In 1973, Passengers On Concorde Witnessed A 74 Minute Total Eclipse

Today, people across North America will witness a total solar eclipse. It should be spectacular (assuming the weather holds), coinciding as it does with the solar maximum.

As enjoyable as it will be, most witnesses will only get around 3.5-4 minutes of totality, when the Moon completely covers the Sun from their perspective. There is, of course, a way of extending this time; chasing the Moon as it casts its shadow on the Earth.

On foot or by car, you will not extend this time by much, even if you happen to find a highway free from traffic on the day of a total solar eclipse. NASA is chasing today’s eclipse in WB-57 jet planes, in order to extend the time of totality, and gather as much data as possible.

“The eclipse basically serves as a controlled experiment,” Bharat Kunduri, leader of a project to study the ionosphere during the eclipse, said in a statement. “It gives us an opportunity to understand how changes in solar radiation can impact the ionosphere, which can in turn impact some of these technologies like radar and GPS that we rely on in our daily lives.”

By chasing the eclipse, scientists onboard the jets will witness an eclipse lasting over 6 minutes and 22 seconds. While impressive, this is nothing compared to the eclipse witnessed in 1973 by scientists on board the supersonic aircraft Concorde. Taking off from Las Palmas in the Canary Islands and landing in Chad, the plane was in totality for over an hour.

“At 74 minutes, our group aboard the Concorde set a record for the amount of time spent in totality that has never been broken,” Donald Liebenberg, who claims to have spent the most time of any human in totality, and was onboard Concorde that day, wrote in a piece for NBC in 2017. 

“To say the least, it was an experience I will never forget.”

As well as extending the length of totality experienced, the flight extended the “first contact” and “third contact” phases of the eclipse, where the Moon first crosses the face of the Sun, and when the total phase ends.

Since then and its retirement, Concorde has put on several flights for paying tourists to witness the eclipse, though not nearly by as much. If you’d like to watch an extended eclipse, however, you are in luck. NASA is livestreaming today’s eclipse, following the path of totality as it moves.


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