Information about the Expedition to Antarctica

This was the very first Total Solar Eclipse expedition to the Antarctic Continent, the expedition offered the first glimpse to human-kind of a Total Solar Eclipse in the ‘Land of the Midnight Eclipse’.

The harsh and inaccessible expanse of Dronning Maud Land (Queen Maud Land) is not a typical destination for expeditioners or tourists. Antarctica is the highest, driest, coldest and windiest continent on the planet. It is also the most remote. Those seeking access to the path of this eclipse find few suitable and accessible locations from which to observe. Through the introduction of logistical air support to the Novolazarevskaya Ice Runway, eclipse scientists, journalists and enthusiasts are able to position themselves in this unlikely and remote path of totality.

Dronning Maud Land is without doubt one of the Jewels in the Crown of the Antarctic. Dominated by a chain of mountain massifs, which define the abrupt transition from the high-altitude Polar Plateau to the lower-lying northerly coastal plains, Dronning Maud Land offers some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in Antarctica. Vigorous glaciers and icefalls forging their way through the ramparts of the Plateau, have sculptured a fantasy world of towering spires and craggy peaks from the one thousand million year old crystalline basement rocks of the East Antarctic Shield. Once exclusively the domain of scientists, this isolated and remote area has in recent years attracted the attention of private mountaineering expeditions, drawn by the challenge of its spectacular "Big Walls".

While Antarctica is open and free to visitors, access of any kind is logistically daunting. Through the services of the Antarctic Logistics Centre International (ALCI), flight operations to the path of the total solar eclipse would be possible. ALCI, a South African company based in Cape Town provides governmental and non-governmental logistical support to Dronning Maud Land bases via Ilyushin-76 cargo flights and Icebreaker freighter services with a scheduled flight season from November to February.

In addition to the unusual observation location circumstances, the geometry of this celestial event proves extremely unusual. On the date of the eclipse, the Sun will not set. Rather, it will remain above the horizon at all times, hovering around in a circle. At the Novolazarevskaya region, the sun will reach its lowest point at 12:00 midnight local time (2300 UT), just 16 minutes before the eclipse becomes total. It will then be positioned a meager 1.5 degrees above the horizon and be travelling horizontally west to east. At this point, the shadow cone caused by the moon will pass at a low angle over the tilted earth’s South Pole, intersecting the earth on the far side where it reaches the ground. This extremely rare event will therefore produce a total eclipse of the sun, a known daytime event; at near midnight local time.

Due to the extreme low angle of the Sun during the eclipse, extensive logistical planning and operations have been required to assure the expedition would be a success.. Dronning Maud Land’s inland hills and inclines would prove detrimental to observing possibilities at both Novolazarevskaya and Maitri bases. Astronomical Tours prepared extensive calculations and in February of 2003, performed a site inspection of the region to locate higher ground from which the team would observe the eclipse. Jen Winter of Astronomical Tours scouted several locations to include the Novolazarevskaya base, the Maitri base, the ice runway and several other locations nearby. All had southern horizons blocked by inland hilly outcrops, which would obscure observing. With the assistance of an experienced member of a visiting Russian mountaineering expedition (MAK), a qualifying safe observing site was located on a nearby plateau with an adequate view to the southern horizon.

The unusual circumstances for this eclipse will provide a unique opportunity to look for Aurora Australis. During the brief 1min. 29sec. window of totality, at the viewing location all direct sunlight entering the atmosphere will be blocked. Scientists are speculating that at this extremely southern location, aurora may or may not be visible. Aurora is formed by solar energy interacting with earth’s atmosphere, charging particles in our atmospheric gasses. Due to a number of complicated interactions between the sun’s radiation, earth’s geomagnetosphere and our ionosphere, many scientists disagree as to whether the aurora can form the tell-tale "auroral arc" during sunlit hours. Unfortunately, sunlight entering the atmosphere scatters and completely prevents observations of daytime aurora. The total eclipse of the sun may reveal the answer to this question, as well as provide spectators a truly rare and beautiful opportunity of colorful aurora-lit skies during a total solar eclipse.

Astronomical Tours LLC. of Warrensburg , USA has organized and sponsored special interest astronomical expeditions including prior eclipse expeditions to Madagascar, Costa Rica, Zambia, South Africa, Australia and now Antarctica.

. While in Antarctica, the team were due to reside in specially erected portable arctic buildings at the Ice Runway base-camp some 45km from the Novo station. However, poor weather prior to the eclipse date ensured alternative accommodation at the base camp was required. Staff and support were provided by ALCI and Cape Tour Charters (CTC) to meet the strictest measure of environmental and safety codes of conduct.

(Details taken from Press Release from Astronomical Tours)

The Antarctica Eclipse Front Page