26 AND COUNTING / The Liebenberg Chronicles / Eclipse 4
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 literally travelled 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.
Liebenberg’s fourth eclipse, chronicled below, was July 20, 1963 in the Northwest Territories of Canada. His last one was March 9, 2016 aboard the cruise ship MS Vollendam off the coast of Indonesia.
All told, Liebenberg has spent almost three hours in totality, which surpasses anyone else in the world.
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.
Today is the fourth chronicle of all 26 of Liebenberg’s eclipse adventures on our Eclipse Over Clemson blog.
Please sit back and continue to enjoy this amazing adventure.
NORTH TO CANADA
Eclipse No. 4: July 20, 1963 Totality: 1 minutes, 38 seconds
Where: Northwest Territories / Canada Weather conditions: high cirrus clouds
After graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, I was offered a staff position at the Los Alamos (New Mexico) Scientific Laboratory. In May 1961, I joined the CMF-9 low-temperature physics group as part of a team to support the liquid hydrogen cryogenics engineering for Project Rover, which was an American project to develop a nuclear thermal rocket
I was aware of a total solar eclipse that would cross northern Canada on July 20, 1963, and began to think about attending. Dr. Ken Williamson, also in CMF-9, was interested, and so I discussed with our group leader, Dr. Ed Hammel, the possibility of getting a sun-tracking mirror and instrumentation to observe this eclipse.
The laboratory paid for the equipment, but Williamson and I had to pay our own expenses and take vacation time to make the trip to the Northwest Territories in Canada. I had bought a hard- shell camping trailer and stabilizing hitch for our 1960 Rambler station wagon, and Ken had a van that he outfitted so that his wife and two children would have a place to sleep. We loaded our equipment – which included the pressure scanned FPI, a photoelectric cell, amplifier, chart recorder and generator – into a storage area in my camper. My wife Norma and our 15-month-old son Karl joined us on our journey. We would sleep in our camper.
The trip to the Northwest Territories was more than 1,900 miles, including about 400 miles on a gravel road that led to Fort Providence, which was within the eclipse path of totality. On the “Going-to-the-Sun Road” in Montana’s Glacier National Park, my Rambler, with the trailer in tow, nearly met its match. Traffic was moving slowly – and with the steep grade, I had to slip the clutch just to get the car moving after a stop.
After enjoying some sightseeing along the way, we finally arrived in Fort Providence and asked local officials where we could park our vehicles and trailer. We were directed to the home of Sigfried Philipp, an escapee from East Germany, and his wife Memoree. “Sig” was an employee of the Canadian government and flew a plane into remote areas for rescues and other services. “Sig” and his family welcomed us, and even provided a hookup for water and electricity. We set up the equipment in a sandy area where we were told there would be fewer mosquitoes.
Eclipse day finally arrived, and in the late morning we were ready to make measurements. A group from Lethbridge, Canada, had come to study the swarming of mosquitoes during the onset of totality, but otherwise just local folks were around to view this eclipse. High clouds interfered with our measurements, so we did not record usable data. The chart recorder indicated some very weak fringes had been detected, but that’s about all that we were able to get.
After having clear skies for my first eclipse, this was the third straight time that cloud cover had interfered with my research. Hopefully, my luck was about to change.
Up next: Eclipse 5, May 29