On August 11, a group of 15 northern Illinois residents traveled to Osmancik, Turkey to view the last total solar eclipse of the 20th century. The trip was organized and lead by Steven Johnson, coordinator of NIU's College of Liberal Arts and Science's External Programming office, as part of the "Travel with a Professor" series. This trip's professor was David Hedin of the Department of Physics. "My role was to explain why eclipses occur, and to point out some of the details which happen during a total eclipse", said Hedin.
At 6:30 on the morning of the eclipse, the group left Ankara for a five hour bus ride through the rugged terrain of central Anatolia. The day was partially cloudy. This caused nervousness among the group, as no one wanted clouds to block the view. Especially nervous were NIU student David Farber and his father Howard who had had this occur during the 1998 Hawaii eclipse, and Clint Anderson of Housing Services and Charles Schuman of Academic Computing when they were in Antigua for the same 1998 eclipse. The group arrived at Osmancik mid-day, where a large field surrounded by hills was filled with American and Japanese eclipse-chasers, along with many Turkish residents.
An NIU telescope was used during the hour and half preceeding totality to project the Sun's image on a screen. Jennie Hedin, a Huntley Middle School student and the youngest member of the group, had to continuously adjust the telescope as the Sun's position in the sky changed due to the Earth's rotation. The telescope drew many of the mostly Turkish crowd of over 10,000 to the NIU group. In addition to wanting to know how the telescope worked and taking photographs, they asked where NIU was located. This mostly lead to "Ah Chicago, Michael Jordan...." but many of the Turkish university students were familiar with Fermilab. Group member Illinois State Treasurer Judy Barr Topinka did the honors when the mayor of Osmancik welcomed the group.
During totality, the moon covers the part of the Sun's surface which radiates most of its light. That allows the corona, the very hot (over 1,000,000 degrees C) but very tenuous atmosphere of the Sun, to be seen. The intensity of the corona can vary, as can the number of solar prominences, which are large streams of gas expelled from the Sun's surface. The 1999 eclipse saw large corona intensities, and many prominences. The most experienced group member was Joni Strand, a Chicago resident and self-proclaimed eclipse fanatic. "This was my fourth eclipse and it was the best yet", said Joni who was accompanied by Jean Hillenbrand who had caught the eclipse "bug" from Joni.
Other reactions of the group ranged from "totally awesome" to "This was an intellectual Woodstock". Other group members included Jeanette Biava from the College of Business, Dan Grubb from the Department of Mathematics, Judy Burgess from International Programs, former director of University Libraries Peggy Sullivan, and John Crim a retired Chicago banker. "One of the most beautiful phenomena I have ever seen ", said Grubb, echoing the feelings of all those witnessing their first eclipse.
Unfortunately two other members of the group, Mary Gendusa-Hedin and her daughter Alexandra Koch, had to remain in Ankara as Alex battled a rising temperature. But though they observed a partial eclipse with the moon covering 97% of the Sun, they missed out on the spectacular effects which can only be seen during a total eclipse. But they caught the eclipse "bug" and vowed to see one of the first eclipses of the 21st Century. Will it be Madagascar in 2001, or back to Turkey in 2006? Or will they have to wait until 2017 when the path of a total eclipse finally passes through the United States?
In addition to the eclipse, the group also visited ruins in Troy, Ephesus, and Pergamon, Byzantine and Ottoman sites in Istanbul, and boat rides across both the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. The combination of witnessing one of Nature's marvels and visiting a land filled with so much history made for a unique experience. The group was also impressed by the kindness and friendliness of the Turkish people. Tragically, a major earthquake struck Turkey just days after the NIU group returned home.