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
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
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
“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
Next on Anderson’s list is the Turkish coastline near Antalya
where there is no shortage of air and road access, and quality
The weather odds decrease rapidly as the shadow heads into
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
|Web Exclusive: SOURCES AND TOUR OPERATORS|
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
Jay Anderson’s site, with weather maps and statistics, is:
Sky & Telescope magazine also has a useful site: www.skyandtelescope.com/sights/eclipses/eclipses.shtml
A number of U.S. tour operators still have space available for
the March 29 eclipse, although many of the Libya itineraries have
Industry leader, Ya’lla Tours has availability on tours to Turkey
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; www.spearstravel.com), MWT
Associates (877-707-7827; www.melitatrips.com), Travcoa
(800-992-2003; www.travcoa.com) and Country Walkers (800-464-9255;
www.countrywalkers.com) 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.
|FAB FIVE DEALS|
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.