Eclipse Chasing in Chile

In August 2017 we had the opportunity to travel to Idaho to be part of Virgin Galactic’s Camp Eclipse and experience our first solar eclipse as a family.  This actually wasn’t my first solar eclipse, one had occurred when I was in high school, ironically during the middle of a science lesson, but my only real recollection of that was our particularly inept science teacher at the time managing the excitement by throwing us all out of class into a makeshift detention in the hallway, then screaming at us all to get back inside before we went blind – not exactly the learning opportunity it could have been!

Needless to say the experience in Idaho was far more impactful, and I wrote about some of my takeaways at the time here.

When the chance came to experience another solar eclipse with Virgin Galactic, this time in Chile, we jumped at the chance.  It fell in school holidays, which was perfect, and none of us had been to South America before so it was a great chance to experience a whole new continent.

Camp Eclipse Chile style

With temperatures forecast to be close to zero overnight, we packed our warmest gear and headed off to Chile. After a few days exploring Santiago and the Atacama Desert (which I’ll cover in a separate post), we arrived along with hordes of other eclipse chasers in the Elqui Valley.

We stopped for lunch in Vicuna, the closest town to our campsite, where we got a sense of the excitement that was gripping the area as people flooded in, pushing the local infrastructure to it’s absolute limits and providing plenty of opportunities for enterprising local vendors to sell eclipse themed products – specially labelled pisco and beer being the most prolific!

Chile is considered to be the astronomy capital of the southern hemisphere, with it’s clear skies and lack of light pollution making for great stargazing. Our campsite was located close by to three observatories, and we had the chance to visit one but also experienced each evening just how bright the stars were in the night sky to the naked eye.

Admittedly not the greatest photo, but the fact that you can see stars via an iphone snap hopefully illustrates just how clear the skies were!

This was a very different eclipse to Idaho for a number of reasons. Idaho was a morning eclipse and this one was late in the day, which delivered the added benefit that we actually saw the sun set while still in partial eclipse, which was very cool!

One of my vivid memories from Idaho was the slow creep of the moon shadow across the landscape during the eclipse window, but the Chilean eclipse was completely different. I had read prior to the eclipse that the moon shadow would travel 6500 times faster than it had in Idaho, and in reality you didn’t really see it at all, which made the darkness of totality much more sudden.

Not bad for an iPhone shot!

The other major difference was that in Idaho the vast majority of us were eclipse ‘virgins’. We’d never previously experienced an eclipse, and had no idea what to expect, with the overwhelming feedback there being that we’d all had no idea just how fundamentally impactful experiencing totality would be. This time there were only a couple of people in our group of 40 who hadn’t experienced an eclipse before, so while totality was just as impactful, it was an expected impact rather than a surprise.

As the sun set, the pisco flowed, and we all donned animal onesies and danced the night away in celebration of the opportunity to once again experience an event that for me brings the ancient and modern worlds together.

Huge thanks to the amazing Virgin Galactic team for providing us with the opportunity to attend as a family, and for creating such an incredible experience in such a truly remote location.

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