Saturday, May 18, 2019

Chasing Chile's Eclipses...Across the Andes, Perhaps?

Many times I’ve visited north-central Chile’s desert regions—CoquimboAtacama and Antofagasta—which are home to some of the world’s most important astronomical observatories. There is also a constellation of smaller community observatories that offer visitors a chance to see the austral night skies through what, not that long ago, would have been professional telescopes.
The clear skies around Cerro Tololo Observatory (upper left here) an ideal for astronomy.
Combarbalá is one of many town and cities eagerly anticipating July's eclipse.
That said, I’ve never seen a solar eclipse there or elsewhere in South America, even though Chile (and Argentina) experienced major events in 1994 and again in 2010. There’ll be another opportunity soon, though, in the best of all possible areas—on July 2nd, the path of totality will pass directly over the city of La Serena and the Coquimbo region, home to Cerro Tololo and several other observatories. Even area beyond totality expect to take advantage of the event, as I learned last month when I visited the town of Combarbalá, which lies just south of the path.
The July eclipse's path takes it over the Coquimbo region and into Argentina's San Juan Province.
On the Argentine side, totality will pass over the Humid Pampas and just south of Buenos Aires, but winter weather could obscure the event.
From Coquimbo the path then trends southeast, crossing the Andes to the Argentine province of San Juan—another ideal viewing location for its clear desert skies—and continuing toward Buenos Aires. The eclipse will not be total in the Argentine capital, though it will be—theoretically at least—in parts of Buenos Aires province. Theoretically, I say, because that part of the Humid Pampas has a good chance of heavy cloud cover and rain in mid-winter. The skies will darken, certainly, but there’s no guarantee of seeing the moon cover the sun.

Either way, I won’t see this year’s eclipse because I’ll be in California and, in the days leading up to it, we’ll be hosting our Argentine nephew Manuel, his wife Ivana, and their son Simón. They’re flying back to Buenos Aires on July 1st, and I’m not sure whether they’ll arrive in time for the big event. I suspect that a lot of Porteños will leave the city, if just for the day, to spend some time in totality, especially if the weather seems likely to cooperate.
The map here indicates the 2019 eclipse coverage at various locations throughout Chile.
The map here indicates coverage during the 2020 eclipse. 
Even if you (or I) won’t see this one, there’s another upcoming opportunity. On December 14, 2020, Chile will experience another total eclipse in the southern mainland region of La Araucanía, passing over the prime tourist towns of Pucón and Villarrica. The downside is that, like the Pacific Northwest, this area enjoys a marine west coast climate that can bring cloud cover and drizzle at any time of year. It might be better seen in Argentine Patagonia, as the rain shadow of the Andes usually means clear skies on the sprawling steppes. It can get windy there, though, so the beach resort of Las Grutas might be the comfiest option.
For the 2020 eclipse, it won't quite be high season at Las Grutas.

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