Antarctic Eclipse: Fans Pay Big to Be Left in Dark

John Roach
for National Geographic News
November 21, 2003

Penguin rookeries in Antarctica—weather permitting—will be audience to a total solar eclipse Sunday as the moon slips between Earth and the sun and casts a narrow band of the icy continent into daytime darkness.

A few hundred humans, too, hope to catch the celestial show. They've paid thousands of dollars to journey to—or over—Antarctica, the only landmass where the minutes-long event will be visible.

Some will watch from the deck of an icebreaker, others will stand on the edge of an icy airstrip, and two different groups will peer out the windows of chartered airplanes.

Many of these people are self-described eclipse chasers who stop at almost nothing to see the magic of a total solar eclipse, not even if it literally means traveling to the end of the Earth.

"Eclipses are just spectacular things to see," said Jay Pasachoff, a solar eclipse expert at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, who will watch this eclipse—his 37th—from the seat of an airplane.

The 310-mile (500-kilometer) wide path of totality begins its short sweep across Earth at 22:19 UT (5:19 p.m. ET) on Sunday in the southern Indian Ocean about 680 miles (1,100 kilometers) southeast of Kerguelen Island, according to NASA.

The shadow reaches the west coast of Antarctica at 22:35 UT and moves southeast across the interior to Queen Maud Land on the southern coast, where it leaves Earth's surface at 23:19 UT. The greatest time of totality occurs in Wilkes Land at 22:49 UT and lasts for 1 minute and 55 seconds.

Pasachoff and the other passengers on one of the two chartered flights that plan to intersect the eclipse will get about a 30-second extension in the time of totality owing to the speed of the aircraft.

Jen Winter, co-owner of Astronomical Tours in Kansas City, Missouri, which helped organize the icebreaker journey and an Antarctica land tour said eclipse-chasing is like "seeing the world on a deadline," taking its practitioners to regions they might otherwise never see.

"Ultimately, the allure of the inspirational experience of those few precious seconds of totality are enough to keep travelers asking 'when's the next one?'" she said.

Icebreaker and Land Views

About 100 people hope to see the eclipse from aboard the Kaptain Klebnikov, a Russian icebreaker converted for tourist use in 1992. The ship left from South Africa on November 5 and will arrive in Tasmania on December 3.

Continued on Next Page >>




NEWS FEEDS     After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.   After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.

Get our news delivered directly to your desktop—free.
How to Use XML or RSS

National Geographic Daily News To-Go

Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone. No wires or syncing. Download Stitcher free today.
Click here to get 12 months of National Geographic Magazine for $15.