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semi-circular image of a solar eclipseThis was written after seeing the total solar eclipse in Germany in 1999. I had many parts linked to maps or useful astronomy pages, but most are gone. Props to NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day and the Exploratorium for having links that are still valid almost 12 years later!

I saw the eclipse from outside of Stuttgart with my German and American family. Traffic was backed up on the autobahn about 30k from Stuttgart, which was on the center line of the eclipse, so we just pulled off the road and parked at the top of a little hill in Schwäbisch Hall. We set up our tailgate party about an hour and a half before the total eclipse and watched the partial eclipse while picnicking. The weather was partly cloudy and at times we had 13 people ranging in age from 4 to 74 yelling in English and German at the clouds to disperse or at least for any particularly dense cloud to pass quickly by. Other groups of people soon joined us along the ridgeline, and an older woman biked slowly by calling out (auf Deutsch) “The Savior is coming!” She was headed in the direction of a small church. At noon, half an hour before totality, the church bell rang out an alarm for several minutes, and then the woman biked back the way she came, repeating her tidings. The wind picked up speed and we watched the sun disappear through passing veils of mist. Only in the very last minutes before totality did we notice a dimming of light, because the lighting had been so variable due to the clouds that we couldn’t trust it was the fading sun until it was a quite eerie evening light. A flock of ducks winged in their awkward way by, which might have been just a normal occurrence, but I’d like to imagine that they were confused into heading home for nightfall. At the moment totality was reached, the sky between us and the sun was clear! We all saw the ghostly coronal halo around the sun, and those who were collected enough to make detailed observations (my dear mother among them) saw “red beads” along the rim. I was too excited to even pretend a scientific observation of the details or the timing. A cloud did cover the sun partway through, allowing us only maybe 30 seconds of clear viewing, but no one was disappointed by the show. Venus was also visible but we were too distracted by the Sun to look for any other planets or stars during the eclipse, and besides which, the sky was mostly cloudy. It was pouring rain in Stuttgart during totality, as we saw on TV later, so in fact we were lucky that we couldn’t make it to the central line. As the diamond ring appeared on the opposite side of the sun everyone applauded the sun and moon for their perfectly executed pas de deux.