Passport 11-24-2005

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On Dec. 4, 2002, I traveled deep into Australia’s scorching Outback with a tour operator to witness 26 seconds almost 27 of a total solar eclipse. And I wasn’t the only one on this eclipse-chasing tour some had traveled from as far away as England to watch the lights go out.

This cosmic pas de deux next transpires on March 29, and Fred Espenak, an astrophysicist with the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, is using calculations and tracking maps posted on a Web site, along with probable weather conditions assessed by meteorologist Jay Anderson, to ascertain the best view. These predictions are vital resources for tour operators that cater to eclipse aficionados.

In terms of accessibility, the upcoming eclipse is above average. It starts at dawn along the coast of Brazil, then sprints across the Atlantic Ocean and comes ashore in Ghana. It then heads northeast into the Sahara, before traversing the Mediterranean. The shadow then courses through Turkey, Russia and Kazakhstan, until it dissolves into dusk. At its maximum, in the Sahara, the eclipse will last four minutes, seven seconds.

The goal is to be positioned well inside the umbra’s path 115 miles wide at its broadest. From outside this track, only a partial eclipse can be viewed and only with protective eyewear. But for those positioned within the path, the moon will completely obscure the sun, allowing viewers to observe the sun’s corona with the naked eye.

There are several considerations, including weather when choosing a viewing site. Anderson uses the percentage of possible sunshine on March 29 to calculate odds of seeing the eclipse at a given location.

“There are no measurements for sunshine in the middle of the Sahara, but I’m estimating close to 80 percent sunshine in Bilma, Niger, and Jalu, Libya,” he said of the most accessible observation sites in the Sahara.

Anderson says his next pick would be Salum, Egypt, a small city on the coast, 300 miles west of Alexandria. Sunshine statistics are about 75 percent, although March and April are peak season for dust storms.

Next on Anderson’s list is the Turkish coastline near Antalya where there is no shortage of air and road access, and quality hotels.

The weather odds decrease rapidly as the shadow heads into central Turkey.

Although total solar eclipses occur every 19 months on average, one won’t be visible in North America until 2017. The next eclipse will visit Asia on Aug. 1, 2008, a week prior to the Beijing Olympics. David Swanson


Fred Espenak’s extensive Web site is:

The site includes data about the 2006 and future eclipses, information about eye safety, photography tips and tracking maps.

Jay Anderson’s site, with weather maps and statistics, is:

Sky & Telescope magazine also has a useful site:

A number of U.S. tour operators still have space available for the March 29 eclipse, although many of the Libya itineraries have filled.

Industry leader, Ya’lla Tours has availability on tours to Turkey and Egypt.

Arizona-based TravelQuest International is offering 4-, 7- and 12-day itineraries to Turkey, and 7- and 11-day Egypt programs.

Missouri-based Astronomical Tours has availability on trips going to Libya, Turkey and Niger.

Spears Travel (800-688-8031;, MWT Associates (877-707-7827;, Travcoa (800-992-2003; and Country Walkers (800-464-9255; all have space on Turkey trips.

Several cruise ships are scheduled to be in line with the umbra in the Mediterranean, including Holland America’s Princendam, MSC’s Sinfonia and Costa’s Fortuna and Classica.



In 2006, Sceptre Tours flies group travelers to Ireland for as low as $248 per person.

Sandals Antigua has announced a 40 percent discount through Feb. 9, with all-inclusive rates at $213 per person.

Gate 1 Travel has announced air-inclusive packages to Europe, Asia and South America with discounts of 40-70 percent.

Air France Holidays introduces a selection of vacation packages to Europe beginning from $529.

Pleasant Holidays is offering four-night, air-inclusive packages to Waikiki for $349 from Los Angeles and San Francisco.


COMPASS POINTS: New & Noteworthy

Micato Safaris has announced the launch of spa and wellness safaris to South Africa ... Peter Island in the British Virgin Islands recently announced a Babymoon Package for expecting parents ... The Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica, Calif., can now provide the use of an in-room celebrity stylist ... The El Monte Sagrado resort in Taos, N.M., offers healing and wellness treatments by an in-room Cherokee “crystal worker, spiritual teacher and ceremonialist” ... Guests at San Francisco’s Hotel Carlton can choose from several urban cultural experiences: communal baths in Japantown, live Celtic music at an Irish pub or a gay movie package in the Castro ... Kamloops, B.C., welcomes in the holidays with a Christmas-lights-laden restored 1912 steam locomotive called “The Spirit of Christmas” ... American Airlines will add flights to Steamboat Springs, Colo., from Dallas/Ft. Worth for the holidays ... New Mexico’s Hyatt Regency Tamaya lights up the holidays with a farolitas package, celebrating the region’s traditional holiday decorations.