EurAstro TSE 2010 mission to Patagonia

Image credits: Philippe Cerveau, Annie Decroix, Jean-Luc Dighaye, Anita Winter

The EurAstro total solar eclipse mission 2010 to Patagonia

Several groups of EurAstro eclipse chasers had again chosen our official partner Eclipse-City (hereafter: E-C) to bring us to the Total Solar Eclipse of July 11th, 2010.

The cheapest, safest option appeared to be the Patagonian one, comprising an eclipse intercept flight from El Calafate in austral Patagonia. Alas, shortly before we departed from Europe, a row of bad news hit us. The eclipse aircraft had to undergo a complete maintenance, so it would definitely be unavailable on time. There could have been a substitute plane provided by the military, but it was stationed in the wrong place at the wrong time; bringing it to El Calafate would have been prohibitively expensive.

The air traffic controllers went on industrial action. The Buenos Aires planetarium, which was expected to house the usual E-C symposium called InterSoles, threatened to charge E-C another prohibitive amount to do so. Eventually, the local authorities in El Calafate friendly organised an alternate venue for InterSoles, now at the eclipse location and some 24 hours before the eclipse.

The last unknown was the weather. The eclipse would occur very near to the horizon, hence completely clear and cloud-free skies would be mandatory. Weather prospects were not bad, which added to the suspense, since we needed much better than 'not bad' weather.

Never short of resources, E-C had implemented a most comfortable camp on top of the Balcon of Calafate, a mountain range culminating at about 1000 m, comprising heated tents, meals (Argentinian beef of course), a satellite dish and wide screen for the soccer fans to know real-time who would win the World Cup, vuvuzelas to blow into, shuttle service, eclipse survival kit, multilingual assistance - E-C at its best!

You already know E-C's team, led by Federico ("Rico") Avellán Borgmeyer, from previous EurAstro missions. A new recruit, Melanie Gaggl, will be E-C's rising star. So much energy and so much gentleness at the same time are rarely found in a single person.

But back to the weather. We had overcast skies till InterSoles, where astrophysicist Dr Anita Winter, partly on EurAstro grant, captivated the audience, along with Maria Fürmetz another rising star. Maria was just beginning her career as a speaker, and never saw the southern sky nor a total solar eclipse. She was in for the most eventful day of her life! Clearings came in the evening, and I could show the predawn skies to E-C's customers before going to a magnificent glacier called Perito Moreno. The rest of the day was exceptionally clear, with only traces of orographic clouds over the Andes peaks in the distance. The eclipse itself brought a show beyond imagination. The images taken cannot bring justice to that otherwordly golden corona, and lunar shadow swift but majestic progression. The Centaurus and Southern Cross shining overhead added to the spectators' awe. Just after the eclipse, more clouds came at dusk, announcing a storm. The party left the tents ready to collapse under apocalyptic whirlwinds of snow in the dark. What a day!

As ever, eclipses bring people closer together. My thanks go to the E-C organisers, to all those I met - again or for the first time - under the Moon's shadow, and especially to Dr. Michael Smith - an eclipse chaser and a gentleman. We are surely to meet again. EurAstro has a project of annular solar eclipse and astro-ethnology travel in 2012. More to come soon...