You couldn’t order up a geekier solar eclipse from the cosmos. Next Tuesday on July 2nd, the second of three eclipse seasons begins for 2019, with the only total solar eclipse of the year spanning the southern tip of South America, including the nations of Chile and Argentina. As an extra-special part of the spectacle, however, the path of totality for the eclipse passes right over the La Silla observatory complex in the Atacama Desert.
The Circumstances for the Eclipse
You might remember the last time that the umbral shadow of the Moon graced the surface of the Earth, in the Great American Eclipse of August 21st, 2017 crossing the United States. Witnessed by millions, I wonder how many new umbraphiles were minted on that day, that became dedicated enough as eclipse chasers to head down to South America next week. Totality for this one has a decent length of a maximum duration of 4 minutes, 33 seconds as the shadow crosses over the mid-Pacific.
This particular eclipse is member 58 of the 82 eclipses in saros 127, which started way back in 991 AD and ends on March 21st, 2452. This particular saros will stop producing total solar eclipses at the end of this century, with the final one off the Antarctic coast on – mark your calendars – August 15th, 2091. Another member of this same saros series (number 51) crossed South America on April 16th 1893, early in the era of eclipse photography. Astronomer John Martin Schaeberle discovered a rare comet near the Sun during this eclipse.
Partial phases for the eclipse begin at 16:55 Universal Time (UT) and totality begins when the umbra of the Moon touches down 1,000 kilometers northeast of New Zealand at 18:01 UT. The shadow then races across the Pacific, threading its way between the Pitcairn Islands, before finally making landfall 300 kilometers north of Santiago, the capital of Chile at about 20:38 UT. The dramatic climax for the eclipse then concludes as the shadow sweeps across the Andes Mountains into Argentina and south of Cordoba and the large city of Buenos Aires (population: 2.9 million) for a fine end to totality nearing sunset.
This is, for the most part, a remote one, though several cruise ships will most likely meet the shadow of the Moon at sea. Partial phases will cover all of South America except the northernmost portion, along with the southern coast of Central America. Some great sites around the region to catch the partial solar eclipse (with maximum obscuration and time of maximum partial phase) include: Easter Island (75%, 19:21 UT), the Galapagos Islands (35%, 20:14 UT), Machu Picchu (50%, 20:45 UT), Lake Titicaca (65%, 20:45 UT) and the grand old Quito observatory in Ecuador (30%, 20:35 UT).
Never look directly at the Sun during the partial phases of a solar eclipse, and make sure to use glasses with the proper ISO 12312-2 rating.
Totality at La Silla occurs at around 20:38 UT, with the Sun 15 degrees high in the sky. And while the large instruments and the site will remain dormant, the European Southern Observatory will host a public viewing event, complete with a live webcast featuring the eclipse for the rest of us stranded outside of the path of totality.
A small set of scientific observations will be carried out during the eclipse on-site as well.
And the main topic of conversation post-totality is always: “when’s the next one?” Well, this eclipse season is book-ended by a partial lunar eclipse on July 16th favoring Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. The next solar eclipse is an annular crossing Southeast Asia on December 26th, 2019. And you don’t have to wait until April 8th 2024 to see totality once again, as the next total solar eclipse occurs on December 14th, 2020 spanning South Pacific, the southern tip of South America and the South Atlantic.
Let eclipse season begin!