When the sun and the moon and the Earth align, an Alaska Airlines jet adjusted flight plan to catch one of the most spectacular naturally occurring events.
An Anchorage to Honolulu flight changed its departure time to allow passengers (among them astronomers) to see it from the air.
Today’s rendezvous over the Pacific Ocean is not luck, but a precisely planned equation. The calculations began a year ago. The only variable was the plane.
In window seat 32F, Joe Rao was one of the dozen astronomers and veteran “eclipse chasers” among the 163 passengers onboard, gazing out oval windows as the moon blocks the sun for nearly two minutes.
In seat 7F was Craig Small, a semi-retired astronomer from the Hayden Planetarium. This becomes his 31st total eclipse, making him one of the “Big 4” eclipse viewers in the world.
Flying 530 mph at 37,000 feet, Alaska Flight 870 intercepted the eclipse 695 miles north of Honolulu. The moon shadow itself is oval, 68 miles wide by 500 miles long. It swept across the surface of the Earth on a narrow path from Southeast Asia across the Pacific Ocean. For those on the plane, beginning at 5:35 p.m., the sun was completely blocked by the black disc of the moon for 1 minute 53 seconds.