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All eclipse eyes are on South America

6/26/2019, 12:00:10 PM

This astronomy blog was written by Dr. Gordon Telepun, an expert eclipse photographer and eclipse educator with a special interest in the partial phase phenomena.

Total solar eclipses are the result of the wonderful and perpetual clockwork of the solar system. And that clockwork puts the path of the next two consecutive total solar eclipses in South America: July 2, 2019 and Dec. 14, 2020. For United States observers who experienced their first total solar eclipse in 2017 and have the burning desire to see another one and can’t stand to wait until 2024, traveling south is a reasonable international journey to one (or both) of these eclipses.

Traveling to International Eclipses

When choosing an eclipse to travel to, I recommend assessing 6 categories, of which the first three are the most important and must be balanced to make your decision to travel. The categories are weather and cloud risk, totality duration, travel logistics, vacation planning, eclipse image planning, vacation interests and personal schedule.

Eclipse figure 1

The first three categories must be carefully assessed. Think about it like a three-seat seesaw and trying to find a balance between the pros and cons.

The 2019 and 2020 eclipses are clearly reasonable for North American eclipse observers.

eclipse figure 2

The paths of the 2019 and 2020 eclipses are approximately 800 km apart.

Both eclipses have specific regions along the paths where the daily cloud prediction models are between 30% and 40%. The totality duration for 2019 is just over 2 minutes and 30 seconds and for 2020 just over 2 minutes.

Traveling requires an international flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina, or Santiago, Chile, followed by a domestic flight and a short drive to the path, so the costs should be similar. Tourist attractions, landscape, and local cultural experiences will be rich at both. Although the eclipses occur in opposite seasons, due to the difference in latitude, the temperatures in the main observing regions will not be extreme.

eclipse figure 3

The average range for temperatures across the entire path should not present extremes for either eclipse.

Eclipse imaging is where they differ greatly with 2019 being a setting eclipse and 2020 having the point of greatest eclipse located in Argentina. In 2019, the Sun altitude at max eclipse in the Elqui Valley of Chile at will be just 13 degrees above the horizon which allows for framing beautiful landscape images that include totality. In 2020, the eclipse presents difficulties for aiming gear since max eclipse will be over 71 degrees across the entire continent.

Finally, your personal schedule has to allow for the time needed to travel to an international eclipse.

Are You A Pollywog?

In the Navy, a sailor who has never crossed the equator is called a Pollywog. When their ship crosses the equator, they will celebrate the “Order of Neptune” line crossing ceremony. With this ceremony, the sailors become a Shellback, or a son or daughter of Neptune and they are now trusted to be seaworthy.

Whatever way you cross the equator for a South American eclipse, for those who have never observed a total solar eclipse in the Southern Hemisphere, it can be a little disorienting. Especially when you are observing from a position located more south than the Tropic of Capricorn. At midday, when you look at the Sun on the ecliptic, you will be facing north and the Sun will rise on your right and set on your left. You should check your photography gear and physically simulate the way things will flip below the equator.

eclipse southern hemisphere

(There are many nuances to prepare your mind and your gear for a southern hemisphere eclipse. This video provides a comprehensive overview.)

In 2019, if you plan to use a regular tripod and align your camera sensor with the ecliptic, be aware that some tripod camera mounting pads pitch a camera body upward to the left or upward to the right. The 2019 eclipse occurs close to sunset where the ecliptic is steeply angled. So when testing your gear in the Northern Hemisphere, if your camera mounting pad aligns your camera body with a rising Sun it will work in the Southern Hemisphere for a setting Sun (the angle flips).

eclipse figure 4

Tripod camera pads tilt left or right. If you plan to angle your camera sensor to the ecliptic, the tilt in the northern hemisphere flips in the Southern Hemisphere.

If you are planning to use a guiding mount and polar align, you will make your normal mount altitude adjustment based on your latitude but you will polar align to the south. Make sure you know how to switch the direction of the motor on your mount and bring a compass and a small torpedo level to aid your set up.

The Partial Phase Phenomena

Remember that eclipses are not only about totality and eclipse photography. Enjoy the interesting natural phenomena that occur as the Moon progressively obscures the Sun between 1st and 2nd contact. There is no other situation on Earth, other than a solar eclipse, where there is a physical blocking of the entire electromagnetic spectrum of the Sun.

The temperature will drop and you will feel it and you may want to devise a simple way to document it. When you are clearly into the crescent phases, do a pinhole projection picture of the Sun projected on the ground. This is the concept of camera obscura and the crescent is actually being projected upside down and reversed left to right.

Deeper into the crescent phases, be aware of the way shadows are cast to the ground. Shadows that are in-line with the angle of the crescent Sun should cast a shadow with a sharp edge and shadows that are perpendicular to the crescent should have a fuzzy edge.

eclipse figure 5

This shadow picture from the 2017 eclipse most likely had this orientation to the crescent phase in the sky.

Closer to second contact, animals sense the decreasing light and behave as if night time is coming. The most common thing to witness is crickets chirping. About five minutes before totality, your eyes and brain can no longer adjust for the decreasing light and you will notice the dimming light. But it’s different, you will see that the surroundings have a gray silver tone to them and colors are less saturated. This is a result of the light-sensitive cells in your retina switching from cones to rods and creating the Purkinje Effect.

At two minutes before totality, while peeking at the final crescent, you must continue to take brief looks at the ground. You are looking for shadow bands, which are very low contrast gray shadows that will flutter and move across the ground. These are caused by the very slim crescent of light piercing the atmosphere and being perturbed by the layers of moving warmer and cooler air.

eclipse figure 6

Shadow bands are exciting to see and are due to atmospheric effects on the slit of light.


After second contact, you are in totality and it is safe to remove your solar glasses and look at the corona with your eyes and binoculars. Enjoy it! You may see bright planets and stars in the sky. Take some totality photographs, but don’t spend too much time with your camera.

Remember to spin around and look at the horizon which for 360 degrees will have the colors of a sunset. This occurs because you are standing in the umbra with its perimeter still lit by the Sun. Then you must be aware of 3rd contact and the need to protect your eyes with solar glasses again, so know where your solar glasses are.

How To Be Guided Through An Eclipse

All aspects of a total solar eclipse require precise timing and helpful reminders. It is a very exciting and overwhelming event with a lot to do. The mobile app Solar Eclipse Timer is the original eclipse “talking” timer and it replaces having a professional eclipse guide at your side. Once you are at your observing location the app will find your location and calculate your precise contact times. Then the app will guide you through the eclipse in the order of events, starting with speaking the countdown to 1st contact. During the partial phases, it will remind you what phenomena to observe for and at the proper time.

Just before totality, the app is helpful for photographers because it tells you when to remove your solar filters in advance of 2nd contact. When totality occurs, it announces that it is safe to remove your solar glasses. During the excitement of totality, you be reminded to observe for planets and starts and after the timer marks max eclipse it will tell you to observe the horizon. The countdown to 3rd contact is crucial for eclipse photographers so they can anticipate the arrival of Bailey’s beads and observers are told to replace their solar glasses.

eclipse figure 7

Baileys Beads before 2nd contact during the 2017 eclipse.

Solar Eclipse Timer is ready for the South American eclipses in 2019, 2020 and the United States eclipse in 2024. It’s available for Android and Apple and it has English and Spanish versions.

eclipse figure 8

Solar Eclipse Timer, the app that “talks” you though an eclipse. For Android and Apple and in English and Spanish.

Author Bio

Dr. Gordon Telepun is a plastic surgeon who lives in Alabama. He is an expert eclipse photographer and eclipse educator with a special interest in the partial phase phenomena. After witnessing his first eclipse in 2001 he saw the need and the benefit of having a talking timing device for solar eclipses and developed the first version of the concept for the 2002 eclipse. In 2017 the mobile version of the app, Solar Eclipse Timer, helped thousands of people get more enjoyment out of the eclipse. Detailed eclipse educational videos can be found on his YouTube channel called Solar Eclipse Timer.

Other eclipse information including details about the app is available on his website.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or


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