letter word that only has four letters?
Tatakoto of course! Who
could resist wanting to see a total eclipse from a place with an exotic
name like Tatakoto? A little like "Tuva
or bust!" Richard Feynman's ten year quest and
journey to Tuva and Kyzyl - a story that's always struck a chord with
me. When I first zoomed in using Google Earth, I
believe what I was seeing, beautiful azure waters, coral formations,
sand channels and a fringing reef surrounding the whole
When you centre Tatakoto on Google Earth and zoom out, all you can see
is the big blue Pacific Ocean. It is one of the most remote places on
October 2009, doyen of eclipse chasers, John Beattie, invited me to
join a private expedition he was organizing to Tatakoto. John had found
a way to Tatakoto using local contacts and regular scheduled
flights. He had not, at that time, found a way off the atoll
staying on the atoll for the best part of 2 weeks. At the time, I
thought this might be too long to spend on a small island. If
I'd known then what I know now,
would have stayed the extra week.
Easter time, Bengt emailed me to say that he was concerned at the lack
of progress on transport. He had been watching the Air Tahiti web site
saw that they were about to release a new flight schedule. He saw a
note telling ticket resellers that they could get early access to the
schedule so he contacted our group's travel agent and asked her to look
for any new flights off Tatakoto just after the eclipse.
they had added a new flight, VT981 on July 13. Up until this
and I thought that everyone else originally going on the trip had
transferred to Eflight. So we asked the agent to book us seats on this
new flight. At the same time we sent John Beattie an email
telling him of this new solution and asking if there was anyone left on
the expedition to Tatakoto. It transpired that he originally
had nineteen people on the expedition and nine of those people
remained in the Tatakoto expedition group. They were Larry
Stephens and Michelle Bales, Geoff Sims and Emily Love, Bob Pine, Bill
Speare, Matthew Poulton, Bengt Alfredsson and I. Within a few
days, we were all in contact with each other and making plans.
During the period April-
July 2010, the group undertook some interesting
These included : -
eye protection and eclipse education program for Tatakoto.
found copy of the last census indicating Tatakoto had a
population of 253 in 2007. Larry and Geoff took on the task
acquiring 300 pairs of eclipse glasses. Bill Speare, Matt
and I, took on the task of preparing an eclipse educational brochure.
Bill drafted, I edited text, did the layout and illustrations. Matt
translated the English draft into French.
of an Observer's handbook
the last few eclipses, I have collated various pieces of information
specific to my intended observing site. This includes things like
ephemerides of any interesting events, rise and set times of Sun and
Moon, magnetic declination, inclination of the coronal streamers with
respect to the horizon for pre-orienting cameras. This year I
them into the form of an observer's handbook and made this available to
everyone in the group. I spiral bound my own and
whole lot of diary pages which I used as a notebook and into
which I've written an account.
of a Tatakoto eclipse tee-shirt.
design was based on the cover design of the handbook. After some robust
discussion about the exact form of the shirt we settled on one design
with two colour schemes for the lettering. Larry kindly produced a
cheaper version of these using transfer technology while Geoff had some
better quality full colour digital print shirts made at a slightly
higher cost. These shirts were very popular and many people who saw
them asked us where they could get one.
group was subject to strict luggage weight restrictions of 20kg checked
luggage + 3kg hand luggage. While I usually have a checked bag around
20-22kg, I often carry 7-8kg of camera gear in hand luggage. Group
who were not photographers and didn't need all
of their 20kg allocation carried some stuff for some people who were
photography. Our "mules" kindly carried in 1.5 kg of educational
pamphlets and 2kg of eclipse shades plus some other gear while those of
us with photographic equipment just carried in our own gear.
By making some compromises, I
managed to fit my light-weight EQ mount,
William Optic 70 f6.2 APO refractor, two SLR cameras and video gear as
wel as snorkel and mask. At check-in, my
hand luggage weighed in at 3.5kg and checked luggage weighed
20.3kg, just 500 /
300 grams over but this didn't prove to be a problem. I
bring a hard suitcase but given the nature of this trip I decided a
canvas backpack might be more useful. The backpack weighs 2.5kg, the
suitcase 5kg so that freed up 2.5 kg for me. It was necessary to
disassemble my telescope mount
completely (something it is designed for) so that it took up less room
and could be packed more robustly. I had 5 days on Tatakoto
before the eclipse to reassemble it.
arrived in Tahiti
at midnight on Saturday the 3rd July, two days before the group flew to
Tatakoto. Geoff and Emily flew in from Sydney on the same flight.
Others in the group drifted in over the next two days. We
the hotel at 6am on Tuesday July 6th for the airport to get our flight
to Tatakoto. Getting through check-in at the airport was a bit of a
rush but we were finally safely on flight VT981 to Tatakoto.
Doesn't sound like a big deal but this weekly flight was the ONLY
flight that could get us there and if anything had gone wrong, we had
no other way to get to the atoll. The flight to Tatakoto must
have flown within the eclipse path because we flew over or near many of
the atolls that were in the path. Our arrival at Tatakoto was
both friendly but also more formal than we were expecting. We
were greeted by the Mayor. We were later to discover that
our arrival, there had been possibly been only two or three tourists
ever visit the island. Geoff, Emily and I were the first
Australians to visit and Bengt the first Swede.
: Flying out of Tahiti Centre : Flying
over Hikueru Right : Musicians at Tatakoto airport
We enjoyed five
wonderful days of Polynesian hospitality before the eclipse. Meals were a real
The Voirin family are wonderful cooks and the seafood was so
was still wriggling as it hit the plate. Madeleine created a
beautiful open air
area. It had thatched roof made from palm leaves and the interior
was decorated by woven palm leaves or with shells or other natural
materials. It took Madeleine and her
family several months to create it. It will last a long time
friends and neighbours are all jealous now and want to make one for
this time we were given tours of the island and we conducted a site
survey and sight seeing trip out to the motus. Motus are small sand
separated by tidal channels that fill and drain the lagoon. Two of
these are owned by our hosts, the Voirin family and we were offered
the use of either one of our choosing for the eclipse.
seeing the first one, we were not too keen. Though the outlook was
attractive, it was very exposed to the strong south-westerly winds that
predominate at this time of year. Our equipment would
have been shaken by these winds.
boatmen, Christian and Michel,
next took us to Tikahana Motu. Our jaws dropped as we approached. This
more like it. Thick stands of coconut palms protected us from
prevailing winds while allowing virtually unobstructed views to the
east, north and west. The beach looked out onto the clearest
azure blue water and there was a wonderful reef for snorkeling. We
decided that we would like to observe
from here. The Motu was more than
9km from the "marina" at Tumukuru and navigating
through the coral reefs was slow at times so the trip there took more
hour. This was not ideal for eclipse morning so we took the boats a
couple of kilometres straight across to the north shore of the lagoon
and moored the powerboats there just 10 minutes from the Motu. Christian called
Madeleine to arrange a pick up. Madeleine arrived in the
minibus and collected us.
our return to the house we talked more about observing plans.
Bill was feeling a bit sick and decided to stay at the house. Bob
offered to stay with Bill since he wanted to be around the locals for
the eclipse anyway. Larry had an EQ2 mounting for his telescope/camera
gear and didn't fancy transporting it in a boat so he and Michelle
decided to observe from the north facing beach on the main part of the
island not far from where the boats were moored. My EQ mount can be
separated into two
sub-assemblies easily transported in my waterproof canvas backpack
along with all my camera gear and telescope OTA so I decided to go to
the Motu as did Geoff, Emily, Bengt and Matt whose equipment was much
simpler to transport than mine. We discussed the arrangements with
Madeleine over dinner. She very generously offered to take us to the
mooring departing the house at 4:00 am. We could leave by boat as soon
as there was enough light to see the submerged reefs.
dinner I gave
my telescope a quick field test. All OK. When we were called
dinner, I put the power pack into a bag along with assorted tools on
the table in my 'cabana.' While others took the beds inside the house,
I took a bed surrounded by curtains on the veranda that was
nicknamed 'Joe's Cabana.' When I returned from dinner, I
I'd managed to place the power pack in such a way that it shorted with
the help of tools and melted the contacts. It was useless and
that was probably the end of my motor drive for this eclipse. Note to
self - fully sealed power pack for next time!
awoke almost every hour through the night worried that I'd
slept in. At 3:30, bleary eyed and tired I gave up and got up to get
ready for our 4:00am departure. Bengt, good friend and buddy that he
is, snapped this picture of me on the left as I was rubbing my tired
eyes. Bill woke feeling much better and decided to come to
Motu with us. Bob stuck to his plan of seeing it from the
village. At 4am we set off in two SUV's for the mooring. It was raining
lightly as we departed.
left us at
the moored boats and took Larry and Michelle to the north beach. After
that she returned to town to shuttle other observers around the
The rain continued as we waited for first light. We needed
light so we could navigate the submerged coral reefs in the
arrived at Tikahana at about 5:50am. As we approached we saw
Xavier's Eclipse City group had camped the night on the neighbouring
motu. I felt sorry for them. It had been a windy and wet
night. After all that they had to watch us come in and set up
their line of sight (foreground). It's just one of those things, we
didn't know they would be there when we chose the motu.
After the rainshower passed us heading west the Sun struck the
rain at the right angle to form this wonderful double spectrum rainbow.
above] The Eclipse City tents are visible in the distance.
Geoff and Emily are the small dots about
100m down the beach. The blue water in the
lagoon is about 2m deep and the darker areas are reef. Sky
to the west looks bad but that cloud has passed us and the Sun is in
the clear to the east.
and Emily walked down to the west end of the beach and decided to set
up there. Geoff chose it predominantly for a foreground for his
wide-angle image. Bengt, Bill and I stayed east near the
boats. I chose an area
for the telescope with a small spit of sand in my foreground (with the
fish-eye lens in mind) but first things first. At about 6:10 am, I set
up the video camera to capture the clouds rolling across the sky and
people moving around setting up equipment. It was important to start
this before anything else. Even with its 140o
wide field, with just five of us set up along 150m of beach most of the
action was people
crossing the frame rather than people in the frame. My
position was in the bottom left corner of frame Bengt's in the bottom
right. I set the time-lapse function to capture 1 frame every
30s. This accelerates real-time by a factor of 900. Two and a
quarter hours of video recording compressed to 9s of movie clip. During
this time you see two rain showers come through, drops on the front
element are in focus, they evaporate fairly quickly. If I had
noticed, I would probably have wiped them off. It's as well I
didn't. Sounds boring to say it but watching the water
is a feature of the film.
the tripod and
equatorial head out of my backpack and bolted them them together. I
used my polar alignment jig and 60 seconds later the mount was aligned
well enough for the eclipse. I disengaged the now useless step motor to
enable the worm drive to be turned by hand. At least I have a backup of
sorts! I set up two cameras on the mount. My DSLR
the prime focus of a William Optics 70mm f6.2APO and my 35mm film SLR
which has a built-in intervalometer had a full frame fish-eye
attached. I programmed it to shoot one frame every 10s
90s before 1st contact. It was sitting on a ball and socket
to the static equatorial wedge. It used the mount as a glorified tripod
only. It wasn't as good as a tripod but it saved me the
tripod in my limited baggage weight limit. I angled the lens 45
degreees to the horizon so that the horizon lies along the 170o
diagonal field of view.
Above : Auto exposure on the fish-eye resulted in long exposures during
totality. As a result, the center of the field looks out of focus
because the cloud motion has blurred them.
cloud, cloud, cloud and more cloud then more rain. The rain
was fairly light. I watched first contact
through the eyepiece of the telescope. I laid out
towel and a ground mat and lay
down to try to get some rest to offset the lost sleep. Matt
pacing up and down the beach furiously like a man possessed. Matt
didn't have any equipment save a DSLR hanging round his neck. Instead
he made "house calls" to each observing station in turn. He
up to me and said in an accusative tone, " You're looking awfully
relaxed. How can you just lie there like that?" I don't
my exact response but it might have been something like, "Do you think
it will clear up if I pace up and down the beach like
Photo Above : Bengt
caught me during one of the light rain showers that hit us before
totality. But if you don't
like the weather on Tatakoto, wait 5 mins and try again! It was dry and
clear a few minutes later.
8:25am local time, 20 mins before second contact I went to change the
battery in my video camera. Nominally three hours, I didn't
to risk a flat battery during totality. I restarted the
time-lapse at 8:25am (20 mins before second contact) set to 1 frame per
second (30 times
faster than real time).
clear patch appeared on the horizon and it soon became obvious that we
would at the very least see part of totality. In the last few
minutes before second contact, I carefully rechecked my focus.
The Pentax K10D doesn't have live image but it does have a
OK indicator which I used to set the focus. The little
has a very solidly, smooth, fine geared Crayford focusser that
definitely made focussing easier. As totality approached the
clear patch synchronized with the start of totality so that we looked
through light cloud during the Baily's beads. I was able to capture the
image below of shadow bands projected on the thin cloud that was widely
during this time. But the diminishing crescent come Baily's beads come
diamond ring created too much flare through that cloud and I did not
observe the phenomenon visually.
Above: Taken about 20s
before second contact [William Optic 70mm f6.3, Pentax K10D,
contact with shadow bands" [William Optic 70mm f6.3, Pentax
K10D, 1/125s] This
was distinguished by two very sharp small long lasting diamond rings
and the fast moving cloud moving across the sky. At
the beginning of totality, fast moving cloud raced across the
face of the Sun then cleared a few seconds later. The
shutter speed of this exposure was 1/125s but the appearance of the
streaks don't change appearance on another exposure
taken with a shutter speed of 1/500s. These streaks are now
thought to be shadow bands projected onto on thin low level cloud. This
phenomena was observed from Anaa, Tatakoto, Hao and Easter
Island at this eclipse. Since these phenomena were captured eclipse
chasers have reviewed old material and found that the
phenomena was previously recorded but not noticed at the time. Image
capture 8:45:43 local about 5s before second contact.
The shadow band
projection effct was also recorded by Bengt Alfredsson in this image
Nikon D300 & Nikon 180mm f2.8. ISO200
diamond ring lingered and then the corona revealed itself.
people wear an eye-patch to pre-dark adapt their eye.
I do not. First the light is so bright during totality that
full dark adaptation
is wasted. Second, one of the pleasures of eclipse observing at second
contact is watching the corona grow as your eye recovers from the glare
beads and diamond ring. This was no exception. The corona
and grew and grew. It did not rival the huge seven degree
that I saw from Bolivia in 1994 but to the naked eye it was a good 6-7
solar radii to the end of the longest streamer and most other long
streamers in the
equatorial region were 4 Rs.
This stills-animation of the
eclipse simulates the growing corona. All images taken
through a 70mm f6.2 APO.
the beginning of totality, I did not observe the umbra crossing the
sky. I see it in videos but didn't see it naked
think I must have been distracted watching the cloud so near the Sun at
photographing the diamond ring, I ran through my photographic sequence
quickly. Using the camera's 5 step bracketing, I can acquire the full
set of shutter speeds in about 30-60s. Because of the cloud
the beginning, I ran through the short exposure sequencing four more
times after that to make sure I recorded inner corona and nice
prominences before they disappeared behind the limb and in case any of
my early exposures had been compromised by the cloud.
left] Prominences at second contact. The refractor image was
enough that the image shown here is enlarged 160% per pixel from the
I can do
looking at the camera so during this time I looked around. Low level
cloud scooted along obscuring our view at times from the horizon up to
about 20o altitude. Where I could see
the horizon, I could see
gentle hues of yellow and pale orange but no strong saturated colours
like the crimson red colours observed in Zambia in 2001. This must be a
factor of the air quality. The air in Zambia was full of
and no doubt contributed to the crimson horizon. There was plenty of
ambient light. I could easily read the LCD display on top of my
gave the already majestic corona an even more dramatic frame and the
movement lent the dynamism of rapid cloud motion to the scene. Give me
a clear sky any
day but given that this cloud barely interfered with our view of the
corona, I'll fess up to enjoying the setting. This feeling is captured
beautifully in Geoff's wide field image shown at the top of this page
and numerous other places on the site.
out of the way I flipped the mirror down and peered through the
eyepiece which I'd remembered to parfocalize before totality.
wow wow! I hadn't looked through a telescope and eyepiece
at the corona since 2001 when I used a shorty 80mm refractor with the
same eyepiece. I'd
forgotten what a truly sensational view you get. Step aside Miloslav
Druckmuller! This is the real deal!
Above] Totality Composite of 14 images [William
f6.3, Pentax K10D, 1/2000s - 1/8s] This is the best composite
I've ever been able to produce.
Focal lengths of this
instrument and my old shorty are nearly identical [80mmf5 and 70mm
and I was using the same 16mm Konig 65o eyepiece
yielding 27X with a
2.4o field of view. Back then, I lugged in a
500mmf4.5 telephoto AND
telescope. But now I have a mirror flip box that lets me use one high
quality optical instrument for photo and visual observations albeit on
a 'time share' basis.
Anecdotally, I'd say
that contrast between corona and the prominences was less than other
eclipses both naked eye and telescopically and this made me think it
was because the inner corona was brighter. Of course our eyes are
phenomenally bad at absolute brightness determination so I have no
factual basis to support this. Next, I noticed the detail in the
streamers. So so fine. Incredible. Now that I have
up about right, I will try not to miss a telescopic view of the corona
at future eclipses again. Absolutely stunning. I could have
the eyepiece for an hour but for better or worse I only allocated one
minute for this although I had no timing device barking instructions at
me so I had no idea what the time was and assumed I'd over stayed at
the eyepiece. Examining the metadata on my camera after, I
that I only spent about 40s doing this before returning to repeating
the mid-speed exposures. At this time I noticed that I had set the
bracketing interval to two stops not one and took a moment to correct
this. While looking around more I repeated the mid and long
shutter speeds at one-stop intervals then set the camera to fast
shutter speeds for the emerging prominences and chromosphere.
noticed prominences on the emerging limb and look through the
viewfinder to see numerous prominences and a fantastic detached
prominence at PA 100. I run numerous bracket sequences. It's
just push the shutter release and the camera shoots all five exposures
- in this case from 1/2000s to 1/125s.
At the end of totality, I decided to re-shoot one last
of mid-exposures 1/125-1/8s. Risky and, at the time, I was
thinking unnecessary so close to the end but gut instinct told me to do
it anyway and just as well. They produced the mid-tone images
used in the best composite image I was able to make.
thing I hear
Matt yelling that 3rd contact is approaching and through the viewfinder
I spy chromosphere. I began shooting then remembered that I didn't
reset the shutter speeds back to fast. I quickly tried to
the shutter speeds back to faster speeds but was a bit late. I caught a
late diamond ring and Baily's beads. Given the success of the
mid-exposure sequence, I won't complain about not quite
the camera reset to high shutter speeds in time for 3rd contact. Good
[Photos left and below]
prominence image presented here on the left is 160% enlarged cropped
close around the Sun while the image below is 100% both taken
with the 70mm APO refractor. You could say I am quite satisfied with
them and the telescope purchase.
explodes before my eyes
and it's all over. This diamond ring lasted a long time -
7-10 seconds. Another success. I hear a lot of noise from
Geoff, Emily and Matt 100m down the beach. I'm not a yahoo kinda
guy. I fell backwards into the sand, stretched my
muscles, tight from hunching over the telescope, smiled and took a deep
breath. After 10 total/annular eclipses, partial phases just don't
pump my blood any more so I got up, left the camera and went to talk to
the others. Big grins all round as the post mortem began.
started. One by one we shed the cameras, donned the budgie
smugglers*, goggles and snorkels and went into the water. Some took to
the water complete with eclipse shades. I was the only one
brought goggles - some of the others went snorkelling the day
before. I went for a big long snorkel along the
a long leisurely snorkel, I swam across to Tahunatara Motu with Matt
where Xavier's Eclipse City group were set up. What a sight
those poor people as I emerged from the water with Matthew.
smugglers - term used in Australia referring to brief nylon
lycra male swimming costume so called because they cling so tight, it
looks like you are hiding a budgerigar in the front. These are favoured
swim wear by the leader of the opposition party in the Australian
above : Bengt and Matt take to the water with eclipse shades.
Above] : Emily takes to the water. Did I mention how nice
this part of the lagoon was?
Above from Left to right ] : Geoff Sims, Bill Speare,
Bengt Alfredsson, Joe Cali and Matthew Poulton engage in a bit of a
and video methods summary.
this eclipse, I ran 3 lightweight imaging platforms. Two ran
automatically and one ran manually.
Platform 1 : Samsung
F30 video camera with Marexar ultra wide angle adaptor
Shooting time lapse
sequences as follows : 06:15am-08:25am
@ 1 frame per 30 s 08:25am
Battery change. 08:27am
- 09:11am @ 1 frame per second
Field of view (distorted) ; Approximately 90o
vertical x 140o horizontal.
Sims and I swapped footage. This
time lapse footage was used in Geoff Sims "Tatakoto movies" See Geoff's
report page. I have edited the video with more emphasis on
the time lapse video. I have used some of Geoff's footage.
July 11th, a total eclipse was visible from the tiny atoll of Tatakoto
in the far east of French Polynesia. I shot the eclipse in time-lapse
video while my friends Geoff Sims and Emily Love shot the eclipse in
real time. Geoff has already edited the footage into his own movies.
You can see them on Geoff's report page. Geoff
concentrated on the fantastic experience we had on the island. He used
my time lapse footage as window dressing only. Looking
to do something different, I
was fascinated by the
pulsing movements of people through the frame. Bengt
and Matt almost seem to be dancing at times. There
were only 5 people
on 200 metres of beach. I've
combined music I produced in Apple's 'Garage Band' with the movements
eclipse imagery to create something more abstract. Enjoy....
Pro S ISO160 film
10-17mm full frame fish-eye zoom
set to Av auto mode
in intervalometer programed to shoot 1 frame per 10s from ~ 90s before
C2 until the end of totality 36 exp x 10s = 6 mins
all the fisheye images as a flash movie.
Movie will open in new tab or window, close tab or window to return
: William Optics 70mmf6.2 APO refractor
mounted on lightweight custom made EQ
Pentax K10D DSLR, ISO 100.
Flip mirror back with 16mm 65o
eyepiece for visual observation.
used in 5 step ascending shutter speed auto bracket mode.
Camera controlled manually.
Allows for creativity in dealing with fast moving clouds.
rings exposed at :
1/500s 1/250 1/125 1/60 1/30s
Set 1 : 1/4000s, 1/2000s, 1/ 1000s, 1/500s,
Set 2 : 1/125s, 1/60s, 1/30s, 1/15s,
Set 3 : 1/4s, 1/2s, 1s, 2s,
1 shot numerous times at beginning and end ot totality to capture
prominences and chromosphere
Set 2 shot three times
Set 3 shot twice.
problems were experienced. Rain, clouds, rain, more
clouds.......I stupidly shorted the power pack just after testing the
the evening before the eclipse & consequently melted a plastic
insulator on the
power supply plug.
good results were obtained
despite these set backs. Images shown above during the
the image below, I've tried my best to identify stars in the field. The
faintest is HIP 36152 at magnitude 6.5.
There are some other smaller (fainter) white specks but I am not sure
if they are noise or stars and my software won't identify them.
is the first composite I attempted. It is a totality Composite of 10
images [William Optic 70mm f6.3, Pentax K10D, 1/2000s - 1/2s]
single image [William Optic 70mm f6.3, Pentax K10D, 1/30s,
Links to individual
observer's reports and photographs TSE2010
Home Page Group
report as sent to SEML on July 14th.
- Images from 70mm f6.2 APO refractor;
YOU ARE ON THIS PAGE -
frame fisheye totality flash slide show; -
field time-lapse video; - written account
of observations on
Tikahana Motu; - pictures of shadow bands
projected on clouds; -
gallery of pictures from the eclipse and Tatakoto
Alfredsson - Images from
200mm f2.8 APO telephoto; -
gallery of pictures from a great week on Tatakoto.