I cannot tell you how many times I get questions from new tour participants and the press about why we go to view solar eclipses, especially total solar eclipses. Is it really worth traveling thousands of miles and spending thousands of US dollars for such an experience? After all, when you see photos printed in media they generally look the same—the Sun either partially eclipsed or fully eclipsed surrounded by its atmosphere (corona) with perhaps foreground images of features you can recognize.
A total solar eclipse is so much more than this. Here is a list of possible features that you be on the lookout for either before, during or after the total eclipse process. The term ‘totality’ is used to mean only the period of time when the Moon fully blocks the Sun’s light:
n. presence or absence of shadow bands in the sky during the minutes prior to and after totality. These are faint waving bands of alternating contrast best seen on white surfaces when on the ground but the first image shows they can be photographed on cloud. They are reported most frequently at coastal observing locations in the presence of light low altitude cloud, but have been seen from airplanes (on the wings), at sea and at land locations.
o. the appearance of the ‘Diamond Ring’ before and after totality and just prior to/after the Baily’s Beads are seen. The diamond ring is an impression one gets of the way the Sun looks if there is a deep lunar valley just prior to the start and/or end of the total eclipse. It can last from one to 3 seconds generally.
q. the entire visual experience is incomparable. It excites the senses! No video or photograph can mimic what your eyes can see. We always recommend that, especially for first time eclipse participants, that you do not attempt to waste any of the precious seconds of totality taking photos or recording it on video.
u. in the few seconds before/after totality there is an array of wavelengths of light dectable in the emissions from the limb of the Sun. When the upper layer of the Sun’s atmosphere (the photosphere) is occulted by the Moon, the layers of the Sun’s atmosphere flash into view, and the spectrum briefly shows the bright lines produced by tenuous hot luminous gas. Except during eclipses, this part of the spectrum is masked by the glare of the Sun’s disk.
More remotely visible celestial objects might be seen but there is no guarantee. On rare occasion a bright comet passing close to the Sun has been seen during a total eclipse. Also, from high latitude locations when solar activity is on the increase it ‘might’ be possible to see an aurora during totality. A very bright artificial Earth satellite could also be viewed perhaps during the partial eclipse phases (when the Sun is not completely eclipsed) but the satellite is illuminated enough by the Sun outside the Moon’s shadow.
RING OF FIRE EXPEDITIONS offers tours to new or remote destinations and places where tour participants can see unique sights and highlights of the country. The eclipse may be an excuse for people to combine a vacation with a total solar eclipse or to add to the count of the number of countries and passport stamps.
Whatever your motivation, the sights and experiences of a total solar eclipse are truly rare and wonderful!
Even a partial eclipse can be fascinating to watch. It will not get dark and you cannot see the phenomena mentioned above, but you can see a section of the Sun become covered for quite a while. Here is an example where I went up 27 stories above ground to see the Moon cover just 7.6% of the Sun on February 15, 2018 from the Courtyard Hotel in Santiago, Chile.