Longest eclipse ever observed by civilians chasing the moon in an airplane

Eclipse hunters set a new record on July 11 for the longest eclipse ever observed by civilians chasing the moon in an airplane. While hundreds of eclipse enthusiasts flocked to islands in the South Pacific to watch the moon blot out the sun, astronomer Glenn Schneider and colleagues climbed to 39,000 feet to spend 9 minutes, 23 seconds in the moon’s shadow.

“We cheated Mother Nature by two minutes beyond what she could normally produce,” Schneider said.

Theoretically, the longest total solar eclipse that can be viewed from the ground is 7 minutes, 32 seconds long, a limit set by the geometry of celestial mechanics. Total solar eclipses happen when the new moon passes in front of the sun, casting a round shadow on the Earth that turns day to night. During the few minutes when the moon is directly in front of the sun, called totality, viewers get a rare glimpse of the solar corona, tendrils of gas that dance around the sun’s outer atmosphere. Although a solar eclipse is visible from somewhere on Earth every 16 months or so, totality is only ever visible from a narrow swatch of the planet.
Longest eclipse ever photo, longest total solar eclipse picture, solar corona image, Eclipse view from plane video, world record 2010
                                                          Longest eclipse ever picture

The geometry of the July 11 eclipse worked out such that, by chasing the moon’s shadow at Mach 0.8, Schneider and his colleagues could stretch totality to from about 5 minutes to nearly 9 and a half minutes.

“It’s something we’re never going to be able to do again,” Schneider said. “It was an opportunity we just couldn’t pass up.”

The plane also provided “weather insurance,” Schneider said. The path of totality for the eclipse crossed the Pacific Ocean, grazing the Cook Islands, Easter Island, parts of French Polynesia and the southern tip of South America. Although there were clear skies for the actual event, the region’s annual weather records suggested that the odds of clouds blocking the eclipse were no better than 50/50, even from the best land-based viewing spots. Getting above the clouds guaranteed a clear view, plus superb shots of the corona contrasted against a dark sky.

Schneider’s flight took off from Faa’a International Airport on the island of Tahiti at 5:45 a.m. local time. On board were eclipse chasers Rick Brown and John Beattie, NASA eclipse predictor Fred Espenak, about 30 paying passengers who contacted Brown through the website eclipse-chasers.com, and four officials from the Tahitian government.
Longest eclipse ever observe picture, Eclipse view from plane, longest total solar view, astronomer Glenn Schneider and colleagues photo, Schneider’s flight
The group flew in a specially configured jet aircraft from Skytraders Antarctic Solutions, an aviation company that ferries scientists and equipment from Australia to Antarctica. The crew removed all the seats from the left side of the plane to give an unobstructed view from the sun-facing windows.

A few minutes before totality, the plane turned to face the approaching lunar shadow head-on. Schneider and his colleagues watched the shadow zoom toward the plane from a hundred miles away, engulfing the clouds below in darkness.

“It looked like the end of the world, this black shadow coming at us,” said Brown, who is a commodity trader by profession but has been organizing group eclipse viewings since 1991. “It was very, very surreal.” As the shadow came closer, the observers could see daylight at its far edge, like a miniature sunrise in the middle of the day.
The plane made a right-angle turn to intercept the moon’s shadow at about 9:15 a.m. At the moment of totality, the plane fell quiet.

“Normally on the ground there’s a lot of screaming, oohing and aahing, and a lot of noise going on, but for some reason it was very quiet in the plane,” Brown said. “People were astounded.”

The plane flew along with the shadow at 500 miles per hour, about a third of the shadow’s speed across the Earth’s surface. At that speed, the time in totality stretched from the 5 minutes, 20 seconds visible from the ground to 9 minutes, 23 seconds. It was the longest totality ever observed from a non-experimental and non-military aircraft. Brown said the team is submitting a DVD to the Guinness Book of World Records.

The longest totality ever observed by an experimental aircraft was 74 minutes, captured by a supersonic Concorde aircraft in 1973. Schneider’s first attempt to beat celestial geometry would have come close to that. For the June 2001 eclipse, he made plans to fly in the moon’s shadow for over an hour in an Air France Concorde plane. But just days before the final planning meeting with the airline, Air France Flight 4590 crashed in Gonesse, France, killing all 109 people on board and four people on the ground. All Concordes were grounded a few days later.

“That was the end of that plan,” Schneider said. “Since then, it was always in the back of my head: When can I do something like that again?”

The July 11 eclipse was the fourth eclipse Schneider observed from the air. Since his first total solar eclipse as a 14-year-old in North Carolina in 1970, Schneider has chased 29 eclipses from Australia to Zambia, catching a few minutes of eerie darkness from land, air and sea. He boasts that he has lost just 3.7 eclipses to clouds. That 0.7 was from partly cloudy skies over Wuhan, China on July 22, 2009, which blocked his view of the longest total solar eclipse visible from the ground for more than a century. Of what should have been 5 minutes, 40 seconds of totality, Schneider caught just a minute and a half.