Solar Eclipse Scouting in Chile

Once you get infected with Obscuratus Solisosus, after the eclipse means before the eclipse. As a carrier of this highly addictive virus, I decided fly to Chile for Christmas 2017 and combine a summer solstice on the Southern Hemisphere with stargazing in the Atacama Desert and advance scouting for the July 2nd, 2019 solar eclipse (Saros 127) in South America. The path of totality’s final 1000 km/700 miles over land begin on the Chilean coast, close to La Serena, and will sweep in a Southeasterly direction across Chile’s Coquimbo region into Argentina, ending before the Argentina coast, with the Southern suburbs of Buenos Aires touching the path. Chile and Argentina straddle the Andes in the eclipse path, and host a number of world class observatories in the area. This inland region (Elqui Valley in Chile and the San Juan Province in Argentina) bodes well for a high probability for cloud free sky to view the eclipse, for stargazing and astrophotography, as July 2nd is, of course, a new Moon. A note of caution for making travel plans: July 1st, 2019, is a national holiday in Chile (St Peter and St Paul Day Holiday) showing that even 400 years after Galileo’s inquisition, the Catholic Church still likes to interfere with astronomical affairs.

photo credit: Matthias Schmitt
Elqui Valley

 

 There are several airlines that offer daily flights (one nonstop) from New York City to Santiago de Chile (which should be your point of disembarkation for the 2019 eclipse). There are two domestic airlines that serve La Serena (in the path of totality, a coastal town, but perennially foggy) with 3 and 5 daily flights, respectively (SKY and LATAM). If you decide on the Elqui Valley as your viewing location, it would be advisable to rent a car in Santiago and drive to La Serena and then continue on to the valley. Rental cars might be unavailable in La Serena and you want to be able to be mobile and flexible anyway and have storage for your gear. The distance from Santiago to Vicuña, where I stayed for two nights, is roughly 500 km/320 miles. Another note of caution: there is only one single road, Route 41, that slices through the valley, for sure being clogged on eclipse day. The maximum eclipse in Chile for the July 2nd event is around 20:39 UTC, which will be 4:39 p.m. local time. For La Serena, the location of the eclipsed Sun will be 6h46m/+23 degrees (RA/Dec) with Vicuña’s totality 30 seconds later. Due to the excellent location of the Elqui Valley (high and dry), its pisco production and many vineyards, it offers a perfect viewing with a welcoming atmosphere. The few villages in the Elqui Valley have hotels, but they are already being booked for July 2019 and some are already sold out. However, there is a large number of campgrounds that offer alternative lodging. For an excellent summary of the prevailing climate and probable weather conditions on the Chilean and Argentinian side of the Andes, please go to the article about the July 2, 2019 eclipse on eclipsophile.com.
Photo credit: Matthias Schmitt
ESO La Silla

While you are in Chile, you should try to take advantage of the pristine night sky, which is even better in winter months, and world class observatories:

Gemini South, and Cerro Tololo InterAmerican Observatory (both in the Elqui Valley), ESO’s La Silla Observatory and Las Campanas (a 2-hour drive from La Serena), or venture even farther North to the Atacama Desert for ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array – a set of 66 radio telescopes at 5000m) and Paranal, where ESO is operating, among others, the VLT (Very Large Telescope) and the NGTS (Next -Generation Transit Survey to search for exoplanets). All facilities offer guided tours but you need to sign up online well in advance. The Atacama Desert, specifically San Pedro de Atacama, offer a good jumping-off point for stargazing and astrophotography and I recommend that you take Jorge Corante’s tour at www.atacamadesertstargazing.com.

Please feel free to email matthias@spaceracers.com.

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