exploratorium eclipse dispatches
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click for live webcast June 21 2001  

Jeki airstrip landing

We wait in the bright sun on the runway for the planes to refuel, then we buzz down the tarmac and up into the air. As we rise, the plane casts a shadow on the brown terrain below-- as we rise the shadow gets smaller and smaller and eventually disappears entirely, though the sun still shines brightly. We wonder how is this possible, and Paul explains: the sun is much bigger than the plane, so the sunlight streams around the plane and eventually, as we rise further from the ground, the rays of light meet and fill in the shadow.

arrival at Jeki airstrip

The pilots sweep once low over the airstrip, to scare off any wildlife. Then we bank around again and land, bumping hard over the rough dirt of the runway. One by one, the planes slew to a stop, just short of where the airstrip disappears into a marshy ditch. We clamber out and immediately we notice that the air smells different here, fragrant with flowers and animal smells. The sun is setting, and everything around us is touched with gold and red. We carefully unload our gear-- two of our crew travel by Landrover through the hyena-haunted darkness with the cameras, switchers, and video monitors, while the rest of us load the delicate telescopes into an 18-foot aluminum boat, and skim over the Zambezi westwards into the embers of the sunset. The surprising cold air of the Zambian winter chills us as our pilot hurries to get to camp before dark. From a long way off, we see a campfire burning on the shore--- we head towards the light, towards bed.

We've been waiting for this day, the day we fly into the Lower Zambezi National Park to the site of our eclipse broadcast at Sausage Tree Camp. At the Livingstone Airport, we load ourselves and 1,000 pounds of video gear into three small bush planes---we're landing at a short makeshift airstrip, so we've had to strip our personal gear down to a minimum, to make sure we can get the planes off the ground again!
fragile cargo

An eclipse is a similar shadow-- the sun is much bigger than the moon, so sunlight shines past the moon making a smaller and smaller shadow on the earth; during the eclipse the shadow of the moon in Zambia is only 100 miles wide. During some eclipses the moon is so far away that there is no total eclipse shadow on the earth at all-- the shadow ends out in space somewhere before touching the earth.

As we travel east, we see Lake Kariba off to our right, the enormous lake created by the damming of the Zambezi River. The pilot brings us down from 8,000 feet to below 2,000, so we can see the sweep of the wide river below the dam, and the rise of the huge escarpments on either side. The land below us is now the national park; even from up here we can see herds of impala moving through the grasslands next to the river and big crocodiles lounging on the sandbars. The pitch and yaw of the small planes makes us all a bit airsick, but it's impossible not to be excited. Ahead, we see Jeki airstrip, a clear brown line cut amidst the endless bush terrain.

lower Zambezi National Park

Lower Zambezi National Park


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