Total Solar Eclipse in Patagonia
On 11 July 2010, a total solar eclipse was to be seen on the southern hemisphere. The totality
started in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, east of Australia and New Zealand, went on to touch some
small atolls of the Tahiti region, crossed Easter Island and finally ended at the very south east of
Patagonia, Argentina. An Eclipse hard to get to, but - if visible - one that promised to be most
Even if an eclipse is not part of the scientific work at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial
Physics, it is an exciting astronomical event that fascinates our scientists. Here, Maria Fürmetz
and Anita Winter, both members of MPE, give an account of their trip to El Calafate, Southern Argentina.
With a clear sky probability of about 5% and the eclipse taking place just minutes before sunset above
the Andes, we were not going to take the risk trying to see it from the ground. Instead we wanted to watch
the eclipse from the window of a special eclipse charter flight.
Image: Jean-Luc Dighaye
However, things were not as straightforward as we had hoped for: just before travelling to Buenos Aires we
were notified that the charter flight was canceled due to technical problems. With this news our chances of
seeing the eclipse went from almost 100% down to practically zero. We decided to take the chance anyway and
boarded the plane to Buenos Aires- just to be informed of a flight controllers' strike right after arrival,
which meant that planes to El Calafate were not likely to leave Buenos Aires at all. The alternative, a 24h
bus ride, was not very appealing. For once, luck was on our side and the plane took off - albeit with some
delay. Just as predicted, the weather in El Calafate was cloudy upon arrival. But as we had been able to see
some beautiful Andes peaks from the plane, we had not given up hope quite yet.
Next day was eclipse day, and during an early breakfast we could see starlit skies outside - and no clouds.
After a short introduction into the southern sky, our first stop on the way to the viewing site was the
famous Perito Moreno glacier, where a beautiful sunrise and gorgeous cloudless skies over the glacier
promised a good chance of being able to observe the totality.
In the early afternoon, off-road buses brought us to 1000 metres altitude and our specially chosen viewing
site, above the Lago Argentino and El Calafate with a beautiful view of the snow-capped Andes. While we
waited in perfect sunshine some clouds started to come in from the East. Luck stayed on our side, however,
and the totality, just a few degrees above the Andes peaks, was of stunning beauty. The corona was bright
yellow so close the horizon, and the shadow cone could be seen as clear as can be, racing across the Earth's
surface. After the totality, we could see the shadow cone moving away and literally lifting up the Earth -
we were indeed at the very end of the totality path and the last persons to see the total eclipse!
While we waited in the tents for the buses back down, cheering and celebrating, more clouds came in and we
finally left the mountain in the middle of a heavy snowstorm, a mere two hours after totality. In retrospect
the hard and tiring trip was certainly worth these couple of minutes of an unforgettable total solar eclipse -
one of the most beautiful astronomical events ever to be seen from Earth.
After 3rd contact
Image: Anita Winter / MPE