon's shadow made its landfall in Angola on the west coast of the continent then swept across Zambia, where the capital, Lusaka, was within the path of totality, onward through the northeast corner of Zimbabwe, then Mozambique. The umbra next crossed into the Indian Ocean and across the island of Madagascar. Based on the likelihood of clear skies on eclipse day, length of totality, safety of travel, and availability of transportation to a suitable site along the eclipse track, a site near Lusaka, Zambia seemed the best of the available options. Here is the path of totality through Zambia.
Since this would be the first visit for either of us to sub-Saharan Africa apart from a brief business trip I made to South Africa in 1991, we wanted to combine the eclipse with an opportunity to see some of the scenery and unique wildlife in that part of the world. After exploring several alternatives, we decided to join an expedition organised by Kunjani Safaris of South Africa. We flew from Switzerland to Johannesburg, South Africa on June 10th, 2001, arriving on the morning of Monday the 11th. We joined the tour group on the 12th, visited the Sterkfontein Caves where the skull of the first specimen of Australopithecus africanus was discovered in 1947, then departed the next day for Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Zambia, culminating with the eclipse on June 21st, which we viewed from Pioneer Camp, northwest of Lusaka, close to the centre line of totality.
The site at Pioneer Camp was on a hilltop with a nearly unobstructed view of the northern sky where the eclipse would occur. The only obstacle to contend with was a set of wires strung on poles across the northern edge of the field. Since the site was not at all crowded, there were plenty of places available where the entire path of the Sun during the eclipse would be visible.
Long range weather forecasts promised an excellent probability
of clear skies on eclipse day and, indeed, the sky was almost
cloudless—only a few low clouds along the northwestern
horizon, distant from the Sun. We'd been more worried about
obscuration from smoke. Agricultural practice in southern
Africa involves burning fields to clear them in the southern
winter. Since the eclipse took place on the very day of the
solstice, mid-winter, this was a particular concern. Before
the eclipse we'd seen extensive burning in Zambia, often
rendering the sky murky and the limb of the Sun ill-defined.
Fortunately, the eclipse was a Big Event in Lusaka, declared a holiday by the government, which issued a commemorative stamp for the occasion and threw a big party adjacent to the airport, within the zone of totality. We saw little or no agricultural burning near Lusaka prior to or during the eclipse, and the skies at both the airport and our observing site couldn't have been more clear. To the left is a picture taken in the last minutes before totality. I've already set up the 35mm camera used to take the pictures in the Eclipse Photo Gallery, aimed it to capture the arc of the Sun during totality, and focused it on the waning crescent Sun using a full-aperture solar filter in front of the telephoto lens. Roxie is checking out some clouds on the horizon which took on a very unusual appearance just before and during totality.
|Sky above Lusaka at mid-totality, courtesy of Your Sky.|
The tour organisers had brought a cooler for refreshments, and its white plastic top made a perfect surface to exhibit the prominent shadow bands in the final seconds before totality. I was so enraptured watching their pulsating dance that I missed the diamond ring at the start of totality. No problem—there was a beautiful one at the end!
At almost the very moment we were
viewing totality on the ground in Zambia, the
EUMETSAT Meteosat-6 satellite
in geosynchronous orbit 35785 km above the equator at 9° West longitude
imaged the Moon's shadow on southern Africa as part of their
observation program. The tiny spot of totality is not
resolved in this image but you can clearly see how the density of shadow
increases toward the region of totality in Zambia.
|Start of Totality||13:09:19||15:09:19||31°||310°|
|End of Totality||13:12:33||15:12:33||31°||310°|