CLEMSON, South Carolina – Clemson University scientist Donald Liebenberg has personally witnessed and researched 26 total solar eclipses over the past 60-plus years.

Liebenberg, who has been an adjunct professor in the College of Science’s department of physics and astronomy since 1996, has travelled literally all over the world to enter the path of totality of solar eclipses. He has studied them from the ground, on ships in the middle of oceans, and in airplanes. He even watched one eclipse from the cabin of a Concorde supersonic airliner, where he was able to remain within the window of totality for an astounding 74 minutes.

An eclipse on March 4, 2006, that crossed Africa and the Middle East was Liebenberg’s 19th eclipse. An eclipse on Aug. 1, 2008, near Yiwa, China, was Liebenberg’s 20th.

All told, Liebenberg has spent more than two and a half hours in totality, which surpasses anyone else on Earth.

The upcoming Aug. 21, 2017, event over Clemson will mark Liebenberg’s 27th eclipse. He has also witnessed several other eclipses that were nearly – but not quite – in the path of totality.

Please sit back and continue to enjoy these amazing adventures.

This map shows all 26 total solar eclipses that Donald Liebenberg has witnessed in person.

This map shows all 26 total solar eclipses that Donald Liebenberg has witnessed in person. Image courtesy of eclipse-chasers.com

DELIGHTS IN THE DESERT

Eclipse No. 19: March 4, 2006        Totality: 4 minutes, 6 seconds

Where: Libya        Weather conditions: clear skies

By Donald Liebenberg

Dr. Donald Liebenberg

Dr. Donald Liebenberg

The March 4, 2006 total solar eclipse that crossed Africa and the Middle East had 4 minutes and 6 seconds of totality at the desert camp in Libya where our tour was located. Before traveling to the desert camp, we had a day or two in Tripoli with a side trip to Ghadamis, an ancient city built with underground connecting tunnels to businesses and large homes. Occasional openings let light in and hot air out, so the climate was very pleasant.

We stayed at a newer hotel outside of Ghadamis. Along the road to Ghadamis, several castles had been built circa 12th century to provide shelter and safety for pilgrims on their way to Mecca. The “Great Leader,” Col. Muammar Gaddafi, was tapping the large underground water supply in the south of Libya and bringing it north to establish agriculture in recognition that the nation’s oil supply would not last forever. Along the road to Nalut, we stopped to see Berber houses built some 25-30 feet below the surface, with several families sharing an open courtyard that we entered by a ramp and tunnel.

Donald Liebenberg visited the Marcus Aurelius arch in Tripoli. Courtesy of Donald Liebenberg

Donald Liebenberg visited the Marcus Aurelius arch in Tripoli. Courtesy of Donald Liebenberg

Our tour to Sabratah, a Phoenician, Greek and later Roman city on the coast, had been abandoned by the Romans due to sand dunes that finally covered the city. During the Italian occupation of Libya, a railroad was built to remove the sand. So, the tile work, columns and pier had been unearthed in stunning fashion.

We also visited Leptis Magnus, a Roman city that had well-preserved houses. This city was also on the coast and had a Roman circus, mostly destroyed, that held about 250,000 people. An amphitheater that had held 50,000 and a coliseum that had held 16,000 were indications of the importance of this city. We had dinner in Tripoli near the Marcus Aurelius arch.

A chartered flight from Tripoli to a private airport, Junlau, took about 1½ hours and was followed by a bus trip to the desert camp. This camp had been constructed for the eclipse by the Libyan government, and it housed about 1,000 people. Small groups of two to three people were provided a tent, sleeping pads and chairs. There were two mess tents, each about 50 yards long and 20 yards wide, connected to each side of a large kitchen tent. A first-aid station with a nurse and physician, WIFI connection and a small tourist shop were also provided.

Donald Liebenberg stayed in a tent city in Libya that had two mess halls that served 500 people each. Courtesy of Donald Liebenberg

Donald Liebenberg stayed in a tent city in Libya that had two mess halls that served 500 people each. Courtesy of Donald Liebenberg

My wife Norma and I had a tent, two sleeping pads and two chairs. The dry desert heat was tolerable and the mess tents had some air conditioning.

The evening before the eclipse, one of Gaddafi’s sons came to the site and a large fireworks display lit up the night. I was concerned that fireworks might be set off again during totality and that the street lights that wound between the tents might be turned on as well. I expressed these concerns to our tour leader. As it turned out, there were no fireworks and the street lights were turned off by cutting the wires. After the eclipse, we saw workers splicing the wires back together.

I set up my equipment beside our tent to reduce the wind and obtained excellent data of the green emission line intensity during the eclipse. The analysis of the data did not reveal any periodicities that had become my main interest.

Following the eclipse, we were offered an add-on to spend a week touring in four-wheel drive vehicles around various ancient sites in the desert. I signed up and Norma elected to return home. We had three people and a driver in each vehicle, with baggage and an additional vehicle to transport food and cooks. We saw drawings in the desert of alligators and elephants, indicating that in earlier times this region had been quite wet. We ate well, and one evening the cooks placed the coals from the fire into a pit, covered them with sand and poured on a pancake-like liquid. The resulting bread was surprisingly sand-free and very tasty. Dates were served for desert.

Though the blowing sand did not get into the bread, it did get into most everything else. I even found sand in my wallet that I had kept in a pants pocket.

CHINA, UNVEILED

Eclipse No. 20: Aug. 1, 2008      Totality: 1 minute, 56 seconds

Where: near Yiwa, China      Weather conditions: clear for eclipse, clouds around

We joined a tour to the Aug. 1, 2008 total solar eclipse in western China. It began in Beijing after a long flight. We transferred to the next flight onward to Xian, where we enjoyed a rest and some sight-seeing. Since our previous visit to see the Terracotta Soldiers discovered near Xian, the area had been renovated, and a building – with elevated walkways for viewing – now covered the Terracotta Army. New museums had also been constructed, and we enjoyed seeing the additional care that had been taken of this most interesting site.

Donald Liebenberg watched the China eclipse from this site. Courtesy of Donald Liebenberg

Donald Liebenberg watched the China eclipse from this site. Courtesy of Donald Liebenberg

After some free time, we walked on the city wall of Xian, the only remaining full city wall in China. A briefing on Chinese early eclipse records was interesting – the first record of a solar eclipse was 2136 BC.

We boarded the “Chinese Oriental Express” for Hami. This was a train specially arranged by our tour group that had previously only been used by high-ranking diplomats and their visitors. It had polished wood and brass cabins with a pull-down seat just outside each door where an attendant could be stationed. A washroom was shared by two cabins and two well-appointed dining cars provided good meals. The scenery was fascinating. There were small villages and farms tucked into valleys between steep hills that we passed through via tunnels, which were very impressive considering many were made before large equipment had been invented.

The next morning, we arrived in Jiayuguan at 6:40 a.m. and got off the train with an overnight bag. We had breakfast at the ChangCheng Hotel and then checked in for the night. Our sight-seeing tour departed for the Jiayuguan Gate that is the largest and most western gate of the Great Wall. Protective walls up to 30 feet thick enclosed several levels of parade grounds and living quarters for the soldiers. Actors wore costumes of the early times, with bows and arrows. We watched a parade of costumed soldiers and visited some interior rooms. We then returned to the hotel, and I spent the afternoon putting the Fabry-Perot interferometer together and tuning it with a green laser I had brought.

Donald Liebenberg visited the most western portion of the Great Wall. Courtesy of Donald Liebenberg

Donald Liebenberg visited the most western portion of the Great Wall. Courtesy of Donald Liebenberg

The following day, we had breakfast at 5:30 a.m. and then returned to the train. We passed a section of the Great Wall that had been restored with adobe, just like the original wall. We arrived at the Liuyuan station and boarded buses for a trip to Dunhuang and the ancient Mogao Grotto of 735 carved caves. These caves contained carved images of the Buddha that dated as far back as 366 AD. The largest Buddha was 35 meters tall. Afterward, we boarded buses and headed to the nearby Crescent Lake National Park. Crescent Lake is spring-fed and surrounded by sand dunes. There was plenty of entertainment: concrete slides for inner tubes, camel rides into the desert and rides on an ultra-lite plane.

The next morning, we had a leisurely breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and then got back on the bus for a two-hour ride back to rejoin our train. We arrived at Hami and left the train to transfer to our hotel. I was pleased to find that the interferometer had stayed in tune from the last adjustment. We had a briefing for the next day’s eclipse. Many people in our group were about to witness their first total solar eclipse.

On eclipse day, I packed the equipment to take on the bus to Yiwa. At one point, the bus made a quick stop and my instrument suitcase took a hard knock that put the interferometer well out of tune. Bad luck. Our bus ride was more than five hours to the Chinese-government-prepared eclipse site. We passed through two checkpoints and were cautioned about letting any Mongols get on board.

The eclipse site had a well-built building with restrooms and gift shops. Our personal site was some distance away. I set up my equipment but had to do without the interferometer and use only the narrow-band green emission line transmitting filter for this late-afternoon eclipse. Setup was surprisingly simple. A motorcyclist came by with a case of beer to sell and we bought one large bottle.

During the eclipse, a very nice diamond ring was seen, and a brilliant streamer from a sun without sunspots on the visible face was impressive. Despite clouds that obscured the sun between first and second contact, we had a clear view of totality at our 6,000-foot altitude, with the sun about 20 degrees above the horizon. I disassembled the equipment in the 100-degree weather. The long bus ride back to Hami was wearisome.

The next day, we left for a nine-hour trip to Turpan and stopped briefly at the second lowest spot on Earth at 154 meters below sea level. A statue had been placed at that point. We also visited a set of grapevine-covered walkways. Raisins were served and there was a gift shop – no surprise.

The next morning, we toured an ancient and interesting irrigation system that had been built underground and was connected to a nearby mountain runoff to avoid evaporation on the journey to irrigate the fields in Turpan. We went down to see the water flowing in the tunnel.

Heavenly Lake, the highest lake in China at 6,500 feet.

Heavenly Lake is the highest lake in China at 6,500 feet. Courtesy of Donald Liebenberg

Travel continued to Urumqi, a major city in western China, and we visited a museum that had several naturally mummified people who had died in the hot desert. The five-star Starwood Hotel was very welcome, and the next morning we had a two-hour drive by bus to Heavenly Lake, the highest lake in China at 6,500 feet. To protect the environment, we were transferred to a smaller natural gas engine vehicle. And at the base of the lake, we were encouraged to walk up. Norma had difficulty walking, so an electric golf cart was used to get us to the rim of the lake. From there, we were able to see snowcapped peaks in the distance near the borders with Russia and Kazakhstan. We left the next day on a flight to Beijing, and from there to Atlanta and home.

The green emission line eclipse data I acquired was very good, and I spent a number of hours with the several data reduction programs. The result showed good evidence for a 20- to 25-second period in one region of the corona. Several tests, such as looking at the diametrically opposite side of the corona, showed no periodicity, eliminating a tracking or motion error. This data was later published.

Up next: Part 15, Eclipses 21-23