A Miracle Near Munich
by Ernie Piini, AAAA
San Jose, CA
email: E W PIINI@aol.com
Total Solar Eclipse, near 2nd Contact leaving the clouds, August 11, 1999.
Taken at Altomusnter, Germany, approx. 30 km (18 mi) NW of Munich. Photo taken with a 3-way telescope,
f/7, U2 Filter, on Kodak Royal Gold 400 film. 1-second exposure. Photo by Ernie Piini
Do you believe in miracles? I do. After a cliff-hanger experience in Germany - I now know they can happen.
Early on the morning of August 11th, in Einsbach, Germany, our home away from home for the eclipse, the sun
rose against a beautifully clear blue sky. It was like India in 1995 and Australia in February 1999. Not a cloud
in the entire sky.
After breakfast, I made a call to Beth Yule, the tour agent for Amateur Astronomers Inc. (AAI) from New Jersey,
for instructions as to where to join her group. I've known Beth and members of AAI since the eclipse expedition
to the African Sahara Desert in 1973 and I was pleased that she invited us along, and also had a chance to meet
eclipse chasing friends of old.
We met on a soccer field in the small town of Altomunster, which lies very close to the eclipse centerline,
about 30 km (18 miles) northwest of Munich (Latitude: 48º, 23', 05" N; Longitude: 11º. 14', 50"
E. to be exact). When we arrived, the sky was completely overcast with a threat of rain. My cousin, Mienrado Pifferini,
a huge and strong Swiss and youngest of a family of 16, carried my telescope and mount to the site as if they were
toys. There we set up next to Joe and LaVonne Shrock, good friends of mine from Mt. View, California.
The telescope at this point was only partially assembled, with another half-hour of set-up and alignment to
go. For the first time in 21 eclipses, I was forced to set up while it was raining. About this time, I began to
wonder if this was all worth it and did we have a chance to see the eclipse? Totality was still three hours away.
Final assembly of equipment was done under an umbrella and heavy rain. I waited about an hour before I could
focus my two telescopes and the camcorder. The sun was playing peek-a-boo with the clouds, and such moments made
it possible to focus with the filter off.
Photographing the Eclipse
First contact was reported at around 11:12 a.m. With totality scheduled to occur around 12:36 p.m. the hour-plus
wait was agonizing. We saw small blue sky openings far to the West, and much time was spent studying the distance,
direction of travel, and point of possible interception with the eclipsing sun. A couple of these clearings came
too soon and moved past our site. More rain and even a sound of thunder off in the distance made our chances seem
even more gloomy.
But one clearing had the necessary ingredients - if all conditions held. And they did!
The Solar Corona
August 11, 1999.
Taken at Altomusnter, Germany, approx. 30 km (18 mi) NW of Munich. Photo taken with a 3-way telescope,
f/7, U2 Fileter, using Kodak Royal Gold 400 film, 1 second exposure. Note the symmetry of the corona, typical for
a period of maximum sunspot activity.
At 12:36:31 p.m., second contact occurred with a show of Baily's Beads and a brilliant "Diamond Ring".
I ran off 14 one-second exposures using Kodak Royal-400 print film with my 3-Way Telescope equipped with my special
U2 filter. This filter is designed to eliminate much of the stray corona around the eclipsed sun and enhance the
beautiful coronal streamers. Since this eclipse occurred during a maximum sunspot period, the shape of the corona
was quite symmetrical but spiky.
A Garden of Rosy Prominences encircles the totally eclipsed sun, August 11, 1999.
Taken at Altomusnter, Germany, approx. 30 km (18 mi) NW of Munich. Photo taken with a a C-90 telescope,
f/11, using Kodak Royal Gold 100 film at 1/60 sec.
My C-90 telescope, which rides piggy-back on the 3-way telescope, captured the fast changing display of Baily's
Beads, Diamond Ring, and rosy red prominences, using Kodak Royal-100 print film. I made 27 exposures each at 1/60th
My Canon 2000 camcorder is bracketed to one side of the 3-Way Telescope. I use it to record exact timings of
totality events plus any other event which might require a wide angle view.
Since all my cameras are remotely controlled, running off over 40 exposures is easily done. I had time to allow
several of my cousins to peer into my C-90 Telescope and gaze at the garden of rosy red prominences. I counted
eight artistically spaced magnetic storms around the black disc of the moon. One of the prominences had a section
that was disconnected and in space.
This eclipse was a real beauty. Was it because we prayed so hard for the sky to clear or was it simply an exceptional
sight? The planet Venus was hidden behind some clouds but I finally got to see it moments after third contact.
Third contact was recorded at 12:38:48 p.m., making our total eclipse time 2 minutes and 17 seconds.
Minutes later the sky became totally overcast with threat of more rain.
The temperature dropped 8º, from 69º F around 11:45 a.m. to 61º F shortly after the end of totality.
The humidity varied between 95 and 100 percent, as would be expected in rainy weather.
The wind was mild during the entire event with only a slight breeze during totality.
No shadow bands were seen as the green grass of the soccer field made it difficult to see the minute changes
After Eclipse Celebrations
That evening, the entire AAI group and our contingent from Switzerland, enjoyed a dinner party hosted by Beth
Yule. A one-man orchestra played a variety of German music on his piano and accordion. He even played John Denver's
"Country Road" for our group. This was the song played at Meinrado and Sabrina Pifferini's wedding earlier
this year. Their wedding party parade of two busses included a donkey that was transported by trailer to the church
ceremony. There the animal was side-saddled with traditional wedding candies and was a hit for all who attended.
Visiting the Old Country
Our side trips before and after the eclipse included much of the picturesque country where my parents and elder
brothers and sister came from. The valleys, shouldered by the shear cliffs of the alps and speckled with homes
built totally with rocks, is a sight to behold. We even took a walk up to the home where my family resided and
laughed at the second-story balcony in which my brother Enos, then 5-years old, fell off onto the dirt path below.
My mother used to tell us about the thunder and lightning that occurs in the alps. For about three nights in
a row they happened. I was petrified at how noisy and scary it gets. It rains simultaneously hard and steady and
the clouds diffuse each lightning bolt.
One day we took the train into Milan, Italy and visited the famous Duoma. My folks often talked about their
honeymoon trip there. We climbed onto the roof to get a close-up view of the many figurines and statues that make
up this majestic cathedral.
In Germany we enjoyed the cleanliness of the country, its vineyards, and green fields of corn. We visited the
main square in Munich, weaving through the crowds to see some of the historic structures. I finally got to see
the Glockenspiel mechanized clock tower, but arrived about 20 minutes too late to see the 11 o'clock show. We also
took in just a smidgen of the Deutch Museum. I chose to see the Sun Dial garden on the rooftop and later the popular
Amateur Astronomy section. The place is like the Smithsonian. If you ever go, plan on spending several days to
see it all properly.
Finally, I must say that the eclipse was truly a miracle. I've had the opportunity to see many eclipses in the
past but I prayed that my brother and cousins would get to see this one. They may never go to see another, but
this will surely remain in their memories as long as they live. Viva el eclisse.
The Miracle Eclipse in a Nutshell
by May Coon
Ernie, video, 3 camera--------Invention
Weather at first----------------Attention
I wish to thank Joe Heim and May Coon for their assistance in editing this article.
From the Atlantic Ocean to the Bay of Bengal, millions of people enjoyed
the August 11, 1999, total solar eclipse. Aircraft
and ships ventured out from the East Coast to catch the first moments of the Moon's shadow reaching Earth, as countless
people awaited on the ground throughout Europe, Asia, and India. Millions more watched the event online. Clouds
spoiled some views, but all the SKY & TELESCOPE editors who ventured into the eclipse path were successful.
You can read their reports at SKY & TELESCOPE's Eclipse Expedition Journal at
We're back from another successful eclipse trip! Photos and descriptions have been posted at
The most heavily populated areas of Europe and the Middle East experienced the rare pleasure of a total eclipse
of the sun on Wednesday, August 11, 1999. Mid-eclipse occurred at 11:00 AM UT just west of Bucharest, Rumania. First
contact of the lunar shadow with a populated area was Land’s End in Great Britain, at approximately 10:15. From
there, during the next hour, the shadow passed over some of the major cities of Europe, including Stuttgart, Munich,
Salzburg, and Bucharest, before crossing the Black Sea into eastern Turkey, and on over Iraq and Iran, ending just
west of Pakistan and the Indian Sub-continent at 12:30 UT. The duration of totality at mid-eclipse was 2 minutes
and 23 seconds, while in Turkey, it was only 2 minutes and 8 seconds.
Many amateurs from the US and other countries are traveled to Europe just to view this eclipse. Prospects for
clearest skies were in Turkey, which gave a good compromise between duration of totality and the likelihood of
clear skies. The further west one went into Europe, the greater the chance of overcast skies. But this fact did
not prevent eclipse chasers from planning trips to the more modern capitals of Europe instead of Turkey and the
politically charged countries of Iraq and Iran.
by Isaac M. Kikawada, AAAA
We three Total-Solar-Eclipse initiates, Andy Fu, Heidi and Isaac Kikawada, were at Sindelfingen, a town just
south of Stuttgart. As we woke up on the morning of August 11, 1999, a light rain greeted us, and it continued
during our breakfast and into the late morning. But we were determined to experience the Eclipse in spit of the
rain and overcast. Andy and Heidi decided to join the crowd at the City park near by, but I opted for staying on
the hotel terrace, where I found a little canopy to shield my Pronto from the rain.
It sprinkled till about noon, but dark clouds still loomed over us. It was almost 12:20 when the clouds just
barely thinned out around the Sun, and a thin crescent winked at us off and on through the clouds for several seconds
at a time. I invited the handful of people on the terrace to look though my telescope - they all saw the disfigured
Sun constantly scraped by the tendrils of fast moving clouds, clouds which often totally obscured the thin crescent
At 12:30, the cloud completely covered the Sun again. It became as gloomy and dark as on any rainy day, but
suddenly a real darkness, that of night, overcame us. The headlight of a slow moving truck below pierced our eyes.
Two and a half minutes later, the light was restored, just as quickly as it had come, and before we knew it the
rain has resumed, too. Beside this, Heidi and Andy saw and felt the speedy approach of the Moon's shadow, which
engulfed the park for a few minutes. All this made the trip worthwhile; besides, we got to visit the birthplace
of Johannes Kepler the day before!
It was an awesome experience just to know that modern astronomers can predict the whole eclipse event precisely
to the second!