Eclipse Flight over Antarctica

November 20, 2003
(updated Nov. 24th)

Contact:
Rick Fienberg, Editor in Chief
  617-864-7360 x144, rfienberg@SkyandTelescope.com
Marcy L. Dill, VP, Marketing & Business Development
  617-864-7360 x143, mdill@SkyandTelescope.com

Note to Editors/Producers: Success! See page 2 of this press release for images from our flight to see the total solar eclipse of November 23rd over Antarctica!

On November 23, 2003, between 5:24 and 6:14 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, a total eclipse of the Sun will be visible from a narrow track across Antarctica. A partial eclipse will be visible over a broader area, including the tip of South America and parts of Australia and New Zealand.

LanChile Airbus A340
Airbus A340 in flight.
Courtesy LanChile.

Sky & Telescope magazine and TravelQuest International have chartered a LanChile Airbus A340 passenger jet to intercept the eclipse at 6:06 p.m. EST at an altitude of 38,000 feet. The 74 passengers and crew members aboard will experience 2 minutes 26 seconds of totality — 29 seconds more than is possible from the ground — with the Sun positioned 12° above the horizon and visible directly off the aircraft's port (left) wing. The 14-hour flight begins and ends at Punta Arenas, Chile, and includes a flyover of the South Pole.

Eclipse Flight Path
Flight path of eclipse intercept over Antarctica.
Map courtesy Fred Espenak (NASA).

We will have a professional astrophotographer in the cockpit filming all stages of the eclipse. We expect a selection of images to be e-mailed to our offices via satellite telephone between 6:30 and 8:00 p.m. EST Sunday evening, barring unforseen technical glitches. Once the images are downloaded, we will post them on this Web page so that you may use them on your news broadcast or in your newspaper. There will be no charge for use of these pictures; we ask only that you include an appropriate credit notice (to be supplied with each image and caption) and, for online use, a link to SkyandTelescope.com.

First Report & Images

Sky & Telescope is making the accompanying photographs available to editors and producers (click on the links in the captions). Permission is granted for one-time, nonexclusive use in print and broadcast media, as long as appropriate credits (as noted in each caption) are included. For Web publication, please include a link to SkyandTelescope.com.

Excerpts from an e-mail from expedition leader J. Kelly Beatty, executive editor of Sky & Telescope magazine, on Monday morning, November 24th:

"Totality lasted 2 minutes 20 seconds.... Mideclipse was 23:06 UT on paper, though it seemed a little early in the excitement.... Our coordinates at mideclipse were 51° 52' E, 78° 41' S....

Diamond Ring
The onset of totality is marked by the 'diamond ring' effect as the Moon has covered the entire face of the Sun except for a lone bead of sunlight shining through a deep valley on the lunar limb. The solar corona, a softly glowing, million-degree plasma, is just coming into view around the Moon's silhouette. Note the bright prominence at upper right, a finger of hot gas glowing in the red light of the hydrogen atom. Sky & Telescope senior editor Dennis di Cicco shot this photo through the window of a chartered LanChile Airbus A340 jetliner just after 11 p.m. GMT on November 23, 2003, over Antarctica. The subsequent total eclipse lasted 2 minutes 20 seconds and ended with a diamond ring at the opposite limb as the Moon began to uncover the Sun. (Larger image available by FTP: 111K JPEG.)
Sky & Telescope photograph by Dennis di Cicco.
"No prominences to speak of, but there was a dramatic long coronal streamer at the 8 o'clock position. Corona easily visible before 2nd contact. Eclipse veterans on board said it was the best ever. Shadow approach (from behind the plane, left as we looked out) and recession was dramatic. Corona dazzling and high contrast at high altitude....

Total Solar Eclipse
With the Moon completely blocking the Sun's visible face, the pearly white corona — our star's ultrahot outer atmosphere — bursts forth in all its glory. This photo of totality over Antarctica is a 1/60-second exposure with a Nikon digital camera and 200-millimeter lens. It was shot through a window of the LanChile Airbus A340 aircraft chartered by Sky & Telescope and TravelQuest International by tour participant William Whiddon of California. (Larger image available by FTP: 43K JPEG.)
Courtesy Sky & Telescope.
"After totality we made two low-altitude sweeps over the South Pole at about 2,500 feet. Saw a Hercules taking off during our approach — very dramatic. We know people were out looking at us because we resolve them in our pictures.

Vinson Massif
Vinson Massif, the tallest mountain in Antarctica, as seen from the window of the LanChile Airbus A340 passenger jet chartered by Sky & Telescope and TravelQuest International to see the total solar eclipse of November 23, 2003. At its highest, Vinson reaches 4,897 meters (16,067 feet). (Larger image available by FTP: 126K JPEG.)
Sky & Telescope photograph by Dennis di Cicco.
"We also made an incredibly dramatic circle around Vinson Massif, Antarctica's highest peak. The photo shows the contrail of our jet as we corkscrewed down to a lower altitude for a closer look.

"We have a lot of very happy people this morning!"

Kelly Beatty will be back in the office at Sky & Telescope on Wednesday, November 26th. His phone number is +1 617-864-7360 x148, and his e-mail address is kbeatty@ SkyandTelescope.com.