A Ring of Fire Over Oman

Don’t listen to anything I say.
I must enter the center of fire.
Fire is my child, but I must be consumed
and become fire.
⏤ Rumi

The Ring of Fire over the Arabian Sea

Photo by Matthias Schmitt
Photo by Matthias Schmitt

The annular solar eclipse of 2019 concluded the year of eclipses with a heart-pumping timed climax as if the universe wanted to send a message to eclipse chasers about who really is in charge in our solar system.

The path of annularity would move across the Arabian Peninsula, beginning slightly before sunrise. Then cross the Arabian Seas to pass through Southern India. Further moving swiftly through the Bay of Bengal and across Indonesia, pass through the Philippines and exit somewhere over the Philippine Sea. There will be another annular solar eclipse in Oman on June 21st, 2020.

Map of Path of Annularity Through Oman

Credit: http://xjubier.free.fr

 The observing site was 20°58’22” N 58°47’45”E, almost squarely on the center-line of annularity with a maximum eclipse time of just over 3 minutes. The eclipse camp, organized by the Oman Ministry of Tourism and the Oman Astronomical Society, was well set up with private tents for a premium price (I was camped just outside the perimeter) and a big community tent for dinner and prayers. At 6 pm on December 25th, there was a short presentation by the Oman Astronomical Society, and famous astrophotographer Babak Tafreshi gave a little talk: “You should have at least a 100mm lens to photograph the eclipse.” That’s when I experienced a little uneasiness as I had a 24-70mm lens, but my objective was to document the eclipse sequence, and hence I needed a short lens. Since I forgot to take off my solar filter during totality in July 2019, I figured why not practice an eclipse sequence where I don’t have to worry about that.

 I woke up to early in the morning of December 26th, right at sunrise, to this view:

Photo by Matthias Schmitt
Photo by Matthias Schmitt

If you have ever traveled to witness or photograph an eclipse or tried to photograph the night sky during a New Moon or have been at an AAA observing session at North-South Lake, this is your worst nightmare: clouds! And I am not talking about a patchy sky, I am talking about those low hanging, fluffy, field-of-view covering thick blanket clouds.

There I was, stuck, with the maximum eclipse about an hour away. My guide was perplexed as well. A few clouds at the coast for sure but not this! It was bewitched. We calculated the time to drive inland but there was just desert driving West through the dunes with the 4×4, which meant going slow, and we might not have moved far enough to get away from the clouds. Why did I not check the weather forecast? Somewhere on the ride through the desert and my being hypnotized by the immense beauty of Oman, all executive function went on vacation. We decided to stay put. Never switch lanes in the grocery or in traffic on the interstate. You won’t move ahead. I accepted the circumstances and was happy to experience whatever would come.

Half an hour to go to maximum eclipse

Photo by Matthias Schmitt
Photo by Matthias Schmitt

​Well, things didn’t necessarily get better but what beautiful scenery unfolded with the Sun hiding behind the clouds and the crepuscular rays lighting the Arabian Sea. This was sheer beauty. Nevertheless, we needed clouds to move and when most people seem to ask fate for a favor, what do they do? They pray. I asked my guide Abdullah, a devout Ibadi Muslim to perform a prayer to Allah. Thank him for the hospitality and kindness of the Omani people, for creating the desert, the seas, the heavens, and then ask him to just push the clouds away for a few minutes during maximum eclipse.

The clouds kept moving in and out of the path of the Sun and we were able to use our eclipse glasses to glimpse at moments of clarity of the eclipsed Sun. Abdullah had never in his life seen an eclipse and he was captivated! It is an exciting and soul-touching experience to see this celestial dance of Sun and Moon, like dervishes swirling to a millennia old tune.

Some moments I was able to take a snapshot with the eclipsing Sun but forget about documenting the sequence. And then, as if some witchcraft was performed, at the time of maximum eclipse the clouds moved for moments lasting tens of seconds.

Ring of Fire with Solar Filter

Photo by Matthias Schmitt
Photo by Matthias Schmitt

Cropped. Solar Filter | 70mm | ISO 1000| 1/160th sec.

We saw the perfectly concentric Ring of Fire. A truly spectacular moment! The clouds kept moving and I kept taking pictures with my solar filter off (Just practicing for the next total eclipse 😆). A few days later when I was sieving through my pictures, I found this shot:

Ring of Fire Behind Clouds

Photo by Matthias Schmitt
Photo by Matthias Schmitt

Cropped from the very first picture up top. 70mm | ISO 100| 1/200th.

 The clouds acted like a solar filter. They were just the right density for the Ring of Fire to appear. It couldn’t have been a more perfect setup by nature.

 Sequence of Eclipse — Ring of Fire to Finish

Photo by Matthias Schmitt
Photo by Matthias Schmitt

​​What if everything in life were perfect? What if we wouldn’t have encountered three stranded cars in the desert and helped them and made new Omani friends at the camp? What if there wouldn’t have been any clouds on eclipse day and I would have shot a perfect eclipse sequence, finally, and maybe made the APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day) and garnered accolades of our astrophotography group? What if the Universe would have been perfect and there wouldn’t have been any quantum fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background radiation that created all matter? If everything would have been perfect, then my friends, I and you and we and the AAA club and this Earth would not exist. No one would be there to witness anything.

Thanks for reading. May you live with ease in this imperfect cosmos.

Epilogue:

Night sky during my stay at Wahiba Bedu Camp in the Desert

Photo by Matthias Schmitt
Photo by Matthias Schmitt

 

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