From the Frontline of Totality: Sky & Telescope Reports

Thousands of spectators, professional astronomers, and several Sky & Telescope editors traveled to see totality from the ground — and sky.

Total Solar Eclipse over Chile

Sean Walker / Sky & Telescope

As a total solar eclipse swept over the South Pacific, Chile, and then Argentina, thousands of spectators and professional astronomers witnessed the event. Millions more saw a partial solar eclipse from much of South America.

This was the first opportunity to see totality since the so-called Great American Eclipse of 2017, and it did not disappoint. Several Sky & Telescope editors and collaborators sent their observations from the frontlines of totality.

Senior Editor Kelly Beatty reports from Sky & Telescope's lush ground-based tour in Chile:

Under a cloudless blue sky and surrounded by stark Andean foothills, the 60 members of Sky & Telescope’s 2019 eclipse tour watched totality from El Molle, Chile. The merging of Sun and Moon took place just 14° above the northwestern horizon, a perspective that offered an unusual interplay of light and shadow.

Casa Molle eclipse group

Sky & Telescope led a ground tour based at a five-star resort in Chile.
Sky & Telescope / Kelly Beatty

Our setting was the lush landscape of Casa Molle, a 5-star resort in this small and otherwise ordinary village along the Elqui River. I first learned of this property in mid-2017, when owners Karim Daire and Marisol Geisse were in the midst of turning their family’s sprawling ranch into an exclusive resort. So our group was able to enjoy the eclipse in opulent surroundings that made the spectacle even more enjoyable.

It was a little disorienting both to see the Sun in the northern half of the sky and to watch it glide diagonally toward the south as the afternoon wore on. As totality neared, the temperature dropped noticeably and the birds around us became disoriented. We were stunned to see very impressive shadow bands on a white geodesic dome near our group — all the more surprising since I’d told everyone not to expect shadow bands due to the sunlight’s long, oblique path through the atmosphere at totality.

Eclipse montage

Tour group member Callan Carpenter, from Austin, Texas, compiled this montage from pictures taken every five minutes.

The night beforehand, we were treated to private showings of the exquisite southern sky from Observatorio Collowara and Observatorio del Pangue, a pair of “tourist observatories” in the region. And eclipse day was followed by a behind-the-scenes tour of the European Southern Observatory’s complex atop La Silla.

Most of our group were here to witness their second total solar eclipse, having seen the one in August 2017 that crossed the U.S. from coast to coast. Now they’re eagerly anticipating the next chance to stand in the Moon’s shadow, which will again favor South America.

Science Editor Camille Carlisle reports from the chartered A320 aircraft that flew into totality from 37,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean:

Our flight into totality was a smashing hit. Of our 38 passengers, at least a half dozen had never seen a total solar eclipse before, and what we saw was unforgettable.

Sky & Telescope's eclipse flight tour group and crew.

Thanks to the help of our collaborators at Latam Airlines — callout to our head pilot Cristhian and flight crew chief Scarlett, as well as their teams! — we took off exactly on time. We hit some turbulence initially, but things calmed down well before totality. We were able to catch the partial phases out the right window, then we all scurried to the left as the pilots turned us onto the intercept track. The flying was impeccable: the umbra hit us just before 4:34 p.m. Chilean time, and we saw two diamond rings, plus a glimmer of chromosphere before totality ended. Never have I seen the corona’s ring so clear and so large on the sky. It hung like a white-silver loop above the cloudtops, with a sunset-like glow slicing between the two as a midair horizon.

Total solar eclipse from eclipse flight

Passenger Bill Reyna captured this view of totality from 37,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean.

I think I might be ruined for ground-based eclipse viewing forever . . .

Video by Camille Carlisle

Ground-based viewing offered its own benefits, as Contributing Editor Tony Flanders notes:

My wife and I watched the eclipse under cloudless skies one-hour drive north of San Juan, Argentina, together with Diego, an Argentine amateur astronomer whom I met online, and his wife Sylvia. The eclipse was particularly notable for the amazingly strong and eerie shadow bands due to the Sun's low altitude. Watching the still partially eclipsed Sun set into the Andes Precordillera was another highlight. Then we stayed to view the amazing southern Milky Way, and drove back after the traffic had disappeared.

Eclipse-viewing

Tony Flanders, his wife, and friends witnessed the eclipse from Argentina.
Tony Flanders

Jay Pasachoff (Williams College), one of the science teams observing the eclipse, saw totality under beautifully clear skies:

My team affiliated with Williams College was very successful, both with those of us (including me) at our exclusive site on a mountainside above La Higuera (an hour north of La Serena going this morning and 5 hours of travel back after the eclipse), and with those of us on Cerro Tololo, as part of the time I was awarded. The day was particularly clear, with not a cloud in the sky. We were at about 2,500 feet at La Higuera; the CTIO people were higher, over 7,000 feet altitude.

Diamond Ring by Aristeidis Voulgaris

Aristeidis Voulgaris

Spectrum of the solar coronoa

Spectrum of the solar corona
Aristeidis Voulgaris

Did you see the eclipse? Share your own experiences in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “From the Frontline of Totality: Sky & Telescope Reports

  1. Andre

    Hi,
    I am Andre from Brazil.
    I decided to go to Bela Vista, closer to the Andes, and then I drove to La Flores. The proximity to the mountains made the scenery really impressive. My first TSE, hopefully not my last, and a experience I will never forget.

    https://astrob.in/413105/0/

  2. Glenn

    So Beatty says no shadow bands as sun is too low then gets good ones. LOL Flanders says bands will be good because the sun is low! Oh, at this time of year from the latitude of the eclipse, the sun descends into the WNW horizon, not south at all….. G

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