A SILVER LINING (IT AIN’T OVER UNTIL IT IS OVER)


My 20th eclipse expedition was to the Argentinian Patagonia in austral winter.  We were at the end of the eclipse track, at sunset, when scattered clouds will more easily block the eclipse view.  Worse, the eclipsed Sun would be over the frequently cloudy Andes, increasing the likelihood of blocking clouds.

But we had no worries.  We would be flying through the eclipse track over the South Pacific, having clear skies and an extra minute of totality. But two days before I left, the plane we were to use was taken out of service for major unscheduled maintenance.  There were no other planes available.  We would be ground based.  I thought that we had a small likelihood of seeing it–well under 5%.  On the way down, I almost missed my connection because of thunderstorms and decided if I missed the plane, I would go home.  Two things kept me going:  (1) I don’t like to give up and (2) If I didn’t go and they saw the eclipse, I would never forgive myself.  I made the plane to Buenos Aires with 10 minutes to spare and was in Argentina 10 hours later.

At lunch on the holiday, two days before the eclipse,  I sat next to Maria, a young German astrophysicist.  She discussed her research so clearly that for once I said little, just listened, and learned a great deal.  She was involved in sending a satellite to the L2 LaGrangian point, one of the places where the Earth and Sun’s gravity balance each other.  I thought there were only 2 such points; there are 5.  I learned a lot of other things, too, since I just stayed quiet.  Turned out that my allowing Maria to talk was exactly what she needed.

When we started discussing eclipses, I learned that Maria got under the wrong cloud and missed the 1999 Munich eclipse that went over her home.  To put it mildly, Maria was primed to see this one from the air.  But now there was no plane and she had limited winter gear, because she hadn’t expected to see it from the ground.   Like all of us, she was was emotionally devastated, and 2 days prior to the eclipse, the predictions were not good.

I told her my many close calls and said, “Maria, it isn’t over until the eclipse is over and we didn’t see it.” That afternoon, I talked with her on the tour about eclipses, trips, physics and travel.  She was smart, curious and articulate.

Prior to leaving Buenos Aires, I was online alternately looking at South American weather models and flight delays, since the air traffic controllers had a slowdown.  But, the controllers behaved, we got on the plane and flew to El Calafate the day before the eclipse, for InterSoles, an eclipse conference where Maria and Anita, astrophysical colleagues, were speakers.

During the conference, several noted my constant looking at my watch, which has a barometer.  It was rising, which it had been predicted to do, even though the sky was completely overcast by evening.  Every free moment, I was on the computer, willing the weather models to improve.

The barometer continued to rise.  It remained overcast.  After dinner, I was in my room,  now learning the IR model for South America showed the moisture fetch that had slammed Chile had stopped and shifted north. I was cautiously optimistic.  I don’t sleep well during the night before an eclipse and was up at 4, looking out at a sea of stars.  The barometer had risen a whopping 13 mb overnight.  My optimism increased.

After breakfast, we went outside where Maria saw the Southern Cross for the first time.  The ISS flew over as well.  This was a good start to the day.  On the ride to Perito Moreno glacier,  I got the idea of stopping, since we were well out of town, and allowing the riders to view the Magellanic Clouds under a dark sky, since we couldn’t see them at the hotel.  It is highly out of character for me to stand in front of a bus of many strangers, and ask if they minded if we stopped.  Nobody objected, and everybody got a great look.  I was relieved.  Now Maria had seen the Magellanic Clouds for the first time.

We spent 2 hours at the glacier, listening to icebergs calve, watching sunrise on the mountains.  On the return, I was now in full worry mode.  Still clear skies,  I worried about mountain convection and orographic lifting that comes in the afternoon.  The eclipsed Sun would be a degree above the horizon, so any significant mountain cloudiness would be a problem.

On the way up the single track to a high plateau, over El Calafate and Lago Argentino.  I saw a cloud.  My worry increased.  At the site, I saw a large lenticular cloud sitting on a mountain to the southwest, spewing clouds to the north, but for at least an hour, they dissipated.

Then I noticed more lenticular clouds further north, and the clouds no longer dissipated.  The eclipse was 2 hours away, and I didn’t like the weather.  I willed the Moon to move faster.  The eclipse began, and as the Moon moved during the 65 minutes it would take to cover the Sun, I realized that sunset would be much further north than I had been told.  There were no clouds in that area, and 30 minutes before totality, I knew we were safe.

Maria joined me, used my binoculars, and did what many do during an eclipse–cried.  It WAS beautiful.  She had gotten the perfect end to her day–a dream came true, a total solar eclipse visible in a clear sky.  Had we been on the plane, the view wouldn’t have been nearly as good.

This was one of the most difficult eclipses I’ve gone to.  It was one of the most beautiful ones.  And the reaction from Maria was the strongest emotion I’ve ever witnessed.  All eclipses are memorable; this one is at the top.

It isn’t over until it is over. And sometimes, good things come out of what seems to be bad luck.

One Response to “A SILVER LINING (IT AIN’T OVER UNTIL IT IS OVER)”

  1. EKG Technician Says:

    This is a great post and read very well. Thanks for sharing!

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