OPTICAL RESPONSE OF THE ATMOSPHERE DURING THE CARIBBEAN TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSES OF 26 FEBRUARY 1998 AND OF 3 FEBRUARY 1916 AT FALCóN STATE, VENEZUELA


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Abstract

An investigation of the optical response of the atmosphere before, during, and after the total solar eclipse of 26 February 1998 at the Caribbean Peninsula of Paraguaná (Falcón State)) in Venezuela, was made by measuring photometrically the intensity of the sky brightness in three strategic directions: zenith, horizon anti-parallel or opposite the umbra path, and horizon perpendicular to this path. From these measurements, and by applying in an inverse way an empirical photometric model, very rough estimations of the extinction coefficient, and also of the average optical depth, were obtained in one of these particular directions. However based on meteorological measurements such as those of relative humidity and temperature, and applying a different model, a better estimation in the visual of the total global extinction coefficient of the sky (except the horizon)), were made considering the contribution of each component: atmospheric aerosol, water vapour, ozone and Rayleigh scattering. It is shown that this global coefficient is mostly dependent upon aerosol extinction. In spite of the strong reduction of sky brightness photometrically observed during the totality, the results show that the sky was not dark. This is confirmed by the results obtained for the total global extinction coefficient. Additionally it is estimated that the total solar eclipse that took place also in Falcón State, Venezuela, at the beginning of the last century on 3 February 1916, was ∼30% darker that the 1998 eclipse, and that atmospheric aerosol played a relevant and similar role in the scattering of sunlight during the totality as it was for 1998's. Visual observations made during each event, which show that at length only one or two bright stars could be seen in the sky, support the results obtained for both eclipses.

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