Total Solar Eclipse of 2016 March 9
on Halmahera Timur in Indonesia
The point of greatest eclipse (totality phase during 4 min 9 sec) was located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean east of Indonesia where about 10 million people lived inside the totality path. To observe the 2016 March 8-9 total solar eclipse, I proposed tours only in eastern Indonesia, in the Northern Maluku, where the ground weather prospects were the best and the duration the longest. However the local infrastructure was fairly limited. The Woleai atoll, belonging to Micronesia, was offering the longest land-based duration very close to its maximum but its airstrip was out of order so the logistics would have been far too complex even though going there on a boat was a possibility. There were numerous viewing locations along the path, however paying close attention to the weather patterns and local terrain topography was mandatory unless you were on a cruise ship in the Pacific Ocean where the sky was usually clearer. Moreover the 2015-2016 El Niño episode did somewhat improve the weather prospects in Indonesia. Thanks to the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy and the various local authorities (the Halmahera Timur regent and the Buli mayor) for their help. My thanks go also to the Kartika Buli Resort and its owner, as well as to all those who contributed to the success of this expedition. All my gratitude also to the ANTAM mining company for their hospitality and all the logistical assistance provided, including the use of their speedboats to transport scientific equipment and participants on Pulau Plun. Their professionalism enabled a successful expedition.
Halmahera, the sprawling and largest island of the North Maluku archipelago, had the longest totality duration in Indonesia with 3 minutes and 17 seconds and potentially the best weather prospects for any land-based location. Moreover the island could provide access to the centerline and both the northern and southern limits of the totality path for the most demanding observers. However travel times could be very long by our Western standards, the road network being underdevelopped and the topography of the terrain difficult. Very few hotels were also inside the path or at close proximity. Nevertheless Halmahara had a lot more to offer from scuba diving to bird watching.
To meet the requirements of the international scientific expedition (16 people: American, German, Czech, French), three viewing locations each distant by more than 30 kilometers (19 miles) have been established at close proximity to the centerline. Moreover some equipment, automatic photometers, have also been installed at the northern edge of the path (Gosowong gold mine), installation on the southern limit being finally abandoned. Photometers were also installed in Ternate, Makian, Buli, Maba and to the south. Another international scientific team (10 people: French, Angolan, Russian) stayed in Ternate. Nathalia, who was staying on Pulau Plun, maintained a blog covering some of the highlights of the scientific expedition.
The organization of this expedition and the coordination of all the partners and participants generated a lot of work, nevertheless it was well worth it although it was at the expense of my eclipse experience.
I also want to thank Wallacea Dive Cruise and their two dive boats that joined us on Pulau Plun on March 8 and 9. Do not hesitate to book a cruise with them, you’ll be in good hands.
Eclipse viewing locations on Halmahera Timur
To transport over one ton of equipment, from the USA and Europe to the North Molucca, the logistics was quite complex. Moreover some essential accessories had to be bought in Ternate (multiple preparatory trips were necessary) on arrival before moving to Halmahera Timur.
Sorting out a serious mess with the baggage
Unfortunately not this time!
Onboard flight GA89 AMS-CGK
Meal onboard: entrée
Meal onboard: main course
Inflight eclipse map geolocation
Arrival over Indonesia
Our security is tight in Jakarta
No problem to clear customs with all the luggage, the ATA Carnet and credentials worked superbly. The rest of the equipment in 100-kilogram aluminum boxes had already been sent as cargo and will be picked up later in Ternate where it had already cleared customs.
Loading 600 kg of bags
Meal onboard flight GA648 to Ternate
Arrival over Tidore and Ternate
Ternate and Gamalama volcano fumarolic gas
After buying in Ternate some supplies (100 meters of electric cables, plugs, electric dominos, car batteries, etc) plus two 80-kilogram AC units needed to cool the observation tents, we left Ternate in early afternoon on our way to Sofifi and Halmahera Timur later in the evening. The loading/unloading of the heavy and voluminous containers of equipment and the numerous luggage took time but was smoothly executed. Then in Sofifi all the equipment, over one ton, was loaded into the cargo bed of a truck that hit the road to Buli and Maba.
Transfer of the equipment on speedboats in Kota Baru and Sofifi
Speedboat to Sofifi, Halmahera
Sofifi harbor for speedboats
Some heavy and voluminous boxes inside the cargo bed of the truck
Truck with over one ton of equipment in front of the Kartika Buli Resort
With the usual typos ;-) which make this region charming
Upon our arrival in Buli a welcome reception was organized in our honor at our hotel’s restaurant. The next morning at 8am, first meeting with the mining company ANTAM to finalize the logistics for our equipment sea transfer to Pulau Plun, our main observation site. In order to facilitate the transfers a jetty was built on Pulau Plun. I then had a meeting with the Regent of Halmahera Timur, preceded by a meeting with the head of administration officer to frame some key points. The fact is one of our observation sites was on one of the terraces of the government buildings.
On March 5th and 6th we also did some eclipse outreach to students in two schools in Maba and one in Buli.
Welcome reception at the restaurant of the Kartika Buli Resort: we all look very tired and we are after more than two days traveling
Welcome reception at the restaurant of the Kartika Buli Resort
Headquarters of the local government in Maba
Entrance of the local government in Maba
Official meeting with Rudy Erawan, the regent of Halmahera Timur
Daily Malut Post newspaper of Friday 2016 March 4: article on my meeting with Rudy Erawan, the Halmahera Timur regent
The next day we had another article about our observation site located on one of the terraces of the local government buildings.
Daily Malut Post newspaper of Saturday 2016 March 5: article on our instruments installed at the Maba viewing site
(and also in the Jawa Pos on March 7th; many articles that were written mentioned us)
Doing some outreach for the local population was part of the job as the eclipse date was approaching to make certain they would enjoy it safely. This is why we made presentations at two schools in Maba and one in Buli (multiple schools gathered to increase the number of students and minimize the time spent). The warm welcome of the local population is to be praised, everyone being happy to meet us.
Outreach at a secondary school in Maba
Outreach at an elementary school in Maba
Outreach at a secondary school in Buli
Practice session at a secondary school in Buli
In partnership with the owner of Kartika Buli Resort we distributed to the local population 10,000 pairs of eclipse shades that I had customized with my friend Mark Margolis, owner of Rainbow Symphony.
Customized eclipse glasses for the Kartika Buli Resort
Eclipse glasses worn by the local kids the morning of the eclipse
Between our various observations sites, each separated by about 30 kilometers (about 20 miles), daily transfers have been put in place for the participants but also the food and the biodiesel (called "solar" locally) for the main generator. Meals on Pulau Plun consisted of freshly caught fish. The journey time between Buli and Pulau Plun was an hour with the ANTAM speedboat, and about an hour also from Buli to Maba by road.
Because of the heat and humidity the tents containing our instruments were air-conditionned using window style AC units (so that the tents do not collapse) at our three main observation sites.
Late afternoon sea transfer from Pulau Plun
On the way to Pulau Plun (25 seconds)
Sea transfer at night from Pulau Plun
Loading the truck with equipment in Buli
Some containers and equipment on the ANTAM jetty in Buli
Men’s work in Buli ;-)
More men’s work at Pulau Plun ;-)
Peter Aniol’s mounts and telescopes starting to be installed on Pulau Plun
Mounts and telescopes of Peter Aniol in discussion with Adalbert Ding
UH Institute for Astronomy observation tent on Pulau Plun
Inside the UH Institute for Astronomy observation tent on Pulau Plun
Leaving Buli on the way to Pulau Plun
Pulau Plun is in sight
Transparent waters around Pulau Plun
Fisherman on Pulau Plun
Approaching the new jetty being built for us on Pulau Plun (58 seconds)
Bird of prey on Pulau Plun
New jetty on Pulau Plun
Livable area on Pulau Plun
Getting ready to leave Pulau Plun
Panorama from the beach of our viewing site on Pulau Plun, Halmahera Timur
Starry sky and Milky Way from Pulau Plun, Halmahera Timur, on 2016 March 5 (picture from Peter Aniol who was part of our expedition)
Two days before the weather forecast was still great, before the wind regime changed bringing in more humidity and clouds at the worst possible time, that is the morning of the solar eclipse.
Prior to March 8th only the team of international scientists was staying on Pulau Plun, a week was required to install the observation equipment. On March 8th afternoon, about thirty additional participants were transferred to Pulau Plun to spend the night before the eclipse.
Boarding the speedboat to Pulau Plun filmed by a drone (upper left corner)
And later in the evening of March 8th the yacht of a friend coming to view the eclipse.
In Pulau Wayag, Raja Ampat during the afternoon of March 8th before its arrival at Pulau Plun.
On March 10th the daily Malut Post newspaper reported that a polish tourist, Monika Szewczyk, who photographed a seaplane landing near Moti island just before the beginning of totality and taking off shortly after third contact wanted to know from where the plane was originating. Well, Monika, the answer is Pulau Plun (Halmahera Timur), as you can see on the left picture the seaplane was traveling with the yacht in Pulau Plun, the right side picture being the landing near Moti island.
On March 9th at 4am the sky was perfect, the Milky Way was in full view. By 5:30am, clouds started to cover the sky once again. Unfortunately during totality the sky on Pulau Plun wasn’t completely clear as it had been for the past few mornings (a change in the wind regime brought more humidity from a system located to the southeast in Papua); there was a thin layer of clouds masking the outer corona. Even worse the sky got much clearer less than five minutes after! Sadly the March 9th morning was the cloudiest one over 10 days…
Totality from Plun island (picture from Tunç Tezel who joined our expedition)
Although the sky conditions on Pulau Plun weren’t really great during totality as visible on Martin Dietzel’s time-lapse, a few very nice pictures have still been taken but the expected scientific results from this location will be sparse.
Time-lapse from Pulau Plun by Martin Dietzel (37 seconds - totality at the 17 seconds mark)
The sky above Pulau Plun being fairly covered at 6am, we evaluated our available options based on the latest satellite imagery. Among the options we had at our disposal, there were the use of the seaplane or the private jet to view it airborne. Nevertheless in the end two options were retained: the seaplane to fly near the island of Moti where the latest satellite imagery showed a large area of clear sky, or else use one of the yacht tenders to reach another major gap in the clouds that was coming a bit to slowly to our area, i.e. in the Buli Bay (Halmahera Sea). Moving the yacht to the east was another option. After reflection I decided to initiate a chase with this moving hole in the clouds, left my tracking mount and tripod on Pulau Plun, and we finally ended up on another small island, Pulau Mia, where the sky cleared up only a couple of minutes after totality! Unfortunately no way to get any extended solar corona, nevertheless the huge and magnificent prominence at 9 o'clock was clearly visible, and all my pictures had to be taken without any tripod or tracking mount and also without Solar Eclipse Maestro to control the digital camera.
Quick summary of the eclipse morning chase from the private yacht anchored next to Pulau Plun
Nautical chart of the Buli Bay where one can see Pulau Plun (Plum) and Pulau Mia
Partial solar eclipse from the yacht at Pulau Plun and later from Pulau Mia in the Buli Bay
Although the thin layer of clouds didn’t help much for the Baily’s beads, you can see how well the actual pictures match the simulation. Unfortunately all the pictures have been taken freehand, i.e. without any tripod or tracking mount.
Solar eclipse and actual Baily’s beads around second contact with their simulations from Pulau Mia in the Buli Bay
Again all the pictures have been taken freehand, i.e. without any tripod or tracking mount…
Totality with the inner corona and third contact from Pulau Mia in the Buli Bay
Map of the eclipse viewing locations and the sea ride back from Pulau Mia to the yacht anchored at Pulau Plun
Of course a few minutes after totality the sky got perfectly clear, just like the satellite imagery could let us imagine one hour before… And the video, below, of Paulo Pinto clearly shows this pattern. C’est la vie!
Chilling out one hour after third contact and before lunch
Daily Malut Post newspaper of Thursday 2016 March 10: Rudy Erawan, the Halmahera Timur regent, viewing the eclipse from Maba
The various automated photometers pre-installed at numerous locations on the islands of Ternate, Makian and Halmahera (Gosowong mine and Kao near the northern limit, Buli, Plun island, south of Maba) were used to collect raw data that must now be processed, studied and interpreted carefully to make a measurement of the solar diameter.
Extract of the data from the automated PHOCEA4 photometer located on Pulau Plun (Philippe Lamy and Jean-Yves Prado)
The eclipse is finished and it’s now time to pack up before going back to Ternate before completing our expedition in Indonesia.
Salmon-crested cockatoo near Subaim, Halmahera Timur (28 seconds)
Panorama of Ternate and Tidore from Sofifi, Halmahera
Unloading the equipment containers from the truck in Sofifi
Equipment on speedboats going back to Kota Baru, Ternate
Equipment containers ready to be shipped back as freight
Last evening at the Muara Hotel in Ternate
Tidore on the left, Ternate on the right
Ternate and its Gamalama volcano, with a lenticular cloud on the summit
Ternate, Tidore, Mare, Moti and Makian
GA649 Flight Ternate-Jakarta (TTE-CGK)
After returning to Jakarta, the group participants separated and each of us went back to our usual place of residence already speaking about our next adventures…