A Solar Eclipse Above the Andes

I spent much of the bright and beautiful afternoon of July 2 on a desert ridge in northwestern Argentina, preparing to observe the total solar eclipse. I was with a small group tour organized by Roman Kostenko (astrosafari.eu); joining us were Chirag Upreti of the AAA, Piotr Jedrzejczak from Atlanta, and Oscar Martin Mesonero of Black Sun Expeditions. Fortunately, the weather was near-perfect, and we were able to observe the 2.5 minutes of totality in all its glory, with the eclipsed Sun hanging above the Andes.

We had spent much of the previous week criss-crossing the high desert of the Cuyo region of northwestern Argentina, staying at rural lodges and inns. In addition to visiting attractions like the Ischigualasto Provincial Park—which resembled Arizona’s Painted Desert—and its dinosaur museum, and the El Leoncito National Park and its observatory, we stopped at various potential eclipse viewing sites, which gave us some choices depending on the weather conditions on eclipse day. The site we opted for was a roadside turnout near the town of Iglesia, and not far from Bella Vista, seemingly the most popular destination for eclipse chasers in Argentina.

We set up our gear on a ridge. In time, more people showed up: a couple we had met at a public observing session, several carloads of Argentinians, and a videographer conducting interviews in Spanish. Then the partial phases began, and we watched as the Moon took a nibble out of the Sun’s limb and progressively obscured the Sun, turning it into an ever-thinning crescent. By 20 minutes before totality, the light had noticeably changed, the landscape becoming soft and golden. With less than a minute until totality, some of our crew observed the so-called shadow bands, shifting waves of light and shadow, on the ground. Then came the diamond ring, as a last ray of brilliant sunlight shone through a lunar valley, and then the eclipse was total, with the black disk of the Moon surrounded by the luminous white corona in a sky the color of deep twilight, hanging above the Andes.

I spent much of totality taking wide-field shots of the eclipsed Sun and the mountains, with my Sony DSC-RX100 as well as panoramas with my iPhone 7 Plus. I did take some telephoto shots with my Sony A7r and got some nice diamond ring photos. I wish I had spent more time just visually observing the spectacle, including with the pair of binoculars around my neck that remained untouched during totality, but I’m grateful to have witnessed such a spectacular eclipse in perfect weather. I’m already looking forward to the next one—which will once again cross Chile and Argentina—on December 14, 2020.

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