Sky & Telescope - January 2021 - 84

FOCAL POINT by Richard Tresch Fienberg

Corona
Virus

How the coronavirus (one
word) has wrecked the plans
of those who have the twoword kind
AS I WRITE THIS, I have mixed emo-

84

JANUARY 2 021 * SK Y & TELESCOPE

The Paul Gauguin was perfectly positioned for totality during the total solar eclipse of
November 14, 2012, the last time the author saw the Sun's corona from that ship.

December 2020 offered a chance
to restore the Gauguin's reputation for
successful eclipse-chasing. When the
pandemic exploded in March and much
of the world went into lockdown, I
wasn't worried about an event still nine
months away. But when cases surged in
June, it became clear that the pandemic
would be with us for a long time. Then,
in mid-July, the Gauguin embarked on
its first international cruise in months
- only to return to port two days later
after a passenger tested positive for
the novel coronavirus. Inevitably, the
ship's sixth rendezvous with the Moon's
shadow was soon canceled.
I used to tell people who'd never
seen a total solar eclipse that it's not
so much about science as about beauty
and awe. And I'd assure them that once
they'd experienced one, they'd join
the ranks of eclipse chasers - we call
ourselves umbraphiles - and do anything they could to see another. More

recently, I'd joke that the "corona virus"
was what causes umbraphilia.
Now that the coronavirus has
effectively canceled the December 2020
eclipse for nearly everyone except some
residents of Chile and Argentina, I
don't find my joke funny anymore. Nor
will I ever again suggest that eclipses
aren't so much about science. After all,
it's science that enables us to predict
with astonishing precision when and
where such events will occur. And if
the leaders of all the nations on Earth
had taken science seriously, we'd have
better contained the coronavirus and
prevented a lot of unnecessary suffering
and death, and I'd likely be en route to
notching my 15th total solar eclipse.
„ Senior Contributing Editor RICK FIENBERG is Press Officer of S&T's parent
organization, the American Astronomical
Society. He served as editor in chief of
this magazine from 2000 to 2008.

A N TONIO DELLE M ON ACHE / PAUL G AUGUIN CRUISES

tions. I'm disappointed that I have to
sit out the December 14, 2020 total
eclipse of the Sun, which I was planning to experience just after sunrise
in the South Pacific Ocean. But I'm
also relieved that my wife and I won't
be boarding a cruise ship while the
COVID-19 pandemic is still raging.
This was going to be my 15th totality, and I was really looking forward to
it after getting skunked by unseasonably bad weather at the last one on
July 2, 2019. For that eclipse, also in
the South Pacific - it's a big target,
and the Moon's umbral shadow hits
it frequently - we were sailing on the
Paul Gauguin, a small but luxurious
vessel that was on its fifth expedition
to totality since 2005. We'd been on
two of those earlier voyages, all four of
which managed to find clear skies or a
well-placed hole in the clouds.
July 2, 2019 dawned clear, but as the
initial phase of the eclipse progressed,
the temperature of the ocean air
dropped below the dew point, and thick
clouds materialized out of nowhere.
Every time our captain turned the ship
toward a Sun glint on the water, it vanished before we could reach it. We were
soon overcome with a sinking feeling
- the last thing you want on a cruise
ship! - that we weren't going to see
the solar corona, and indeed we didn't.
The first-time eclipse chasers among us
weren't all that upset, because it still
got eerily dark (and they didn't really
know what they were missing). But
those of us who had witnessed the glory
of totality before were miserable.



Sky & Telescope - January 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Sky & Telescope - January 2021

Contents
Sky & Telescope - January 2021 - Cover1
Sky & Telescope - January 2021 - Cover2
Sky & Telescope - January 2021 - 1
Sky & Telescope - January 2021 - Contents
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