If you’ve never experienced a total solar eclipse then what you’re about to see might alarm you. It should also get you reaching for your bucket list.
Here’s what totality in South America looked like in all of its rare glory.
Those in Chile’s Araucania region, mostly around the tourist town and commune of Pucón on Lake Villarrica, experienced totality at 1:04 pm local time, though sadly through thick cloud. It lasted for 2 minutes 8 seconds, but only in Argentina was this phase fully experienced. During totality, onlookers got to see “diamond rings” around the Moon as the last vestiges of sunlight poured through the lunar valleys.
Eclipse-chasers in Pucón had been cordoned off since the previous night and ordered to stay put until after the eclipse was over to try to halt the spread of COVID-19 infections.
In the moments before totality, observers experienced rapidly dropping temperatures as the Moon’s shadow moved towards them. Light levels also plummeted by a factor of 1,000 as totality struck—the moment the Moon blocked the Sun.
What followed was predictable, but spell-binding—an apparent “hole in the sky” as the Sun was blocked. It presented a rare chance for eclipse-chasers to remove their eclipse glasses to glimpse the Sun’s mighty white corona with their naked-eyes. Only during these moments does the Sun look like what it truly is—a bright star spitting-out intense heat floating in a dark sky.
Moments later the Moon’s shadow moved across several active volcanoes—Villarrica, Quetrupilian and Lanin—and entered Argentinean Patagonia at Lago Tromen. Argentina was closed to international visitors aside from the countries that border it in South America.
From there the Moon’s 56 miles-wide shadow raced at about 1,493 miles per hour across Earth’s surface over Neuquén and Rio Negro provinces, Sierra Colorado, Ministro Ramos Mexia, Valcheta and Las Grutas on the Atlantic coast, bringing 2 minutes 9 seconds totality to those underneath.
Only those within the path of totality saw the eclipsed Sun, which was high in the sky in the middle of the day. Most of South America saw a partial solar eclipse.
The Moon’s shadow took 24 minutes to cross South America, entering Chile at 1:00 p.m. and exiting Argentina at 1:25 p.m.
With the arrival of Comet Erasmus close to the Sun in recent weeks it had been hoped that its tail would be visible during the darkness of totality, but so far we’re yet to see photos taken in those couple of minutes that include it.
There were also no reports of bright green meteors during totality, something that had been hoped for since this total solar eclipse occurred only about 12 hours after the peak of the annual Geminids meteor shower—the year’s most powerful.
Eclipse-chasers experienced other natural phenomena during the rare celestial event, including “crescent Sun” shadows on the ground in the minutes before and after totality.
Total solar eclipses occur when the Moon crosses the Sun, which it can only do at New Moon, and only then in the rare circumstance of the Moon’s orbital path around Earth intersecting the path of the Sun through Earth’s sky. A total solar eclipse is visible from the same place on the planet roughly once every 375 years.
However, this was South America’s second total solar eclipse in a row. More northerly areas of Chile and Argentina experienced a similar totality on July 2, 2019, though during that eclipse the Sun and Moon were much lower in the sky. So the sky got darker.
The next total solar eclipse is on Monday, December 4, 2021 in Antarctica. Expensive options include a special cruise around Antartica or a flight above the clouds from Chile. Totality will last about 1 minute 40 seconds and occur very low in the sky, interrupting almost 24 hours of sunlight.
Disclaimer: Jamie Carter is editor of WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.