July 22, 2009 ALP Total Solar Eclipse Expedition To Shanghai, China
by Armando Lee & Francis Sarmiento

Amidst hectic work schedules and continuous rains in Metro Manila, the team can only manage to rehearse indoors for their July 22, 2009 total solar eclipse expedition in Sheshan, Shanghai. Making sure that they will only bring the essential equipment, they double-checked and made repeated weighing of their luggage to avoid excess airline luggage fees. They did 3 rehearsals but it was all indoors since they were always clouded out and at times raining hard.

The team’s flight to Shanghai last July 20, 2009 was delayed for 2 hours which made our time of arrival to Shanghai and to the hotel 2 hours late as well. We reached Sen Lin Hotel around 7:00pm after a quick dinner in a noodle house. Conversational English language proved to be difficult to find among the hotel staff especially when we were asking for a site where we can set up our scopes for the next morning’s rehearsal. Initial survey of the observation site also delayed and was even done at night instead of late afternoon as planned for the same day. Examination of the equipment in the luggage proved to be OK with no damages sustained from the 2,500 miles journey. The team was only able to survey the extent of the WIFI coverage of the hotel’s internet connection.

The hotel where we checked in is situated between the East and West She Shan Hills, a small valley where a major road runs through and where our hotel is nicely situated with a view of the Eastern sky some 20 degrees above the horizon. Our Western sky is blocked by the Western hill of She Shan by some 35 degrees. The parking lot of Sen Lin Hotel proved to be conveniently located with a WiFi coverage coming from the hotel itself. And so we practiced and rehearse the next day after our arrival.

After retiring late the preceding evening, we proceeded to explore the grounds of our hotel. We had our first Shanghai breakfast, a stroll in a thick bamboo forest and checking on other curiosities within the area.

During the first day’s rehearsal we checked the grounds, the WIFI coverage, and the scopes & cameras and we decided not to use the 66SD with 17mm eyepiece afocally set webcam since we discovered the FOV (field of view) of the system is not comfortably big enough for a manually tracked photo tripod set up. We decided to just use the webcam as is without telescope and just use it to show live webcast of the environment and the team’s set up during the whole eclipse period of 2 and a half hours. Mrs Myra Lee was till assigned to man the webcam and at the same time control the crowd that was expected to assemble around the team.

The other set up we planned were tested and proven OK and we decided to go ahead with them. They are the following:

1. An equatorially mounted (EQ2 mount) 60mm f/5 achromatic refractor with a density 5.0 Baader film filter cover on the objective lens and coupled with a Neximage focal reducer and a PC164ex CCD b/w video camera with autoiris which sends analog video signal to a KIWI-OSD-VTI for video time stamping of time reckoned from GPS satellite signals. The resulting video is recorded in digital format by a Canon ZR200 miniDV handycam.

2. A Canon ESO 350D digital SLR coupled with an EF lens 75-300mm set at 300mm covered with a density 5.0 Baader film filter mounted on a phototripod mount.

The remaining time in that day’s late morning and early afternoon was spent for tours around the vicinity of the She Shan Hills. We first toured the Sculpture Park where there was a 10 hectare area reserved for eclipse chasers/viewers who bought 22 USD tickets to ensure a space and some souvenirs from the event. Dr Sarmiento bought one just for the souvenir it provided ( a T-Shirt, ticket card, and Sun viewer), while Dr Lee bought several solar binoculars and some T-shirts and commemorative caps.

The group then proceeded to the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory which was the highest point in Shanghai. After paying 20 Yuan each as entrance fee to the Catholic Cathedral and Observatory Complex they walked through the trail amidst the heat and humidity and was rewarded with a magnificent views from the peak where the Shanghai Cathedral and several observatory dome is situated. The main dome houses the biggest telescope that is already decommissioned by the government of China and which now only serve as museum exhibit and provides revenue for the government. The observatories on She Sha Hills were constructed by Jesuit priests in the 1800s and 1900s and was only shut down and converted to museum exhibits after the New Chinese government of 1949 took control of She Shan Hills.

The biggest telescope in the observatory is a 40cm refractor with 7m focal length which was inaugurated in 1900. It represents the first large telescope in China’s history. The 10m diameter rotunda built above the telescope, built with an unfixed window, can be oriented along a full 360 degrees. The Catholic Cathedral is close during the time of visit.

It was a very enjoyable trip which provided the group a perfect setting and background knowledge of the historical tidbits of the site making them aware of the significance of the coming of the eclipse they were about to observe and record the following day.

On the Eclipse day – July 22, 2009 after having breakfast we prepared the equipment and set up around 8:00AM which was easily done since there was not much crowd in the parking lot. The sky then was overcast but the Eastern sky slowly and intermittently provided some fleeting moment of window where we saw the Sun peeping out with sunshine. And so we started recording at 8:15AM and by that time the Sun was all covered up. The Sun’s disk could hardly be discerned.We continued recording even with no Sun disk visible at the 1st Contact time. And so we missed the 1st Contact because of thick clouds. Some opening right after the 1st Contact provided some images in my video set up and also in the digital SLR manned by Dr Francis Sarmiento III.




Video frame showing geographic coordinate of the site

First Contact video frame (no Sun visible)

First decent video image after 1st Contact

Last decent video frame image before the thunderstorm.

Then the clouds got thicker and the air got cooler and some lightning were observed striking from every direction and thunder got louder and louder...

As heavy rains marred our view of the solar eclipse we ran for cover with our equipment to one of the hotel buildings near our observation post. Here the team continued what we can still document and proceeded to provide a live webcast to the SM MOA Astrocamp Observatory using www.justin.tv/medlee until the eclipse event ended at around 11:00AM. ALPers Christopher Lee and Wilbert Palma together with Bernie Esporlas were there in Astrocamp Observatory also observing and recording the partiality event in Pasay City Philippines. The ALPers there were luckier than the teams deployed in China. They were blessed with clear sky with minimal cloudiness the whole period of the partial solar eclipse. They chatted with the She Shan Shanghai team as they watch the live webcast done by the She Shan Shanghai team. Guests were shown views through different telescopes there namely; two 5 inch maksutovs, one 80mm apochromat, and one 80mm achromat; all with solar filters, the maksutovs with glass filters and the refractors with Baader film filters. Time reckoning done using Sony ICF radio.

There were media personnel from different national and international press agencies and print media as well as some guests from the public and from the SM admin.

Heavy rainclouds dashed the Shanghai team’s hopes to fully document the July 22, 2009 total solar eclipse from Sheshan, Shanghai. They missed 1st contact yet brief cloud breaks allowed us to catch a few moments of early partial phases of the eclipse. However, after 8:40am local time, rains have started. Lightning and thunder followed towards and during totality.

Images were taken using a Canon EOS 350D DSLR with a Canon EF lens 300mm without solar filters. It was done without filters to capture the eclipse through thick clouds. It was a quick decision made by Dr Sarmiento which proved to be right. The group could have missed the opportunity to take digital images if not for Dr Sarmiento’s good judgement of the situation. 

The sky all the way down to the horizon has become really very dark by the time of totality. So dark, that the horizon can not be seen anymore. It was an eerie sight of a progressively darkening heavily-clouded sky which became like nighttime at mid-morning and brightened up a little more than 5 minutes later. All these times, the rain did not abate. It was only 15 minutes after totality that the rains stopped for a while and the team observed birds flying around the hotel’s water fountain park as it looking for early worms, probably thinking it was the break of dawn already when in fact it was already 9:54AM!

Our Shanghai Eclipse expedition was plagued by thunderstorms. Totality was all lightning and thunderclaps! We were able to shoot some images still but only after the first contact then nothing more, darkness and hard rain followed the totality the whole day but the darkest moment was at the time of totality where the sky was noted to be so dark that the horizon can not be differentiated from the dark wet ground where we were observing and recording.

Four days at the outskirts of downtown Shanghai has brought us so much fun and tense moments. Missing the eclipse highlights was a downside yet sharing the experience of it all with other nationalities was very fulfilling - who, in a single moment of astronomical awe and wonder, were humbled and reminded of the great forces that move the universe. Eclipse news abound with both amateur and professional astronomers bumping into each other and getting to know each other for the very first time and will keep in touch hoping to be together again for the next solar spectacle in years to come.

In retrospect, it was disappointing not the witness this eclipse in its full glory yet we have remained very thankful to be given this opportunity to travel and be right on the spot of a very unique experience the longest eclipse in the 21st century has brought us. The places we visited, the people we met, and the totality of our Sheshan, Shanghai journey will be with us forever. No regrets, only hopes.

Thank you Shanghai and to the Creator who helped us complete this worthwhile journey. No matter how it turned out, the eclipse chase continues...

On to future solar eclipses! Rain or shine, the memories will last forever.









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