Press Release

Report about the Solar Eclipse on August 11, 1999

18 August 1999

This webpage provides information about the total eclipse on Wednesday, August 11, 1999, as it was seen by ESO staff, mostly at or near the ESO Headquarters in Garching (Bavaria, Germany). The zone of totality was about 108 km wide and the ESO HQ were located only 8 km south of the line of maximum totality. The duration of the phase of totality was about 2 min 17 sec.

The weather was quite troublesome in this geographical area. Heavy clouds moved across the sky during the entire event, but there were also some holes in between. Consequently, sites that were only a few kilometres from each other had very different viewing conditions.

Some photos and spectra of the eclipsed Sun are displayed below, with short texts about the circumstances under which they were made.

Please note that reproduction of pictures on this webpage is only permitted, if the author is mentioned as source.

Information made available before the eclipse is available here.

Eclipse Impressions at the ESO HQ

This Video Clip was prepared from a "reportage" of the event at the ESO HQ that was transmitted in real-time to ESO-Chile via ESO's satellite link. It begins with some sequences of the first partial phase and the eclipse watchers. Clouds move over and the landscape darkens as the phase of totality approaches. The Sun is again visible at the very moment this phase ends. Some further sequences from the second partial phase follow. Produced by Herbert Zodet.

Dire Forecasts

The weather predictions in the days before the eclipse were not good for Munich and surroundings. A heavy front with rain and thick clouds that completely covered the sky moved across Bavaria the day before and the meteorologists predicted a 20% chance of seeing anything at all. On August 10, it seemed that the chances were best in France and in the western parts of Germany, and much less close to the Alps.

This changed to the opposite during the night before the eclipse. Now the main concern in Munich was a weather front approaching from the west - would it reach this area before the eclipse? The better chances were then further east, nearer the Austrian border. Many people travelled back and forth along the German highways, many of which quickly became heavily congested.


About 500 persons, mostly ESO staff with their families and friends, were present at the ESO HQ in the morning of August 11. Prior to the eclipse, they received information about the various aspects of solar eclipses and about the specific conditions of this one in the auditorium. Protective glasses were handed out and it was the idea that they would then follow the eclipse from outside.

In view of the pessimistic weather forecasts, TV sets had been set up in two large rooms, but in the end most chose to watch the eclipse from the terasse in front of the cafeteria and from the area south of the building. Several telescopes were set up among the trees and on the adjoining field (just harvested).

Clouds and Holes

It was an unusual solar eclipse experience. Heavy clouds were passing by with sudden rainshowers, but fortunately there were also some holes with blue sky in between.

While much of the first partial phase was visible through these, some really heavy clouds moved in a few minutes before the total phase, when the light had begun to fade. They drifted slowly - too slowly! - towards the east and the corona was never seen from the ESO HQ site. From here, the view towards the eclipsed Sun only cleared at the very instant of the second "diamond ring" phenomenon. This was beautiful, however, and evidently took most of the photographers by surprise, so very few, if any, photos were made of this memorable moment.

Temperature Curve on August 11

Measured by Benoit Pirenne - see also his meteorological webpage

Nevertheless, the entire experience was fantastic - there were all the expected effects, the darkness, the cool air, the wind and the silence. It was very impressive indeed! And it was certainly a unique day in ESO history!

Carolyn Collins Petersen from "Sky & Telescope" participated in the conference at ESO in the days before and watched the eclipse from the "Bürgerplatz" in Garching, about 1.5 km south of the ESO HQ. She managed to see part of the totality phase and filed some dramatic reports at the S&T Eclipse Expedition website. They describe very well the feelings of those in this area!

Eclipse Photos

Several members of the ESO staff went elsewhere and had more luck with the weather, especially at the moment of totality. Below are some of their impressive pictures.

The Corona (Philippe Duhoux)

"For the observation of the eclipse, I chose a field on a hill offering a wide view towards the western horizon and located about 10 kilometers north west of Garching."

"While the partial phase was mostly cloudy, the sky went clear 3 minutes before the totality and remained so for about 15 minutes. Enough to enjoy the event!"

"The images were taken on Agfa CT100 colour slide film with an Olympus OM-20 at the focus of a Maksutov telescope (f = 1000 mm, f/D = 10). The exposure times were automatically set by the camera. During the partial phase, I used an off-axis mask of 40 mm diameter with a mylar filter ND = 3.6, which I removed for the diamond rings and the corona."

Note in particular the strong, detached protuberances to the right of the rim, particularly noticeable in the last photo.

The Corona (Cyril Cavadore)

"We (C.Cavadore from ESO and L. Bernasconi and B. Gaillard from Obs. de la Cote d'Azur) took this photo in France at Vouzier (Champagne-Ardennes), between Reims and Nancy. A large blue opening developed in the sky at 10 o'clock and we decided to set up the telescope and the camera at that time. During the partial phase, a lot of clouds passed over, making it hard to focus properly. Nevertheless, 5 min before totality, a deep blue sky opened above us, allowing us to watch it and to take this picture. 5-10 Minutes after the totality, the sky was almost overcast up to the 4th contact".

"The image was taken with a 2x2K (14 µm pixels) Thomson "homemade" CCD camera mounted on a CN212 Takahashi (200 mm diameter telescope) with a 1/10.000 neutral filter. The acquisition software set exposure time (2 sec) and took images in a complete automated way, allowing us to observe the eclipse by naked eye or with binoculars. To get as many images as possible during totality, we use binning 2x2 to reduce the readout time to 19 sec. Afterward, one of the best image was flat-fielded and processed with a special algorithm that modelled a fit the continuous component of the corona and then subtracted from the original image. The remaining details were enhanced by unsharp masking and added to the original image. Finally, gaussian histogram equalization was applied".

Diamond Ring at ESO HQ (Eddy Pomaroli)

"Despite the clouds, we saw the second "diamond ring" from the ESO HQ. In a sense, we were quite lucky, since the clouds were very heavy during the total phase and we might easily have missed it all!".

"I used an old Minolta SRT-101 camera and a teleobjective (450 mm; f/8). The exposure was 1/125 sec on Kodak Elite 100 (pushed to 200 ASA). I had the feeling that the Sun would become visible and had the camera pointed, by good luck in the correct direction, as soon as the cloud moved away".

End of First Partial Phase (Roland Reiss)

"I observed the eclipse from my home in Garching. The clouds kept moving and this was the last photo I was able to obtain during the first partial phase, before they blocked everything".

"The photo is interesting, because it shows two more images of the eclipsed Sun, below the overexposed central part. In one of them, the remaining, narrow crescent is particularly well visible. They are caused by reflections in the camera. I used a Minolta camera and a Fuji colour slide film".

Eclipse Spectra

Some ESO people went a step further and obtained spectra of the Sun at the time of the eclipse.

Coronal Spectrum (CAOS Group)

The Club of Amateurs in Optical Spectroscopy (with Carlos Guirao Sanchez, Gerardo Avila and Jesus Rodriguez) obtained a spectrum of the solar corona from a site in Garching, about 2 km south of the ESO HQ.

"This is a plot of the spectrum and the corresponding CCD image that we took during the total eclipse. The main coronal lines are well visible and have been identified in the figure. Note in particular one at 6374 Angstrom that was first ascribed to the mysterious substance "Coronium". We now know that it is emitted by iron atoms that have lost nine electrons (Fe X)".

The equipment was:

  • Telescope: Schmidt Cassegrain F/6.3; Diameter: 250 mm
  • FIASCO Spectrograph: Fibre: 135 micron core diameter F = 100 mm collimator, f = 80 mm camera; Grating: 1300 gr/mm blazed at 500 nm; SBIG ST8E CCD camera; Exposure time was 20 sec.

Chromospheric and Coronal Spectra (Bob Fosbury)

"The 11 August 1999 total solar eclipse was seen from a small farm complex called Wolfersberg in open fields some 20km ESE of the centre of Munich. It was chosen to be within the 2min band of totality but likely to be relatively unpopulated".

"There were intermittent views of the Sun between first and second contact with quite a heavy rainshower which stopped 9min before totality. A large clear patch of sky revealed a perfect view of the Sun just 2min before second contact and it remained clear for at least half an hour after third contact".

"The principal project was to photograph the spectrum of the chromosphere during totality using a transmission grating in front of a moderate telephoto lens. The desire to do this was stimulated by a view of the 1976 eclipse in Australia when I held the same grating up to the eclipsed Sun and was thrilled by the view of the emission line spectrum. The trick now was to get the exposure right!".

"A sequence of 13 H-alpha images was combined into a looping movie. The exposure times were different, but some attempt has been made to equalise the intensities. The last two frames show the low chromosphere and then the photosphere emerging at 3rd contact. The [FeX] coronal line can be seen on the left in the middle of the sequence. I used a Hasselblad camera and Agfa slide film (RSX II 100)".

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About the Release

Release No.:eso9941
Legacy ID:Special PR REPORT-HQ/99
Type:Solar System : Sky Phenomenon : Eclipse : Solar : Total