If it sounds like an otherworldly experience, that’s because it’s sure to be. And it’s one that thousands have eagerly been preparing for leading up to a Dec. 14 total solar eclipse that will track across Chile and Argentina.
But virtually none will be able to go, thanks to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Both countries have sealed their borders to international tourism and show no signs of reversing that decision before the once-in-a-lifetime celestial spectacle.
Even veteran eclipse chasers such as Jay Pasachoff, a professor of astronomy at Williams College say this year’s eclipse is far from a routine venture for those even able to go.
“This year is the worst,” Pasachoff said.
He’s one of three people globally to hold the world record for eclipse-chasing, having witnessed 35 total solar eclipses since his first in 1959. That one, which he and fellow classmates in his freshman seminar viewed from a plane, left him hooked on what would be a lifelong addiction.
“Each time it gets better and better,” he said.
A total solar eclipse meets a meteor shower
Solar eclipses are something that have to be seen to be understood. Astronomers and stargazers alike routinely travel tens of thousands of miles across the world, all in hopes of basking in the moon’s shadow for mere minutes, every few years. There’s a reason for it, and most struggle to put it into words.
Some make a tradition of chasing eclipses around the globe, each rendezvous with the solar “corona,” or the sun’s atmosphere, like a familiar meeting with an old friend. Totality during December’s total solar eclipse will last just over two minutes, the fleeting phenomenon most spectacular shortly after 1 p.m. local time.
“If you add up all the eclipses I’ve seen, I’ve worked on 75 eclipses — annual and partial,” Pasachoff said.
“All the people just cheer as the diamond-ring effect happens and it goes into totality,” he said. “It’s such a moving thing.”
Meanwhile, the Geminid meteor shower, which could slingshot dozens of shooting stars across the sky every hour, will have just peaked — meaning sporadic green meteors may make an appearance when the sun goes dark.
Included in the path are the northern fringes of Patagonia, a South American region known for its natural beauty. It’s home to desert, volcanoes, the Andes Mountains, glaciers and breathtaking fjords.
Major travel hurdles
A number of travel agencies offered combined sightseeing and eclipse tours, scouting out locations to build an itinerary years in advance. In the past several months, however, they have been forced to cancel their trips.
A state of emergency in Chile exists until at least Dec. 11, and Americans aren’t permitted to enter until further notice. In fact, only Chilean citizens and residents are allowed in the country, and, if arriving from an international location, are required to quarantine in Santiago for two weeks.
The same is true in Argentina, where the U.S. embassy has listed the country as being at a Level 4 out