Total Eclipse from High Above the Pacific

This was a quick trip for me.  I left Newark airport at 1pm on Monday, July 1st and, after a long layover in Houston, arrived in Santiago at 8:30 am the day of the eclipse.  Fortunately, I was on the S&T charter to watch the eclipse from the air, so I was able to stay in and around the airport until it was time to go.

We had a diverse group of about 45 on the plane, from all parts of the US, and from Singapore, Canada and Italy.  There were three others besides myself from the New York area, one a former president of WAA, the Westchester Amateur Astronomers club.

A little less than half the group never had seen an eclipse before. A few of these first-timers were just tagging along with family or a significant other, but most of them, to my mild surprise, chose to see their first eclipse from an airplane.

We left Santiago about 2:15 pm.  The pilot caught the eclipse vector a few minutes before first contact (around 3:30 pm or so) and stayed there until a little after third contact before heading back.

This was my third eclipse, and my first from a plane.  There are a few advantages to seeing the eclipse from an airplane.  From 37,000 feet up, you cannot be clouded out.  Totality was over three minutes up there, as opposed to 2 minutes or less on terra firma.  Also, nowhere else, except perhaps from mountaintops, do you get to see so clearly and emphatically the moon’s shadow creep over the path of totality.  Finally, you get a better look from up high at the visible planets and stars during totality than on the ground.

That said, however, I prefer the old fashioned way of observing from land.  The airplane’s elevation gives you a broad perspective, but you’re still looking out in one direction through a small window.  Also, you’re inside a pressurized cabin, so you don’t feel the chill or the wind, hear the strange animal noises or experience the other sensations that accompany a total eclipse.  I found taking pictures from the small airplane window somewhat challenging as well.  Finally, since this eclipse occurred late in the afternoon local time, I suspect the disk appeared much larger to those on land than to me from my lofty perch.

We landed back in Santiago about 7pm, and after a group dinner, I checked into my hotel and tried to catch up on the sleep I had missed during the previous 36 hours.  The next morning, Wednesday, I slept in, took a tour of Santiago, then headed back to the airport to fly home. I was back in my house by lunchtime Thursday.

Some would question the prudence of flying 24 hours round trip and about half that time again in airports to spend roughly 36 hours in Chile and 3 minutes or so watching an eclipse, but I’m already planning for 2020, this time by ship.