TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE, PATAGONIA, ARGENTINA, 11 JULY 2010


Yes, we did see this.  And we were lucky.  My video on YouTube was a simple camcorder set up facing the Sun and then left running, while I and Maria, a young German astrophysicist, watched.  This was Maria’s first eclipse, and she wanted to see it more than anybody I’ve known.  Her crying is not unusual; total solar eclipses are beautiful, primal, spiritual events.  They affect us deeply!

This was my 20th eclipse trip:  I’ve seen 11 total eclipses (this was my 12th), 5 ring (annular) and 3 times missed from clouds, wind or rain.  This trip featured a flight over the S. Pacific along the track, which is why I and many others signed up for it.  Seeing it from a plane is a 100% probability as opposed to the ground, especially on islands, where mobility is limited if there are eclipse blocking clouds.  Unfortunately, a week prior to the eclipse, the plane was taken out of service for major mechanical problems (or so we were told).  We had no plane and were going to see the eclipse in the worst possible spot:  the Argentinian Patagonia in mid-winter at the end of the eclipse track.  I’m a weather junkie, and all the models were pessimistic about clear skies in Patagonia for eclipse day.  Worse, because of the low position of the Sun, ANY significant horizon cloud would kill the eclipse.

I almost didn’t get out of the US.  Tucson to Houston flight was diverted to San Antonio because of T-storms over Houston.  I got to Houston at the other end of the airport from the Intl Terminal, plane to depart in 25 minutes.  Frankly, because of the lack of the eclipse flight and the distance traveled to likely see nothing, I would not have minded missing the plane and going home. But I did make the plane and was in Buenos Aires the next morning.

We stayed in B.A. 2 days then flew to Patagonia (more worries, because there had been an air traffic control strike as well which had cancelled many flights and made many others late) and got there with mostly cloudy skies that worsened as time progressed.  However, I knew high pressure was building in the eastern Pacific, and more importantly, the water vapor fetch that had been slamming into Patagonia shut off the night before the eclipse.  We had clear skies the next morning.  We first went out and viewed the southern sky and saw the ISS pass overhead.  On the way to the glacier, I got the idea to stop the bus and view the Magellanic Clouds from a dark site.  I was a bit nervous about holding everybody up, but NOBODY vetoed the idea, and several who had never seen them before got a chance.

The glacier was fine, the skies completely clear, the wind light.  I was starting to get optimistic, which is an oxymoron when used in conjunction with eclipse day.

We left the glacier at noon and were back in El Calafate at 1:30.  We got into 4  x 4s that held 15 people, had chains, and went up a single track that topped out about 3000 feet above the town and Lago Argentino nearby.

The views were stunning.

By this time, there were clouds on the mountains, which worried me, although they were mostly lenticular and were dissipating as they moved north, about where we were told (wrong, as it turned out) where the Sun would set.  First contact, where the Moon begins to cover the Sun, occurred about 1 hr 5 min before totality.  It couldn’t happen soon enough.  Clouds were starting to build on the mountains.  But when we realized that the Sun couldn’t possibly set where we were told it would, I finally relaxed, knowing that everything would be fine.

It was a beautiful eclipse.  Photographs, especially mine, don’t do it justice.  The corona was not particularly impressive, but the low Sun and the long, beautiful diamond ring were.  What captivated all of us was the shadow cone, as the Moon’s shadow lengthened as the Earth curved away from it.  This is captured very well on the photographs, and I saw it head into space after the eclipse was over.  It just appeared as a darker than normal area of sky.

Each total solar eclipse is special in its own way.  This one will be remembered by me for three things: (1) the difficulty getting there and my constant checking of multiple weather models of the south Atlantic, (2) the stunning shadow cone, and (3) Maria, a delightful young astrophysicist who had never seen a total eclipse before, desperately wanted to see this one, and joined me.  She was so moved, she was crying, not at all an unusual emotion, and one that is captured on the video.  I want all first timers to see the eclipse.  Of course, I want to see it, but I’ve seen them before, a first timer has not.  Watching the awe on their face when they see what we’ve been discussing is truly remarkable.

The eclipse was my 12th total solar, and with Russia, was probably the toughest, most worrisome one we saw.  But we caught a break in Patagonia and had 2m40s of totality.  Were we lucky or what?

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