Like many eclipse chasers, I began planning my trip to view and photograph the annular solar eclipse which would occur on October 14, 2023, one year prior to the event. I had a variety of concerns: the best location for observation, the likelihood of cloud-free weather, local transportation, accommodation costs, equipment requirements, and much more. To start, I searched for locations where the sun would be visible closer to the horizon. (In 2012, I had observed and photographed an annular solar eclipse from New Mexico). I was seeking a different experience and vantage point.
Eventually, my plan landed on the Natal region of Brazil. Based on a suitable amount of cloudiness, the site was considered acceptable by the forecast. My intention was to travel roughly 60 miles south of Natal, Brazil, which would position me closest to the annular eclipse’s center line. I decided not to travel to the edge of the eclipse path as I had reasoned that with the Moon/Sun size ratio around 0.94, it would be quite difficult to capture Baily’s beads. (These beads of light occur because the variation in the height of the moon’s surface allows sunlight to shine through in some places and not others.)
A few weeks prior the eclipse, I learned that the 23rd National (Brazil) Astronomy Meeting (23 Encontro Nacional de Astronomia) and eclipse observation would be held in the town of Araruna, Paraiba, Brazil. My concerns about the weather prospects for that location, which is 1900 ft (580 m) above sea level, was that the prevailing eastern winds from the ocean would force the air upward, increasing clouds in that area and reducing the odds of clear visibility. If there had been no conference, my preference was to have stayed closer to the coastal area (Natal, Rio Grande do Norte) or alternatively, go deeper into the middle of the sertao (semi-arid) part of Brazil.
All things considered, I altered my plans, canceling part of my original trip to observe the annular solar eclipse by the coast, and travel 90 miles inland. As all the hotels and pousadas around Araruna (Paraiba) had already been booked, I found accommodations 25 miles away in the state of Rio Grande do Norte. This required my arranging a daily commute with a private taxi to and from Araruna, using country roads, half of which had no street lights.
After receiving my accreditation for the conference, my immediate worry remained the weather prospects for the day of the eclipse. Most of the weather forecasts showed an increase in clouds of up to 90%. On the morning of the annular eclipse, the sky condition was heavily overcast with light wind. This troubled me because the usual daily conditions had very strong winds every day, which would give more hope for a quick change in cloud cover for viewing. There was still some cloud cover at lunchtime, but patches of blue sky were beginning to show. I skipped lunch to make it to my planned eclipse viewing spot as soon as possible. I also kept an eye on the weather report and changes in cloud cover. Though clouds in the sky remained, I was still optimistic that, compared to morning weather conditions, there might be better weather at 3:30 p.m. local time when the eclipse started.
More people started to show up by the start of the eclipse, including locals and attendees of the conference. More excitement than usual resulted from the expectation of something that many people had never seen before. I kept staring up at the sky while attempting to speak with the locals and astronomers while hoping that the developing crowd of onlookers would not knock over my tripods. As is always expected, some individuals had set up a picnic area with food, drinks, and ice cream right next to my shooting gear.
As usual, a local TV crew showed up just before the eclipse, wanting to do a quick interview with me. However, they deviated a little from this plan when they learned that my Portuguese was limited to 3-5 words, and their English was no better! To conduct my brief interview regarding this, my approaching 14th solar eclipse, the TV crew recruited an interpreter from among the local crowd.
At the onset of the annular eclipse, there were some clouds; some heavy enough to lose sight of the sun via the viewfinder of the camera. However, at the time of the annular phase, the skies had cleared, and the hope of success increased dramatically. The sun was located 6 degrees above the horizon during the annular phase. Because of this low celestial position, the sun had set before the fourth contact making this phase unobservable from my location.
Prior to this trip, my expectations of conditions were for much clearer skies for the eclipse observation; however, considering that the latitude of the locations to choose from were 6 degrees south of the equator, I was pleased with the photographic and resulting overall
As for the Natal area, I am pleased that I decided upon an alternative location. Viewers at the Natal airport got a glimpse of the eclipse and others had a view obstructed by clouds. Overall, the trip to this part of Brazil was successful. I met many people from the Brazilian scientific community and eclipse enthusiasts, and I received very warm hospitality from the local community. I knew that the New Mexico trip would be easier and probably less stressful for this annular eclipse. However, I am pleased to share this amazing experience with my fellow lovers of astronomy. Clear Skies!