The Eclipse at El Trapiche!

Nature’s most spectacular event was seen again by the Haeberle family. This time it was the great SOUTH American Eclipse. There was much time planning for this trip of a lifetime to the astronomical friendly nation of Chile.

Our first and what would be our last stop of the vacation would be in the city of La Serena. We stayed in an apartment overlooking a huge Lagoon/Pool, once considered the largest in the South America, if not the world. After 2 days there, we moved on to higher ground to a hotel in the town of Vicuna in the Elqui Valley noted for its pisco brandy.

We slept in a Dome cabin at the Hotel Tukan-Mapu [see pictures] just outside of town, a very nice quaint place and the owner who is somewhat of an entrepreneur and musician. Shaped like an observatory dome, one can lay in bed in look out at the sky, which is exactly what we did gazing at stars like Rigil Kentaurus and the Southern Cross.

We only got a chance to see one professional observatory, the Mamalluca, as the tours booked up quick. It is very important to plan these trips way in advance, especially in lieu of special celestial events. A TripAdvisor company, Viator transported us to the top of the observatory hill. The sky was gorgeous, with the Scorpion and the Sagittarius constellations hanging high in the sky [see pictures] smack in the region of the sweet spot of our Milky Way. A little further south is the constellation of the Centaur, not seen from the United States, with the exception of south Florida. We were also able to discern the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), as well as Eta Carine, the Jewel Box open Star cluster across from the first-magnitude star Mimosa (Beta Crucis), and my favorite, the Coal Sack.

Later, from our Hotel in the valley, I captured on camera the Southern Cross just above the palm tree in my pictures and above them Alpha Centauri aka Rigel Kentaurus and the blue star Hadar (Beta Centauri). Also faintly seen is Omega Centauri as the 3rd star in a triangle off to the right of Hadar.

We drove up north on July 1st on the Pan-American Highway to the town of Vallenar at the fringe of the Atacama region. Here we were suppose to hook up with a Chilean-based Astronomy Adventures tour for the Eclipse the following day.

The Best Laid Plans:

Unfortunately we were unable to connect with our Eclipse group at the location they indicated along the Pan-American Highway, which was at a rest stop (posada) were there were large crowds from various groups. So we decided to travel closer to the center line of the Eclipse path on our own. This would give us an extra minute of totality or up to 2 minutes and twenty seconds of precious Umbra shadow time. After much driving and deliberation on where to park and observe, we came across the quiet town of El Trapiche. Near the coastal town of La Higuera, it owes its name to trapiche mills that are located there and are used to crush cane or fruit for juice. Large modern windmills with large metal blades [see pictures] can be seen from the highway.

Where large crowds were developing all along the Highway to see the Eclipse near maximum totality, El Trapiche was quiet – almost a ghost town except for the restaurant we pulled up to, Rancho Grande. Besides serving great home cooked food, the location was perfect for observing. There were no crowds and no one on the street. It’s as if I went through a door to another dimension where no one knew or cared about the pending eclipse.

The sky here and pretty much everywhere in the Coquimbo region was crystal clear. There was not a cloud in the sky. The winds picked up and it got noticeably cool as we got deep into the penumbra shadow. Then the sky had a certain haze to it, as if in a dream. The landscape around took on a gray hue. Shadows seemed prominent right before second contact at the end of the penumbra phase. It was reminiscent of the eclipse scene from the movie “Dolores Claiborne”, a Stephen King story. Street lights were turning on and dogs were barking and the rooster crowed just before second contact. My wife thought that it must be getting dark because it was cloudy but I told her there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

Then totality happened! All of a sudden a large truck veered over on to graveled dirt street where we were standing having abruptly exiting the road. He perhaps was not expecting to see the spectacle of the corona before him. Two minutes is not long so I wanted to make sure I watched the eclipse with my own eyes for one minute then I began to take pictures with my camera and iPhone. So did my son. I even managed a panorama view of the umbra shrouded landscape.

As quickly as it came, the Moon began to lose its grip on el Sol. Sadly, it was third contact. The diamond ring made its biggest impression at this stage. The winds got noticeably calmer after third contact and warmer.

The diamond ring at second and third contact stayed with me the most from this particular eclipse. With the 2017 Wyoming eclipse, it was the Coronal streamers. Bailey’s beads were not that noticeable to me. I also managed to view the eclipsed Sun through my telescope after third contact by carefully keeping the brilliant sun-lit crescent of the emerging photosphere out of view in the eyepiece.  It helped having a Baader Herschel Wedge which deflects 95% of sunlight away from the eyepiece, a bit daring so, don’t try that at home kids.

All in all, it was a fantastic trip and a great start to my introduction to observing the southern sky. I definitely hope to return again and see more of South America and the southern hemisphere. Stay tuned for future stories of the Total Eclipse of the Sun.