Total Solar Eclipse: Reports from Antarctica

An Antarctic Eclipse Adventure

Early morning on December 4th, a number of thousand adventurous vacationers crowded the decks of cruise ships, boarded specifically chartered planes, or stepped out into Antarctica’s frigid air — all with their hearts thumping in anticipation of astronomy’s best spectacle: a complete eclipse of the Sun.

The Moon’s slender shadow reached Earth’s floor at a very oblique angle that day, creating a thin however stretched-out oval of darkness over floor and sea. The shadow swept quickly throughout the Southern Ocean, providing as much as 1.9 minutes of totality within the frozen Antarctic terrain surrounding the Weddell Sea.

Total solar eclipse path on Dec 4, 2021
Much just like the annular eclipse that preceded it in June, the full solar eclipse on December 4, 2021, was difficult to witness.
Sky & Telescope; supply: Fred Espenak

December 4th’s occasion was uncommon in two necessary respects. First, totality occurred in essentially the most sparsely populated area of your complete planet. Land-wise, the trail of the Moon’s darkish shadow touched solely Antarctica and the tiny South Orkney Islands because it swept throughout Earth. Only a number of thousand individuals have been positioned to see it. Meanwhile, the one inhabited locations that bought to see even a partial solar eclipse have been on the southern tip of Africa, Tasmania, and bits of southeastern Australia and New Zealand’s South Island.

Second, the eclipse observe largely crossed the longitudinal hemisphere of Earth dealing with away from the Sun, throughout what would ordinarily be nighttime hours. However, as a result of the occasion occurred just some weeks earlier than the December solstice, the parts of Antarctica that lay throughout the path have been experiencing fixed daylight. Because of this uncommon “over the pole” eclipse geometry, the Moon’s shadow didn’t sweep west to east in longitude, because it normally does, however as an alternative raced west to east because it crossed Antarctica.

a sliver of orange light is visible on the left against a dark red and black background
The Moon strikes over the Sun because it approaches totality, as seen aboard a ship within the Antarctic Ocean.
Judy Anderson

According to Jay Anderson, a Canadian meteorologist who focuses on eclipse-day weather, these on Antarctica had one of the best likelihood of seeing the eclipse, whereas the chances of success have been towards anybody venturing by ship to the accessible places of the Southern Ocean.

In the tip, essentially the most daring eclipse-chasers — those that ventured to the outpost at Union Glacier in Antarctica (79°46′S, 83°16′W) — had one of the best views. From there, the gloriously eclipsed Sun sat 14° above the horizon at roughly native midnight, although viewers needed to witness it within the brutal chilly of late “spring,” close to –20°C (–4°F).

Success additionally got here for 2 teams of eclipse-junkies who took to the sky from Punta Arenas, Chile, aboard a pair of chartered 787 Dreamliners. The planes easily maneuvered into the trail of totality on the cloud-free peak of about 40,000 toes and supplied distinctive views not solely of the solar corona but additionally of the darkish umbral cone surrounding it.

Yet even this seemingly easy gambit was fraught with problems, as worldwide security guidelines and a revoked touchdown allow compelled the Chilean airline LATAM to save lots of the expedition by offering a last-minute swap from smaller Airbus A321 plane to the longer-range (and far pricier) 787s.

The Moon covers the Sun because it approaches totality on the morning of December 4th. A solar prominence and a little bit of chromosphere gleam red.
Judy Anderson

Meanwhile, down at sea stage, a small armada of 15 expedition-class cruise ships had taken up positions throughout the umbral path within the hope of beating the poor-weather odds. One of these, Hurtigruten Expeditions’ ms Roald Amundsen, carried a Sky & Telescope group hosted by Contributing Editor Bob King.

Despite the maneuverability that such ships provide, largely the clouds received out. Only one ship, National Geographic Endurance, caught sight of totality. Perhaps logically, this ship had Anderson and his spouse Judy aboard.

“Oh, what a beautiful morning!!” exclaimed Judy Anderson afterward. “The crescent rose from the sea in a wedge of clear sky, and thinned rapidly to show the corona while the first diamond was visible at 2nd contact. . . . And all too quickly, the second diamond was there (flattened rather than brilliant cut!) and 3rd contact took us back to the thin crescent. Very, very shortly afterward, the tip of the crescent went into the looming bank of cloud. Phew!!”

a sliver of light is visible against a dark red background
The Moon almost covers the Sun as December 4th’s eclipse approaches totality.
Judy Anderson

All those that ventured deep into the Southern Hemisphere for December 4th’s occasion must be affected person to see totality once more, as 2022 gives no complete solar eclipses. The subsequent one can be April 20, 2023, and can as soon as once more require a protracted journey: western Australia and Indonesia.

That occasion can be uncommon in that it gives each an annular (ring) eclipse on the path’s ends, and as much as 76 seconds of totality — what is typically termed a “hybrid” solar eclipse — within the center. Hopeful eclipse-chasers will almost certainly be present in ships off the western and northern coasts of Australia (the trail barely clips Australia itself at its northwesternmost nook), or maybe on one of many islands of Indonesia.

J. Kelly Beatty

Want to experience an eclipse like this? Check out our upcoming tours here!

High Hopes Clouded Over

Eclipse morning introduced heavy clouds however excessive hopes. As skywatchers, we burn optimism like jet gasoline till the second the invoice comes due. Our group started gathering on the tenth deck of the ms Roald Amundsen as early as 2:15 a.m. to evaluate climate and arrange tools.

two men lean over a desk and work on a computer
Sky & Telescope Senior Editor Kelly Beatty works with Captain Rémi Genevaz, of the ms Roald Amundsen to find out one of the best course to soak up search of clear skies for the full solar eclipse.
Bob King / Sky & Telescope

Frankly, issues seemed bleak within the gray twilight, however everybody busied themselves with cameras or talked concerning the prospects, secretly hoping to allay destiny. There was at all times the possibility {that a} hole may open within the marine layer overcast. In truth, round native dawn at 2:40 a.m. I seemed up, noticed a touch of blue ,and bear in mind telling somebody that the approaching Sun would burn off the clouds simply in time.

Of course, that by no means occurred. The eclipse started round 3:16 a.m., and because the overcast sky darkened, all of us quietly realized we weren’t going to see this eclipse. It was at this second that Kelly Beatty, Sky & Telescope senior editor and chief of the Sky & Telescope eclipse tour, injected some wanted humor into our plight, asserting that it was “now safe to lower your solar filters.”

a group of people in red jackets stand on a lighted boat deck against a dark blue sky
Passengers on board the ms Roald Amundsen stand within the Moon’s shadow throughout mid-totality on December 4, 2021. Skies have been overcast on the time.
Bob King / Sky & Telecsope

But because it often does, the sudden occurred. I’ve been to 6 complete eclipses with two clouded out and do not recall ever experiencing a darker eclipse or a faster-moving Moon shadow. In the ultimate seconds earlier than totality it felt as if an unlimited black fowl unfolded its wings and swooped down over the ship.

Undoubtedly, low clouds performed a key function in intensifying the depth of the darkness however mixed with the shadow’s swift arrival, the scene made me shiver. Others will need to have felt the identical as a result of the regular chatter ebbed as daylight adopted go well with.

By the way, this was no imagined sensation of shadow speed however attributable to a bodily truth: the Moon’s umbra hypersonically swept over us at 2.8 km per second (6,300 mph), from our location east of the centerline (58° 20ʹ south, 41° 19ʹ). After 1m 30s of occluded totality, the sunshine returned so shortly I had the distinct sensation of opening my eyes — as if waking from a sleep — though they have been already open.

So, OK, I didn’t see the Sun, however I did expertise the eclipse each bodily and emotionally. And I’m going to the financial institution with that. Besides, there’ll at all times be one other. Celestial mechanics ensures success ultimately, so long as you’re persistent.

Bob King

Totality From Above the Clouds

As quickly as I heard about an eclipse flight deliberate by “e-flight guru” Glenn Schneider, I signed up. Two Airbus A321 plane, chartered from LATAM Airlines, have been to go virtually due east from Punta Arenas, close to the southernmost level of Chile, to catch the eclipse virtually 4° above the horizon.

I used to be capable of convey Williams College college students Peter Knowlton (who had delayed commencement by a semester to be eligible) and junior Anna Tosolini. David Sliski (Penn State) joined us as a Research Associate to assist bear duty for the scholars. Also in our group have been Emma Sobel (Greenhill School), Nicole Massetti, and my spouse, Naomi Pasachoff. This complete solar eclipse can be my thirty sixth and Naomi’s twenty second.

After reaching Santiago, we have been shocked to be taught that the flights had been threatened with cancellation the week earlier than. Compliance with worldwide aviation guidelines required a second touchdown place for the A321s in case of emergency, and the deliberate airports on the Falkland Islands had declined to simply accept us. So below that stress, Tim Todd (TEI Travel) upgraded (at nice expense) to a pair of LATAM’s Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

Our spectrography professional Aris Voulgaris (Thessaloniki, Greece) wasn’t completely happy about this, as a result of the 787s have photochromic windows, which dim with out shades, and looking out by way of the particles within the window would blur pictures a bit. Also, the plane’s excessive wing required the pilot to show a number of levels to the left simply earlier than totality, shedding the picture for a number of seconds of our 1m 54s of totality. But we made do — we’d have been canceled in any other case.

In the tip, when the diamond ring lastly got here, the Moon’s shadow was clearly seen. All too quickly, totality was over.

a solar eclipse above a cloud bank with a dark blue sky turning orange towards the horizon
The complete solar eclipse from 41,000 toes on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Photo by Jay Pasachoff / Williams College Eclipse Expedition / NSF Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences Division

Meanwhile, Williams alumnus Christian Lockwood, Theo Boris (Collegiate School) and some others have been on Union Glacier, a part of a 10-day keep that earned them NSF Antarctica Service Medals.

Voulgaris’s pictures and spectra embrace red and green emission strains, proof of the corona’s million-degree temperature. Using our science observations, we’ll additionally check pre-eclipse predictions from Predictive Science, made based mostly on magnetic-field observations of the solar floor made with NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. We hope to publish these outcomes quickly, as we did after 2017’s solar eclipse, in hope of bettering astronomers’ understanding the Sun.

Jay M. Pasachoff


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