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I’ve been a keen astronomer for more years than I can remember so when the chance came to join our eclipse trip to China I jumped at it, this being the longest total solar eclipse this century.
In our hotel on the evening before the eclipse we were given various local dishes for dinner, and listened to Dr. John Mason, an expert in astronomy and very entertaining speaker. He gave a very detailed and excellent power point presentation about the eclipse, how best to view it and details of where we would be viewing it from.
The day of the eclipse started early with the buses departing our hotel in central Hangzhou at 5am.
Early weather checks confirmed our best chance of viewing the eclipse was from a lake side site about 80km north of Hangzhou however the skies were leaden and rain had fallen overnight so we were all concerned for the chances of having a clear view.
Arriving at the site we dispersed to find a suitable places to set up gear, some people were equipped with telescopes and cameras with big lenses and others just were happy to sit and watch as the event unfolded. 'First contact' when the moon's disk starts to cover the sun was at 08:23 and by that time the weather was slowly improving with glimpses of the sun through cloud. During the hour and a bit between first contact and totality there were periods of clarity to see the partial phases of the eclipse. As the minutes passed and totality approached the clouds lifted further and we were observing through thin milky cloud. Then at 09:36 came the beginning of totality, firstly the diamond ring effect then as the sun disappeared we caught the phenomenon called Bailey’s beads where the sun's rays shine only through the valleys on the moon, and then totality proper when we could see the solar corona extending out from the sun's obscured disk - a part of the sun's atmosphere that can only be seen at totality. The sky around us went very dark and the lights on a small pagoda along the lake shore came on. Nearly six minutes of totality came to an end with the second diamond ring on the other side of the sun/moon disk and the light level rising.
Everyone was in high spirits, congratulating one another on our good luck.
The weather had so nearly foiled us but thanks to great planning, a lot of time checking weather satellite images and a good measure of fortune, we saw it!
During the bus journey back to Hangzhou there was much discussion about the eclipse although many fell asleep and we all felt tired with from a combination of the early start and the excitement of the day.
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