Annular Eclipse of the Sun in Avila, Spain

                October 3, 2005  by Chris Malicki

It is my philosophy that one should travel anywhere in the world to experience a total eclipse of the sun; anywhere on the same continent for an annular eclipse; and anywhere within a one-day-drive for a partial event.  However, this theory is not always strictly adhered to - this year's annular eclipse on Oct. 3, 2005 would take place in Europe and Africa.  Who can resist the prospect of beautiful, historical Spain with a high probability of clear skies?  This adventure enticed my wife, Liz, and me.   As a result, on Sept. 29, we flew to Lisbon, Portugal (there are no direct flights to Madrid), rented a car, and drove towards the eclipse path to see our lucky 13th central solar eclipse. Before the heavenly event, we spent a few days touring the mediaeval cities of Caceres and Plasencia.



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On Sunday, October 2, we arrived in the historic city of Avila, northwest of Madrid.  Hotels in Spain are often houses previously owned by the nobility that have been transformed into modern lodgings, and ours was called the Palacio Valderrabanos, an old villa originally built in 1370 and located five steps away from the Cathedral.  Dare we suggest a possible blessing in the future?  So far, the skies were crystal clear without a cloud to be seen.

Avila   Puerta de San Vicente

Avila   northern walls

Avila from Cuatro Postes

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In our previous 9 totals and 3 annulars, we had never been completely clouded out.  Was number 13 going to be a lucky number?  Alas, early morning skies presented with clouds.  The existence of so many churches in Avila reassured us that with much praying something good was bound to happen and with this thought in mind, lo' and behold,  the clouds dissipated rapidly and the entire eclipse had a beautiful clear sky.   Ancient Avila is completely encircled by an impressive mediaeval wall interspaced with numerous towers and arched gates.  We made our way to the Puertra de la Malaventura, a gateway in the southwest part of the city and set up our viewing equipment just outside the imposing fortress wall.

Liz observed with 11 x 80 binoculars and Bader solar filters. I used an ETX filtered scope. These instruments were simple but effective in viewing the moon traveling across the solar disc. During the eclipse, notes were taken concerning environmental and ambience changes as well the dramatic and dynamic view of the solar horns as they raced to close together during annularity.   This phase was observed rather than photographed. As a result, we have images of deep partial phases. Annularity was imprinted only on our minds and not on paper. (Other websites have some great images of the annular phase.) 


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I viewed first contact (where the moon first touches the sun) at 9:40 a.m. local time. At that time, I measured shade temperature at 8 1/2 degrees C. The temperature hovered at this temperature almost unchanged all the way to annularity, being 8 degrees at 10:30, and down to 7 degrees at 11:00 right after annularity. By 11:45, it had risen to 9 1/2 degrees. Liz likes to see when the "eclipse look" first becomes evident - the surroundings, despite full daylight, take on a pale "sickly" yellowy type of glow. She noted the eclipse look at 10:30 a.m. At this time, a nun, on her way from the chapel of St. Teresa, stopped to talk with us and observed the deep partial phase through our binoculars. She had taken an astronomy course in Avila the year before and was quite interested in the event. At the time of maximum eclipse, Liz noted that birds were flying around with great activity looking for their roosting places.  The following day, newspapers stated that there were no birds around at the time of the eclipse in stark contrast to the usual state of events.

I timed annularity at 10:54:58 - when the ring first formed (thank you Jean Meeus for your predictions for Avila).  It was particularly exciting the seconds before annularity to watch the "horns" of the sun rapidly approaching each other with numerous detailed Baily's beads rapidly and dynamically changing in real time before the complete ring formed (2nd contact) and again 4 minutes later when the ring broke (third contact).  As mentioned, we were too excited to observe the asymmetric ring (not being on the centre-line) to photograph it.  Although an annular eclipse is far inferior to a total one because corona is not visible, it is nonetheless a beautiful event to observe.   A high magnification instrument can reveal the actual movement of the moon as it travels across the sun as well as the forming and breaking of those incredible Baily's beads.

Following the eclipse, we had the opportunity to observe how others in Spain had experienced this event.  In the afternoon of the eclipse, Liz's brother, Mike, and his wife joined us.  They had observed the annular eclipse from El Escorial, Madrid.  Mike informed me that many people were observing from there and that one fellow had a Meade telescope.  On that same day, Liz and I visited the Mosen Rubi Mausoleum and convent.  Upon speaking with the Dominican nun, I learned that the older students in the grade school where she teaches were allowed to observe the annular eclipse.  With  5 solar filters and in a disciplined fashion each young person took turns observing the eclipse.  All of them including her saw annularity.  I was very impressed how much more progressive educators are in this country than in my city of Mississauga, Canada.  I remember children being kept indoors behind locked entrances and exits as happened on May 10, 1994, when another annular eclipse could be seen.  See my article at eclipse94a

The following day, I bought many newspapers with extensive eclipse coverage.  I am used to seeing such coverage for total eclipses, not for annulars. It seems that life stopped for a few hours at the time of eclipse as "thousands of persons, some arriving from distant parts of Spain and from foreign countries, went out into the streets of the capital (of Avila) to see the phenomenon".   And "Spain was paralyzed before the visual spectacle of the annul;ar eclipse of the sun."  It was reported that even elephants sensed that something was amiss and neglected to take their morning baths.


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 In the afternoon, Liz and I climbed onto the walls of Avila and met two young men wearing annular eclipse t-shirts  They were Antón Fernández and Francisco A. Rodríguez who took a group picture of us and posted it on their eclipse blog at .

In the following days,  Liz and I visited the lovely cities of Segovia with its famous castle, cathedral and Roman aqueduct, Toledo home of El Greco, Talavera de la Reina, Trujillo the birthplace of Francisco Pizarro, and Merida  which contains the finest Roman ruins in Spain.   

Antón, Francisco and we

Alcazar in Segovia

cathedral of Segovia

aqueduct of Segovia


Roman bridge at Talavera

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                   Pizarro in Trujillo                


temple of Diana in Merida


What more could one wish for- to be able to visit a fabulous country, and to experience a successful annular eclipse!


Chris and Liz Malicki - looking forward to #14 central eclipse in Turkey in March 2006     click for enlargement

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