FROM COMMANDER CHARCOT IN THE SOUTH OCEAN OFF THE ANTARCTICA – About 200 passengers aboard this exploration cruise ship, belonging to the French cruise company Ponant, unfortunately suffered a complete cloud from this total solar eclipse, which swept across part of the frozen Antarctic continent on Saturday. Late Friday evening, Captain Etienne Garcia, captain of Commander Charcot, reversed the course of the ship. It was previously heading on a southeast track just east of the midline of the eclipse path, but based on a check of satellite imagery, Captain Garcia decided to turn and head on a northwest track and maneuver the ship closer to the center line of the eclipse. Satellite images had shown more or less general cloud cover, but research was underway for a few thin spots that could have provided partial visibility.
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Unfortunately, overnight, as the temperatures cooled, the sky only thickened. And the passengers and crew who gathered at the stern of the ship after 3 a.m. (“Chilean summer time”) saw only gray skies.
By the time it encountered the dark shadow of the moon, the 30,000 ton exploration vessel was located nearly 57.72 degrees south and 44.02 degrees west, northeast of the islands. South Orkney Islands. About 20 minutes before the second contact, the start of the total phase of the eclipse, passengers began to notice a subtle decrease in light levels and this really started to accelerate towards darkening over the last two. minutes before totality as the moon’s shadow rushed towards us. northeast at 3,100 mph.
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A number of petrels – tubular nosed seabirds native to this part of the world – were flying and diving around the ship as night fell and we also spotted two whales that breached the sea surface at side of our ship. Whether they all react to the darkening of the sky is debatable, but certainly a possibility.
The whole lasted 97 seconds. No distinct shadows or dark cones were noted. Rather, just an amorphous darkening of the sky – like someone lowering a rheostat or a dimmer. No color was seen and the end of the whole seemed more pronounced as the light seemed to come back faster than it did when it faded.
During all it actually started to drizzle very lightly and a few minutes after the third contact it actually started to snow lightly. The air temperature hovered around 0 ° C (32 ° F), but taking the winds into account made it noticeably colder.
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Well… we did our best, but unfortunately we came out empty. Those who had never experienced a total solar eclipse were in awe of the dramatic darkening of the sky, but for those like me, who knew what was hiding in sight behind the cloud bridge, it was quite disappointing.
I knew when I took on this assignment to work with Captain Garcia and his staff that the chances of success were long based on the long term weather records for that part of the world. It is nonetheless difficult to take, given the brilliant sunshine in our sky the two days before the eclipse.
It was eclipse number 13 for me. . . the very first dating from July 1972; only my second cloud-out (the first was 44 years ago in Colombia, October 1977). My batting average for eclipse success is 84.7%, so I really have no complaints – but a bitter loss nonetheless.
On a bright note, with today’s 97 seconds, I have now spent over 30 minutes “lounging” in the shadow of the moon.
In 1973, I was at an eclipse hunters gathering at the Hayden Planetarium attended by Dr. Charles Hugh Smiley of Brown University. Hayden Director Mark Chartrand said Dr Smiley had spent over 30 minutes in the shadow of the Moon, “An unprecedented total! Exclaimed Doctor Chartrand. I told myself at that point that I would never come close to Dr Smiley’s record, but with today’s eclipse, I have it.
Dr Smiley (died 1977) ended his career after observing 14 eclipses. Today, many seasoned eclipse hunters have seen more than 20 total eclipses and a few individuals, such as solar physicist Dr Jay Pasachoff of Williams College in Massachusetts and Dr Glenn Schneider of Steward Observatory in the ‘University of Arizona, have seen more than 30!
At least one cruise ship has had a view of the totally eclipsed sun. News has reached us that National Geographic’s “Endurance” ship has successfully sighted the corona between the clouds at a position near the start of today’s totality track. There were also charter flights that took observers to about 33,000 feet above the cloud cover for aerial views of this morning’s heavenly spectacle.
In total, it is estimated that less than 3,000 people witnessed today’s total eclipse.
The next total eclipse on April 20, 2023 will actually be an unusual, or “hybrid,” total annular eclipse in which along part of the eclipse’s path, an annular or annular eclipse is observed, while along part of the eclipse path. other parts of the eclipse path, the eclipse is total. Most eclipse watchers will likely converge on Cape Range National Park in Western Australia, where the total will last 62 seconds.
On April 8, 2024, a total eclipse will pass through parts of northern Mexico, southern and eastern United States, and eastern Canada. About 35 million people live in the entire path of this eclipse, with the total phase in some cases exceeding 4 minutes.
Editor’s Note: If you take a great solar eclipse photo and want to share it with the readers of Space.com, send your photos, comments, along with your name and location to [email protected]
Joe Rao is an instructor and guest speaker at New York’s Hayden Planetarium. He writes on astronomy for Journal of natural history, the Farmers Almanac and other publications. Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.