On Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019, Twilight Tours participants successfully observed the total solar eclipse that took place in the Elqui Valley of North Central Chile. This event marked the 16th such tour that the company has staged to intercept the lunar umbra, or shadow, that our satellite the Moon, occasionally casts on our world.
A total of some 60 participants gathered in the Chilean capital city of Santiago on Sunday, June 30th, in preparation for the next day's transfer up the Pan American Highway to the coastal town of Tongoy --- located some 25 miles from the gateway city of La Serena, situated at the entrance to the Elqui Valley.
The assembled group of eclipse observers originated from many parts of the United States: Northern California, Florida, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and even Australia.
Unfortunately, 2 members of our tour were thwarted in their attempt to get to Santiago, due to airplane mechanical issues, or, severe weather conditions, preventing them from connecting to their international flights. This was most unfortunate, but not an unheard-of situation in today's travel realm.
Two other tour members, also faced with failed connections, took drastic measures to ensure that they joined the group successfully. One of them ended up flying from DFW Airport to JFK Airport, and then flew down to Santiago. Additionally, a couple who arrived in Santiago the day after the group had transferred to Tongoy (some 260+ miles away) hired a private car and driver to transfer them to our observing site early on eclipse day.
July 2nd, our group departed our hotel at 5:30 AM for our viewing site, located near the private Mammaluca Observatory ---- located just outside the town of Vicuña, 35 miles up the Elqui Valley. The early departure was done to avoid potential massive traffic jams on the two-lane road up the Elqui Valley leading to Vicuña. Fortunately, our commute lasted just 90 minutes, rather than the predicted 3 to 4 hours.
The viewing site was set in the Andean foothills, with copious space for our group to comfortably set up their various observing hardware and viewing arrangements. We enjoyed a buffet lunch of BBQ'd meats and vegetables, in addition to some local wine and beer (for those not particularly concerned about eclipse event acuity).
The weather on eclipse day was ideal --- featuring a cloudless sky and temperatures hovering in the low 70s (despite it being the start of the Austral Winter). On cue, the partial phases of the eclipse started at 3:23 PM local time.
At 4:38 PM, as predicted, totality overtook our group. With the Sun poised just 9° above the western Andean foothills, we were treated to a magnificent view of the solar corona. Numerous "brushes" were visible at both the north and south poles, while the overall coronal shape resembled a hybrid of both maximum and minimum solar activity --- exhibiting equatorial extensions, while also maintaining a roughly symmetric geometry.
Sunset occurred while the final partial phases of the eclipse were in progress.
Once more seeking to avoid intense traffic heading back to La Serena, we had dinner at our observing site. By the time dinner was finished, it was 9:00 PM. Sadly, despite our plans to outwit traffic, the ride back to our hotel took well over 3 hours, making it a 20+ hour day from start to finish.
The remainder of the tour included a visit to one of the many distilleries in the Elqui Valley, where the national alcoholic drink - Pisco - is manufactured. Naturally, everyone was treated to free samples of that very potent "adult beverage".
The final full day of the tour, we had an excellent tour of Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO). --- During that visit, we saw two of the largest telescopic facilities on the mountain, highlighted by the 4 meter "Victor Blanco telescope", currently used to investigate the mysterious phenomenon of Dark Energy, with its DECam (Dark Energy Camera).
We returned to Santiago in the afternoon on Friday, July 5th, whereupon the group disbursed - either heading back home, or extending their South American adventure.
Where to next? Perhaps Patagonia in southern Argentina in December of 2020, or southwest Texas in 2024
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