Sunday, December 13, 2020

Corona v. Corona? Virus Meets Eclipse in South America

In mid-2019, Chileans and many foreigners flocked to the coastline, about 500 km north of Santiago, to see a major solar eclipse—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most people. Tomorrow, though, there’s yet another chance, but this year’s event has complications for eclipse-chasers in Argentine Patagonia or southern mainland Chile, the path on which the moon will blot out the sun for a little over two minutes. Those complications have to do with COVID-19, of course, but also the weather.

The path of Monday's eclipse

While people flocked to the 2019 event, that comes with risks this year. A friend in Pucón, who until very recently worked in hotel administration, tells me that the city “is living as if this wave won’t arrive here. There are lots of people who’ve come to see the eclipse, many of whom surely are carrying the virus that will force us to shut down again, perhaps all summer…”

Monday's forecast shows a 90 percent chance of rain at the hour of totality,

Ironically enough, they may be risking their lives—and those of others—for nothing. A few years ago, I and some friends had to cancel an overflight of nearby Volcán Villarrica because heavy cloud cover set in the morning of our departure, and tomorrow’s forecast shows rain throughout the day (the marine west coast climate resembles that of Seattle). In the path of totality, the sky will get darker at 1 p.m., but no one there is likely to see the startling sight of the solar corona (spoiler—it’s nothing to do with the virus!) when the moon blocks the sun.


In theory, visibility should be better on the Argentine side of the border, in the rain shadow of the Andes, but rain is also possible at San Martín de Los Andes, a prime tourist destination that lies barely outside totality. Conditions should be better in the city of Neuquén, a bit farther from the path of totality, but I would expect heavy southbound traffic towards the hamlet of Picún Leufú, which lies within. A 20-something friend of ours in the city (which is not really a tourist destination) at first sounded indifferent when I asked him if he were going to watch it, but now it seems he’ll at least step outside the office to glimpse the partial eclipse.


For those of us unable to reach Chile or Argentina for the event, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will follow it online starting at 9:40 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. There will also be a live show in Spanish starting at 10:30 a.m. EST.

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