Romar Sese is a PAS member since 2001. He is now on a three-year scholarship for a PhD in Astrophysics at
For someone who has been in the field of astronomy for quite some time, I always look forward to new experiences that bring awe and appreciation of our Universe. Last August 1, I experienced my first total solar eclipse in
The EAYAM is a gathering held every 2-3 years between
I was privileged to attend the EAYAM despite the fact that I am not East Asian. On July 25th, most of the participants met in
On arrival in Jiayuguan on the morning of the 26th, the organizers were kind enough to give a tour of Jiayuguan Fortress. I think they had that as a consolation for the very long train ride that we took. The conference proper started on the 27th. Most of the 70 participants were graduate students or early postdoctorate plus several undergraduate students. All participants were required to give a 20-minute talk on their research with topics ranging from cosmology, galactic evolution, stellar astronomy down to planets and asteroids. The topics spanned from theoretical to numerical to observations. It is amazing that despite having such a wide range of topics, most of the participants got along together quite well, whether they were theorists or observers. In the true spirit of astronomy, theorists and observers were working together to unravel the mysteries of the Universe.
We arrived at the site around 4:00 p.m. local time (I’ll be using local time in this report). On arrival we had to undergo security checks as the site was restricted by the Chinese government due to its proximity to the
Though the non-Chinese participants brought mostly cameras, the Chinese participants were kind enough to bring several telescopes for all the participants. While they were setting up the scopes, we spent some time exploring the desert despite the heat. Most of the participants were busy walking around until we heard people screaming in delight.
The first contact just happened, and the eclipse had begun around 5:15 p.m. (Sorry for the inexact time. I didn’t bother to check it, much more bring a watch). It was about this time that I regretted that I did not bring my tripod with me. I took several photos using my DSLR camera with zoom lens. Being a first-time eclipse astrophotographer, it was very exciting to take pictures of the eclipse as it happened
Around 6 p.m., everyone was excited as the totality neared. I had to find a stable position to capture the moment of totality. Given the vast expanse of desert, it wasn’t a problem for everyone. While the moon blocked more and more of the Sun, I remembered the ancient Chinese legend about a solar eclipse. No wonder they thought that the Sun was being swallowed by a dragon. It really did look like something was eating up the Sun!
Then at around 6:15 p.m. (again an estimate), it happened - TOTALITY! It was incredible and simply amazing! Words simply aren’t enough to describe the feeling of being able to see a total solar eclipse. I was busy snapping away the view with my camera, hoping that I would get at least several good shots. After taking pictures, I looked around and it was spectacular. The sky was bluish black, similar to twilight but without the reddish tint. It was dark enough to see Venus and Mercury! The sun became a black orb hanging up in the sky, which made it both creepy and marvelous. I remembered uttering the words “Wow! A black sun!” as I was looking up into the sky. It wasn’t everyday that one sees something like that.
Then, as quickly as it started, it was over and the Sun started to emerge behind the Moon. In my bewilderment, I forgot to take pictures and missed the Bailey’s Beads. The moment was over. Totality lasted for about a minute and a half, but it was the most spectacular one and a half minute of my life!
Everyone was mesmerized by the sight that we had just witnessed. We were busy comparing shots afterwards. One of the participants showed the image he took using a telescope, and we were able to see prominences on both sides of the Sun. Surprised, all of us who used only cameras reviewed our images in higher magnification, and there it was! We were lucky enough that a prominence was there during the eclipse.
As astronomers, I think all of us agreed that being able to see a total solar eclipse was one of the best moments of our lives. All of us who were there shared a bond of being able to see Nature’s hide-and-seek together. It was the moment of a lifetime!
This photo is courtesy of Ueejeong Jeong, EAYAM participant from
We stayed for another 30 minutes before we packed up. We didn’t even finish the eclipse as we had to leave in order to catch the train that would depart from Jiayuguan that evening. On the way back to the train station, everyone was quiet, absorbing and recalling the event, and wondering when will we be able see another one. I don’t think anyone of us would be professional eclipse hunters/chasers but being professional astronomers, a total solar eclipse would always rank among Nature’s top wonders.
I then took the night train going back to
The next morning, I braced myself for another conference. The APRIM was held on August 3 -6, 2008 at
The APRIM was much larger than EAYAM, with almost 400 participants. The topics were also more diverse as it included astronomy popularization and education. On the first day, there were plenary sessions on topics such as IYA 2009, quasar spectroscopy etc.. The second and third day were composed of eight parallel and poster sessions. It was actually difficult to decide which session to attend since all the topics were interesting. I needed to plan which talks I will be attending. On the final day, all the participants went to a tour of the Shilin (
During the meeting, I was able to get in touch with other Southeast Asian Astronomy Network (SEAAN) members like Dr. Hakim Malasan of
Being relatively new, SEAAN is still building linkages and experiencing birthing pains. However, the good thing about SEAAN is that all member nations have more or less similar backgrounds, particularly the lack of a developed astronomy program in their respective countries. However, countries like
More details can be seen in the SEAAN website, http://www.narit.or.th/seaan/index.htm
Overall, the trip to
Would I want to go back to