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TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE 2021 DICIEMBRE 03/04 Todavía hay asientos disponibles ¡eclipse de la totalidad interceptada en el aire al amanecer a 39,000 / 37,000 pies de altitud! Precios Especiales a Chilenos y Mercado Latino. Contáctanos!

A total solar eclipse (TSE) is, unequivocally, one of nature’s grandest spectacles and most awe-inspiring events that we can see with our own eyes! But, the elusiveness of the path of totality for TSE 2021 (Figure 1) has left many eclipse-chasers fretting and asking “how the heck am I going to get there?” We now can answer as we have planned and are vigorously pursuing a unique opportunity to view the eclipse from two high-altitude jetliners in a near-sunrise moonshadow rendezvous, above the otherwise high-probability occurrence of clouds below.

On two specially-chartered LATAM Airbus A321-200’s departing hours before dawn from Punta Arenas in southern Chile, we’ll fly eastbound to a location near the at-altitude sunrise point on centerline over the ocean for approx. 1m45s of totality. This will be magnificently framed in the Moon’s shadow, only 7 solar diameters above the 3.5°-depressed terrestrial horizon. We’ll observe straight out the left-side passenger windows with the two Airbuses flying in tandem, one at 39,000 feet and the other at 37,000 feet. Then we’ll return to Punta Arenas.

TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE 2021 DICIEMBRE 03/04 Todavía hay asientos disponibles ¡eclipse de la totalidad interceptada en el aire al amanecer a 39,000 / 37,000 pies de altitud! Precios Especiales a Chilenos y Mercado Latino. Contáctanos!

THE TSE 2021 PATH OF TOTALITY

The location of the “path of totality” (PoT), the only region from where the eclipse can be seen as total, is dictated by the inexorable laws of celestial mechanics that heed no geographical or geopolitical boundaries. In order to see the eclipse as total (i.e., “totality”) – a truly amazing and awe-inspiring celestial phenomenon like no other – one must be within the PoT that the Moon’s shadow traces out as it sweeps over a small sliver of the Earth’s surface (see Figure 1). An observer located within the PoT at the right moment in time will be enveloped by, and immersed within, the Moon’s umbral shadow for the fleeting few moments of its passage. The width of the path is defined by its northern and southern limits (pink lines in Figure 1), outside of which the eclipse will be seen only as partial, or not at all.

Unlike many PoTs, the TSE 2021 umbral shadow axis as viewed from the ground passes over and beyond the pole before it reaches the Earth’s surface. Thus, as shown in this animation* with a viewpoint originating at the Moon and looking toward the Earth along the shadow axis, the umbral traverse across the polar region is primarily from east to west, i.e., opposite the direction of the Earth’s rotation. (*In this animation the large red circle is the lunar penumbra inside of which the eclipse is visible only as partial. The very small red dot is the projection of the lunar umbra on the ground passing “behind” the South Pole and where, from within, the eclipse is seen as total.) A second animation from the view point of an observer hovering above the South Pole clearly illustrates the “backward” traverse of the lunar shadow from east to west as projected on the surface of the Earth. This is opposite the direction of the Earth’s rotation from west to east.

Observing TSE 2021 from the surface of the Earth within its PoT poses significant logistical challenges. If ever there was a TSE in need of an airborne viewing option, it is TSE 04 December 2021 for which totality is visible only over remote and difficult-to-reach areas of Antarctica, parts of the ice-strewn Weddell and oft-foggy Scotia Seas (partially inclusive of some of the South Orkney Islands), and a small stretch of the south Atlantic Ocean southeast of the Falkland (Malvinas) Islands. These very few noted land- or ocean-based “options”, however, have quite adverse prospects with respect to eclipse visibility (weather), remoteness (and prevailing winds), and cost of access, where totality might otherwise be seen. A number of ships will be headed to locations accessible in the Scotia and northern Weddell Seas where the circum-Antarctic pack ice is not impenetrable, though the likelihood of cloudiness will be quite high (see analysis by eclipse weather expert Jay Anderson). While some undeterred umbraphiles will assuredly take up these challenges, there unquestionably will be a much larger constituency, and very high demand, for an eclipse flight for TSE 2021 – and specifically as we have designed and are working now to implement with our aircraft provider LATAM Airlines.

WINDOW-SHARING AND ECLIPSE-VIEWING

The proximity of the PoT’s northern sunrise line to both the Punta Arenas (as a launch point) and Mt. Pleasant (Falkland/Malvinas Islands) airports fortuitously permits us to employ two well-suited, single-aisle, A321-200 jetliners that are available for charter in the region operating under ETOPS60 rules – more economical than a single wide-body would have been. ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-engine Operation Performance Standards) 60 provides the requisite safe-return operational “reach” of our two A321-200’s to the sunrise limit of the PoT through the planned (contingency, but highly unlikely) use of Mt. Pleasant airport as a “single-engine-out” diversionary return airport. In our case, ETOPS60 provides us with a nearest contingency landing facility (Mt. Pleasant) that both satisfies safety requirements and which is (more than) sufficient to plan an optimal “sunrise” MEI. This is schematically illustrated in Figure 2. Adopting this plan, we are now in the process of refining all the details of our EFLIGHT 2021-SUNRISE eclipse-viewing charter with the aircraft provider/operator, LATAM Airlines, per our detailed specifications. The two A321-200 jetliners we have arranged meet (and exceed) all of our technical requirements and are ideal for this flight scenario.

Seat Row Photos EFLT 2021

EFLIGHT CHARTER PLAN IN PROGRESS

Probably the most often asked questions related to the aircraft windows for eclipse viewing are:

QUALITY. Commercial aircraft windows are not research-grade optics. Nonetheless, if not optically degraded in some fashion, such windows are typically more than well suited for visual and/or binocular viewing of TSEs, and for wide- to intermediate-field photographic imaging and even low-resolution spectroscopy. Several examples are offered below. This, of course, depends upon the window quality. LATAM is aware to provide us with the best – i.e., typically the newest – two A321-200 ’s in their fleet that they possibly can, with defect-free, distortion-free, and scratch/sleek-free windows being a top priority. Aircraft with more than a minimal number of such window artifacts will be rejected from our consideration. Window cleanliness (free of dust, dirt, oils, or any other light-scattering materials or particulates), of course, is also essential; and well-proven protocols for pre-EFLIGHT window cleaning (without leaving residual streaks) are called out in a technical annex to our charter requirements.

Though no photographs can come close to reproducing the magnificent views captured on our retinas and interpreted by our visual cortices, here are a few images taken on prior EFLIGHTs through their aircraft windows indicative of their suitability for TSE observing.

METROLOGY. Below is an annotated photograph that shows the Airbus A320-family window metrology. This particular photo was actually taken from our EFLIGHT 2010 aircraft, which was an Airbus A319 CJ/LR. The window metrology and spacing, however, is identical to the A321-200 ’s we will use for EFLIGHT 2021-SUNRISE (except where exit row doors interrupt the otherwise uniform spacing of the windows).

WINDOW SHARING. The low vertical angle of the Sun (on the horizontal plane, 3.5°/3.4° above the terrestrial horizon at 39,000/37,000 ft) will greatly facilitate “window sharing” for those contemplating an observing partner, which can be much more problematic (and contorting!) for high-solar-elevation-angle eclipse flights. To aid in visualization, we have a high-fidelity window template from Airbus that, if you print to actual size, you can tape to a wall following the dimensions above and try for yourself. So the answer to this second question is – yes. Note that the number of windows accessible to any seat row will vary from 1.0 to 2.0, with some rows providing partial access to a second window. As a result, some seat rows are more amenable to window-sharing than others.

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