This Aircraft Chased The Longest Solar Eclipse | Followed The Moon's Shadow For 74 Minutes!

This Aircraft Chased The Longest Solar Eclipse | Followed The Moon’s Shadow For 74 Minutes!

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to race the moon’s shadow during a total solar eclipse? This phenomenon, where day briefly turns to night, has fascinated humans for centuries. Recently, flying to experience solar eclipses has become a bit of a trend, with companies like JSX, United Airlines, and Delta offering special flights for eclipse chasers. However, none of these modern efforts can hold a candle to what Concorde 001 achieved on June 30, 1973. This historic flight into the moon’s shadow remains unmatched, and it is still the longest observation of a total solar eclipse. Let’s have a look at the details of their chase and how they witnessed rare phenomena from above.

The Historic Flight of Concorde 001

The path of totality ran for about 156 miles (251 kilometers) on this particular day. Its journey began in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, with Concorde 001, a supersonic jet, specially modified for this mission. Its rooftop portholes and scientific equipment were installed for an international team of scientists on board. The scientists aimed to study the sun’s outer layers and the Corona from an unparalleled vantage point. 

The moon’s shadow moved at a speed of 1,500 mph (2,400 km/h). To follow the path of totality, Concorde flew at 1,350 mph (2,200 km/h) above 55,000 feet. The aircraft traced the path of totality along the Tropic of Cancer. The typical 7-minute eclipse lasted for 74 minutes for the passengers on the aircraft.

A Scientist Recalls Following The Moon’s Shadow

Above the clouds and much of Earth’s atmosphere, the scientists had a clear view of the sun’s corona and chromosphere. They observed the intensity of sunlight in ways impossible from the ground. Donald Liebenberg, from Los Alamos National Laboratory, recalled staying in the totality’s shadow for 74 minutes, a record that still stands. This extended observation provided invaluable data for understanding our closest star.

“We intercepted the totality and stayed within it for 74 minutes before descending and landing in the African nation of Chad. At 74 minutes, our group aboard the Concorde set a record for the amount of time spent in totality that has never been broken. It was an experience I will never forget.”

Donald Liebenberg, scientist from Los Alamos National Laboratory who was on board the flight (NBC News)
Image source: Space.com / National Geographic (The images show the team behind the achievement in 1973)

Witnessing Rare Phenomena From Above!

Aligning a supersonic flight with the moon’s swiftly moving shadow was no small stunt. It required precise calculations and a bit of luck. The flight showcased human creativity and scientific curiosity. 

This mission also allowed the passengers to witness rare solar phenomena like a seven-minute “first contact” along with a 12-minute “third contact.” This refers to the beginning and end of the eclipse including Baily’s beads and the diamond ring effect with remarkable clarity.

After traveling the Sahara and outracing the shadow for as long as possible, Concorde gracefully landed in Chad, marking the end of a historic mission.

Aircraft Chased The Longest Solar Eclipse
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Another Attempt To Chase An Eclipse

The 1973 Concorde mission set a high bar for eclipse-chasing flights. While a 1999 mission also saw Concordes chasing an eclipse, the experience differed. 

On this mission in 1999, three Concordes from France and the U.K. attempted to follow the moon’s shadow. it also had brought tourists and was documented by Xavier Jubier, a French eclipse expert. The passengers have paid around $2,400 to see the iconic eclipse. However, the totality lasted only for four or five minutes. They had problems seeing the eclipse as the windows were small and its placement from the sun’s height. 

Yet, these flights have left a lasting impact on both science and the public’s imagination, showing the lengths to which humanity will go to witness the grandeur of the cosmos. 

Conclusion

The Concorde 001’s journey into the heart of a solar eclipse remains evident in human curiosity and our drive to explore and understand the universe around us. This blend of adventure, science, and the sheer beauty of nature speaks to the spirit of exploration that defines us. 

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