Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Eclipse Team’s Life on Majuro

by Beverly Lynn-Wilson
Member of the Friends of the Institute for Astronomy

The Institute for Astronomy (IfA) eclipse team, officially known as the Solar Wind Sherpas, spent a few days on Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands, on either side of our visit to Enewetak to study the eclipse. (Please see entries below for descriptions of the eclipse, the science, and our trip.) Here are some snapshots of our activities on Majuro:

Legs out and arms up, we sailed off a slide into the clear, warm water of the Majuro lagoon—and hoped we wouldn't crash into the person holding the slide’s unanchored and wobbly front posts.

Tiny islets ring Majuro's lagoon. The eclipse team visited two of them for swimming, snorkeling, and tubing.

We snorkeled over beautiful coral and hundreds of colorful fish.

After all the non-stop work we were ready for some relaxation on a couple of afternoons.

We were quite sure our arms were longer after going tubing. A boat pulled two of us lying on a circular rubber raft attached to a long tow line. The raft charges in and out of the boat’s wake as the boat turns and bangs against swells. Riders hang onto two handles but have no control over the raft. This was my first ride, and I frequently had the sensation that I would fly off into space or crash on top of my raft mate, but I managed to stay on the raft for the entire ride. At the end of the ride I slid off the raft and gave a huge grin and a thumbs-up.

We shopped along the island’s main—and only—road, checking out small stores for local handicrafts and purchasing snacks at a well-stocked supermarket. Friendly locals greeted us wherever we walked. When we tired of walking, we took a cab for $1 per person no matter where we were going, although that rate seemed flexible and the cabs had no meters. The nearest McDonald’s and Starbucks are thousands of miles away.

This is a typical scene of central Majuro.

We were intrigued by a combination beauty salon and auto parts store.

One evening on our way to dinner in the hotel restaurant, we heard a noise like a power saw ripping through metal. Some men were butchering a pig, the source of the screams, outside the kitchen door.

We sprawled on a lobby couch or restaurant chair, waiting for an incredibly slow Internet connection over the hotel’s wi-fi service. Team member Mindy Lekberg thought the hotel’s 14-cents-per-minute computer might be faster. It cost her over $3 to send a short e-mail.

We took cold showers our last couple of days on Majuro because drought rules were in effect, and we had only cold water for four hours in the morning and three hours in the evening. The cold was not an entirely unwelcome sensation (except for washing hair) after boiling in hundred-degree temperatures on Enewetak and forgetting what cold felt like.

We discovered the joys of playing with hermit crabs. They housed themselves in a variety of beautiful shells.

Yes, playing with hermit crabs really can be entertaining to a bunch of curious scientists.

We commented on the poverty and trash when we arrived and marveled at how wealthy and clean Majuro looked when we returned from Enewetak.

Grants from NASA and the National Science Foundation funded the solar research.