TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE SUN
Since the dawn of time, solar eclipses have fascinated as well as terrified populations across the planet. This moment where the Moon comes to juxtapose in front of the Sun, projecting its shadow on a small surface on Earth (about 0,3%), has been for so long a matter of concern, until astronomers find an answer to explain this celestial phenomenon.
The Sun being 400 times bigger than the Moon that is 400 times closer than Earth results in this incredible coincidence, causing total solar eclipses from time to time.
As far as I am concerned, I remember very well the eclipse that occurred on August 21st, 2017. Although I could only observe it partially from eastern Canada, the show was grandiose. The people who had the chance to see it in its totality have described it as one of the most exceptional sights they have ever had the chance to see. Therefore, when I learned that the next total eclipse would happen July 2nd of 2019 in the Atacama Desert in Chile, a region that I endearingly cherish and know very well, I immediately knew I had to plan a trip in advance if I wanted to be present.
The Atacama Desert is situated in Northern Chile and even though the area is relatively accessible, the airports are small, flights are limited and hotels are insufficient to accommodate the crowds that such an event can attract. This arid desert, renowned for its starry skies, is the world epicenter for astronomical observation; about 45% of all observations take place there. The fact that a total solar eclipse happens there makes the phenomenon even more special to me. It is then in August of 2018 that I started booking my flights and hotels to have the conviction I would be able to go to this remote place.
Fast forward to June 30th, 2019, I joined a group of photographer in Santiago. From there, we flew to Copiapo, a small mining town we chose to establish as our base. We were pleasantly surprised arriving there for, despite the austral winter, the temperature was quite warm with the Sun was shining. We decided it is a perfect opportunity to test our equipment, solar filters and others, in order to leave nothing to luck on the D-Day of the eclipse, July 2nd. The night before, while we were gathered on the rooftop of the hotel around a glass of Pisco Sour, the famous Chilean cocktail, we were blessed with a breathtaking sunset, as if we needed more to add to our already palpable excitement!
We agreed on the ideal spot for the eclipse : near the La Silla observatory, about 600 km North from Santiago and a 3-hour drive South from Copiapo. Therefore, we needed to leave the hotel first hour in the morning to avoid the crowd and get to this isolated location, thanks to our local driver. Mission accomplished : he drops us at the foot of an arid hill in the middle of the desert at 9:30 in the morning, 6 hours before the big event. This leaves us plenty of time to climb this hill with our photography equipment on our backs and find the right spot to photograph the eclipse.
A solar eclipse in its entirety lasts about 2 to 3 hours, beginning and ending with partial eclipses, which frame the few minutes of the total solar eclipse. In our case, the first moment the Moon came to hide the Sun occurred at 15:23, and the moment the Moon totally hid the Sun lasted from 16:39 to 16:41. Finally, the Sun shines again in its full brightness at 17:47, shortly before disappearing below the horizon after sunset.
While the Moon is moving over to hide the Sun, the light diminishes, the shadows elongate and the temperature drops of a few degrees. The show is already stunning but as we enter the phase of totality, we are astonished. There is no qualifier, no word which can describe the emotions flooding us during those two minutes, which seemed to be only seconds. While darkness reigns during day, the Sun’s rays dance around the moon, crowning it with a luminous crown. There seems to be a sunset glow at the horizon but all around us, on 360 degrees, and higher in the sky, Venus as well as other planets are visible, shining in daylight.
When the totality phase of the eclipse comes to an end with an intense flicker of light, we are left speechless, still with goosebumps, and we exclaim like excited kids. This doesn’t distract us from the reflex of constantly pressing the trigger of our cameras to immortalize this special moment. Slowly, the Moon leaves her place for the Sun to regain its power in the sky, filling the landscape with its light again.
On a scale of 1 to 10 to grade natural phenomenon, I would perhaps give a partial solar eclipse a 7, the Northern lights a 10 while a total eclipse undoubtedly would be a 1000 !
The sight of the glorious crown of light when the lunar shadow invades the planet is of an indescribable beauty and I wish to you all the chance to live this experience at least once in your life.
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