Chasing the shadow of the moon: To intercept eclipse, Alaska Airlines adjusts flight plan to delight astronomers

Chasing the shadow of the moon: To intercept eclipse, Alaska Airlines adjusts flight plan to delight astronomers

You can’t help but get excited when you fly with us and see a solar eclipse. Alascan Airlines adjusted Flight #870 from Anchorage to Honolulu on March 8, 2016 just so their passengers could catch the solar eclipse from 35,000 feet.

It was so nice of the flight crew to slow everything down for a while. There are some opportunities in life that you just can’t pass up. This was certainly one of them.

In window seat 32F, Joe Rao was one of the dozen astronomers and veteran “eclipse chasers” among the 181 passengers onboard, gazing out oval windows as the moon blocked the sun for nearly two minutes.

He’s an associate astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium (where astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is director). About a year ago, Rao discovered that Alaska Airlines Flight 870 from Anchorage to Honolulu would intersect the “path of totality” – the darkest shadow of the moon as it passes over the Earth.

But the flight’s normally scheduled departure time would have been 25 minutes too early, missing the grand spectacle.

Rather than attempt to move the sun or the moon or the Earth, Rao called Alaska Airlines.

Alaska decided to move the plane.

“It’s an unbelievably accommodating gesture,” said Mike Kentrianakis, solar eclipse project manager for the American Astronomical Society, who was in seat 6F. “Not only is Alaska Airlines getting people from Point A to Point B, but they’re willing to give them an exciting flight experience. An airline that’s actually talking to their people – and listening! That’s customer service at its best. It’s become personal.”

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Total eclipse over northern Australia brings life to standstill (VIDEO, PHOTOS)

Total eclipse over northern Australia brings life to standstill (VIDEO, PHOTOS)

The Diamond Ring effect is shown following totality of the solar eclipse at Palm Cove in Australia’s Tropical North Queensland on November 14, 2012. (AFP Photo / Greg Wood)

 

A rare total eclipse lasting over two minutes has wowed spectators and astronomers alike in Far North Queensland, while the surrounding wildlife also seemed dazzled by the phenomenon, going completely quiet throughout the spectacle.
The moon passes in front of the sun during a full solar eclipse at Palm Grove near the northern Australian city of Cairns in this handout photograph taken and released by Tourism Queensland November 14, 2012. (Reuters)
The moon passes in front of the sun during a full solar eclipse at Palm Grove near the northern Australian city of Cairns in this handout photograph taken and released by Tourism Queensland November 14, 2012. (Reuters)

Initial reports of possible cloudy weather potentially ruining the show were proven unfounded as the moon, sun and Earth aligned for the second time this year.

A tourist watches as the moon passing in front of the sun as it approaches a full solar eclipse in the northern Australian city of Cairns November 14, 2012. (Reuters / Tim Wimborne)
A tourist watches as the moon passing in front of the sun as it approaches a full solar eclipse in the northern Australian city of Cairns November 14, 2012. (Reuters / Tim Wimborne)

The better-than-expected weather gave relieved spectators in the region a chance to catch a glimpse of the celestial phenomenon.

Tourists look at a cloudy sky as a full solar eclipse begins in the northern Australian city of Cairns November 14, 2012. (Reuters / Tim Wimborne)
Tourists look at a cloudy sky as a full solar eclipse begins in the northern Australian city of Cairns November 14, 2012. (Reuters / Tim Wimborne)

However, only Queenslanders got the opportunity to witness the eclipse from land.

People view the solar eclipse from the beach at Palm Cove in Australia′s Tropical North Queensland on November 14, 2012. (AFP Photo / Murray Anderson-Clemence)
People view the solar eclipse from the beach at Palm Cove in Australia’s Tropical North Queensland on November 14, 2012. (AFP Photo / Murray Anderson-Clemence)

A partial eclipse was also visible from east Indonesia, the eastern half of Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and southern parts of Chile and Argentina.

Totality – the darkness that happens at the peak of the eclipse – lasted just over two minutes in Australia.

It sent a normally vibrant, unique and noisy wildlife into a complete silence.

Total eclipses can be seen from the same given point on Earth’s surface only once every 410 years in the northern hemisphere, but only once every 540 years in the southern hemisphere.

The last total eclipse was on July 11, 2010, again over the South Pacific. The next will take place on March 20, 2015, occurring over Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Norway’s far northern Svalbard archipelago.

Scientists were studying how animals respond to the eclipse, with underwater cameras capturing the effects of sudden darkness on the creatures of the Great Barrier Reef.

Tourists look to the sky as clouds obscure a full solar eclipse in the northern Australian city of Cairns November 14, 2012. (Reuters / Tim Wimborne)
Tourists look to the sky as clouds obscure a full solar eclipse in the northern Australian city of Cairns November 14, 2012. (Reuters / Tim Wimborne)
Two women wear special glasses to view the solar eclipse from the beach at Palm Cove in Australia′s Tropical North Queensland on November 14, 2012. (AFP Photo / Greg Wood)
Two women wear special glasses to view the solar eclipse from the beach at Palm Cove in Australia’s Tropical North Queensland on November 14, 2012. (AFP Photo / Greg Wood)
Source: RT