The July eclipse, from 12,000 meters up

By Phil Plait | August 4, 2010 12:16 pm

My friend Glenn Schneider is an astronomer, and also a little bit nuts. He’s an umbraphile, an eclipse-chaser. But he’s not just any guy who travels the world to watch solar eclipses, he gets neck-deep into them. He actually chartered a plane and organized an incredible trip to see the total solar eclipse a few weeks ago — I wrote about this as he was planning it.

Glenn sent me a note to say that the trip was a complete success! They had more than nine minutes of totality to watch — that’s literally more than is ever possible on the ground, because a plane can "chase the shadow", counteracting the rotation of the Earth. He has some details and some great pictures on his site. Check this out:


The blue streamers above and below the Sun (and the dark spot below the Sun) are not real, but artifacts produced by the plane window and the camera. Still, that’s incredible. Sigh. I swear, one of these days I’ll go with him. I’ve still never seen a total solar eclipse. Some day…

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (35)

  1. I saw >90% once, from New York City around 1970. Add me to your “one of these days” club.

    Hmm… clickety-click… March 7, 1970, to be precise.

  2. 24601

    Here ya go Phil:

    An eclipse for the US!

    People in OR, ID, WY, NE, KS, MO, KY, TN, (a bit of)NC, SC and GA will have totality pass above them. And with 2574 days to go, plenty of time to make plans to be in the path by then ^_^.

  3. Brandon Swift

    Filippenko is also a crazy eclipse chaser. You, he, and Glenn should get together for the ultimate showdown of ultimate umbral übergeekery.

  4. Theron

    I saw one in Atlanta, late 80s. What I remember is the weird light — doesn’t really match anything else.

  5. The Central US will be getting some pretty good eclipses around 2017 I seem to recall. I don’t have the URL for the eclipse page that I lkike to go to, but I can send it to you later if you want it.

  6. Steve M

    Oh for Pete’s sake. Chasing the shadow in a plane does not “counteract the rotation of the Earth”! It “counteracts” the orbital motion of the Moon, keeping the observer under it and thus in its shadow a bit longer. The rotation of the Earth is in the same direction (eastward) as the motion of the Moon’s shadow during an eclipse. Counteracting the rotation of the Earth would shorten, not lengthen the duration. Alas, since you have not seen a total eclipse, I forgive you! 2017 baby!!!

  7. Charles

    Be in Charleston SC on Monday, 21 Aug 2017, Phil. A total eclipse will pass right over the town in a line pointed roughly towards Hendersonville, NC and beyond.

  8. Latimer

    I know how you feel, BA. I, too, haven’t seen a total Solar Eclipse — and missed a total one by three MILES. It’s quite a painful tale… but I’ll get that Eclipse yet!

  9. XPT

    > The blue streamers above and below the Sun (and the dark spot below the Sun) are not real

    Exactly, eclipse-chasing sure sounds cool (and expensive), but you actually miss the real beauty of the event because you’re watching it through a plane window, don’t you?

  10. scgvlmike

    @Theron– That might have been the same one I remember in the Washington, DC suburbs. I was still in high school at the time, and they let us all go outside to watch the shadows. Unfortunately it was a mostly cloudy day, so it wasn’t as impressive as it could’ve been.

    @Charles– I live in Greenville, SC, about 3 hours away from Charleston. You can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be there for that!

  11. August 21, 2017. Reserve your RVs now! BA would only have to travel to Wyoming.

  12. Stephen P

    I made a special journey to see a total eclipse once. Had solid cloud from fifteen minutes before it started until about ten minutes after it finished. Afraid it made me a cynic for life as far as the weather goes.

  13. Jason

    @theron I remember the ATL one, I lived up in the mountains so we weren’t QUITE in totality but they would not let any of us outside for fear we would look up at the sun and go blind. I remember it was in elementary school, but don’t remember which grade. I think it was 4th.

    We watched it mostly on TV with the feed being done from Fernbank.

  14. Stadred

    I’ll have children by 2017, and I plan on taking them to the best location I can find for that eclipse…

  15. Charleston is on the edge of totality. Head north to Bethera instead. Center of a good-sized forest, and close to the center-line of the eclipse.

  16. Gavin Mendeck

    Very cool! Also saw a similar picture at, where they combined several different pictures at different exposures into one, to capture detail more similar to what the eye seas, as opposed to one picture.

  17. KC

    You’re in good company Phil – I’ve never seen a total eclipse either. On an astronomer’s salary it’s not easy scraping together enough money – and the time – for all that travel. Ironically I bet more amateur astronomers and eclipse chasers have seen eclipses than professionals these days!

  18. And thus a new Reality TV show was born:

    Xtreme Astronomy!

  19. Cindy

    If I hadn’t gone to grad school in 94, I would have joined Glenn on his Bolivia eclipse trip.

    It’s on my list of things to do before I die, too.

  20. Doug
  21. Steve M: not sure I agree with you. To be entirely accurate, it would counteract all the motions involved summed together: Moon’s orbit, Earth’s rotation, and and Earth’s orbit.

    The Moon orbits the Earth at about 1 km/sec, which is roughly the same as the equatorial rotational speed of the Earth. So flying along the path counteracts both motions.

  22. I was lucky enough to survive the total eclipse of 1976, October 23 to be exact, in country Victoria. It was the day of the Myrtleford Show (I suppose it is like a county fair in the US). It was very cool and a little eerie, especially when the birds just turned off. One moment you could hear the sounds of the bush. The next it was as if night fell and there was silence.

    The next one in Oz will be in November 2012 up North. I think we get 60% in Sydney.

  23. KurtMac

    Phil: Any plans on viewing the transit of Venus in June 2012? If you don’t see that one, or if you didn’t see the 2004 one, you’ll just have to wait until December 2117.

  24. I remember in 3rd grade wondering, as my class headed into the windowless gymnasium for phy ed, why so many other classes were sitting out in the sunlit hallways instead of in their rooms. And what the heck did they all have pieces of cardboard w/tiny holes for? When we got out of gym everything was normal.

    It was Feb 26, 1979. My parents asked me what I thought of the eclipse that night and I had no idea what they were talking about. My only glimpses of the eclipse were when we watched this on the news that night:

    What kind of a %@&$ teacher thinks that yet another game of dodgeball is more important than a rare event like this?!? So I have vivid memories of my first total eclipse, but they are of NOT seeing it!


  25. Dionigi

    Do not miss seeing a total eclipse it was probably one of the unforgettable highlights of my life and rates alongside seeing one of your children being born.

  26. LMD

    I was fortunate enough to see this eclipse (from the ground, on Anaa Atoll), after two failures due to cloud cover in 1999 and 2009. An utterly incredible experience, viewing the eclipsed sun through binoculars and seeing the purple chromosphere blew my mind.

    Briefly got to meet Glenn Schneider at our hotel on Tahiti a few days before the eclipse and he wished me luck.
    Looks like it worked, as we were clouded out until around a minute before totality and then again a minute or two after third contact. So lucky, others were less fortunate.

  27. Messier Tidy Upper

    Great photo, lucky guy. :-)

    It is one of my life’s ambitions to see a total solar eclipse – I’m looking forward to the Nov. 2012 one in Oz – a bit far north for me but still in the right nation at least. I’m trying to save up for it.

    I was overseas when the last Aussie one occurred – and that was visible in my home state. Murphy’s law. :-(

    @24. HellZiggy : Yegods that is awful. What kind of teacher? An appallingly useless, uninspirational and stupid one *that’s* what kind of teacher. :-(

  28. bassmanpete

    Port Douglas, Queensland, November 14th 2012. It’s before the wet season really gets going so there’s a reasonable chance it won’t be cloudy. It’s also outside the tourist season so anyone planning on coming should be able to get accommodation, but get in quick.

    I currently live in the path of maximum duration totality but will probably have moved back south long before that date. However I have several friends up here who will be happy to put me up for a couple of nights. :)

  29. Roger

    I’ve seen three total eclipses, and I can’t wait for 2017. I’ll be heading for wherever the chances of clear sky will be highest.

    In 1979, I was in a town called Gimli on the shore of Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada, and it was a nice warm -10C. There was an almost carnival atmosphere there as the partial phases started. Once it reached about 90% obscured, people started leaving. I wondered where they were going, and was told that they didn’t want to go blind, so they were going inside to watch totality on TV!!

    Nothing I said could convince them that they had it precisely backwards – that the only safe time to look at the Sun was during totality. They tried desperately to convince me to go inside…I was too nice a guy, they said, to spend the rest of my life completely blind.

    After the shadow of the moon had vanished in the east after racing across the frozen lake, they came out of their homes astonished that I could still see.

    The people who had travelled to see the eclipse were celebrating, but the local townspeople were considerably subdued…perhaps because of a nagging feeling that those in authority had cheated them out of one of the solar systems most incredible sights?

  30. #24 HellZiggy:
    That is indeed terrible! As you say other classes were allowed to watch, I assume that was just stupidity and ignorance on the part of one teacher.
    In the UK in 1999, when we had the only total eclipse of our lifetimes in our own country, some schools actually forbade children from watching it, due to the same sort of idiotic ignorance described by Roger in #28!

    I’ve been lucky enough to see two total eclipses so far, with two more failed attempts.

    Way back in 1983, a friend of mine went to one in Indonesia. At the time, there was some political fighting going on in that country, so the government provided army escorts to protect the tour groups. At my friend’s observing site, a platoon of soldiers formed a ring around the site to protect the group.
    But… in that part of the world, many people still believe ancient superstitions about eclipses being “evil”, etc. So just before Second Contact, all the soldiers turned their backs, and refused to look!!!!! So these guys had the chance to see nature’s greatest spectacle, without leaving their own country, and be paid for doing so – but still they refused to look!
    Evidently, it didn’t occur to them to think, “Hang on – all these people have travelled halfway round the world to see this, so what are we worried about?”

  31. DLC

    I remember being in school back in the 80s and watching an eclipse through a piece of welder’s glass. Of course, it was wrong to do and could have caused eye trauma. But it was something to see.

  32. JS

    I’ve seen a total eclipse in August 1999 in Austria! You really should see one your self one day. I’ll never forget this very special day!

  33. Ross

    The continental USA has several total solar eclipses coming up. As already mentioned, Aug 21, 2017, which will start at the northern Oregon coast and proceed through the middle of the country to the South Carolina coast. April 8, 2024, from Texas to Maine, and August 12, 2045, from extreme northern California to Florida.

    The NASA eclipse site has a great section on the perodicity of eclipes. I had never thought about it before, but it makes sense that eclipes run in cycles (15,000 year cycles!)

    Also there will be a total lunar eclipse Dec 21 this year, visible from the entire USA.

  34. Ick of the East

    Thailand ’95
    Germany ’99

    Those of you who haven’t seen a total eclipse…OMG..

    I came to realize that all the shouting and banging that the “savages” do to scare away the sun-devouring demons are not the whole story. Because we “civilized” folk were shouting and banging out of pure joy at the spectacle.

    My NASA brother flew all the way from Huntsville to Bangkok, endured a 15-hour drive (3 up, 12 back) to the eclipse site, and then the flight back to Huntsville (not on one day, of course). He said that all of that travel and trouble and cost was worth the few minutes of the eclipse. And then some.

  35. Tribeca Mike

    Thanks for the cool photo and the link. I recall viewing an eclipse (don’t remember what type) in southern Arizona as a kid in the sixties, and it was the first time I heard the phrase “Never look directly into the sun.” Having grown up previously in usually overcast and rainy Massachusetts, I’d never heard that before and couldn’t help but wonder who would be dumb enough to do such a silly thing. Naturally, being a typically impressionable kid, I looked “into” the sun every once in a while just to see what would happen. Not long after, I heard the rumor about the effects of smoking fried banana peels, but that’s another story.


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