Sky & Telescope’s annular-eclipse flight chased down the “ring of fire” eclipse in the skies above Canada for breathtaking views.

Like a giant tooth or claw, the eclipsed Sun appears just after sunrise over southern Ontario on Thursday, June 10th.
Bob King / Sky & Telescope

Wow! I just got back from seeing my first solar eclipse from the air. A spectacular tooth of sunlight appeared moments after sunrise; clouds followed minutes later, then a flexing ring of sunlight around the Moon. I shared these sights with 32 passionate eclipse chasers from around the country, along with Delta Airlines representatives and the flight crew, on Sky & Telescope’s 2021 annular eclipse flight on the morning of Thursday, June 10th.

a group of people stand next to a plane, holding a sign advertising the sky & telescope eclipse tour
The eclipse participants celebrate with a group photo on the tarmac after the flight.
Bob King / Sky & Telescope
Astronomer and veteran eclipse chaser Jay Pasachoff of Williamstown, Massachusetts, checks his phone prior to boarding the eclipse flight Thursday. Pasachoff has seen 35 total solar eclipses and notched his 19th annular eclipse on June 10th. To mark the occasions, he has donned Sun-colored pants nearly every year since 1977.
Bob King / Sky & Telescope

We departed Minneapolis on a Delta Airbus A319-100 shortly after 3 a.m. and headed for the path of annularity over southern Ontario. From a window I watched Jupiter and Saturn while flashes of lightning from thunderstorms below lit up the “sky” beneath us. We arrived within the path of annularity ahead of schedule, which netted us a chance to see the Sun rising while deeply incised by the Moon’s disk.

The Earth’s shadow is far more striking in the thin, clean air at 38,000 feet, where this photo was taken. The dark arch resembles an approaching storm front in the western sky shortly before sunrise.
Bob King / Sky & Telescope

Pesky high clouds initially threatened to rob our view of a very low Sun. So, in a gambit to see as much of the eclipse as possible, skilled Delta pilots Art Smith and Gary Beltz increased the plane’s altitude to its maximum — 39,000 feet. They also tilted the starboard wing downward by 5° to get it out of the way, while maintaining a straight course.

a map showing the map of the eclipse flight
The flight path of the annular eclipse flight.
flightaware.com

All passengers had their own window seats. Most, like Sarah Azizi of Philadelphia, who coincidentally was celebrating her 35th birthday the same day, watched it all through a safe solar filter.

“It moved me to tears. It felt like a cosmic communion.”

celebrating the eclipse flight
Ross Kessler gives his partner Sarah Azizi a kiss on her birthday after the eclipse flight. Both live in Philadelphia.
Bob King / Sky & Telescope

Others employed careful and elaborate camera setups using off-the-shelf cameras and telephoto lenses to capture images of the Moon's remarkable passage across the Sun.

Annular eclipse sequence on June 10, 2021
Sitting in Row 1 of Sky & Telescope's chartered jet, Eliot Herman captured this sequence of images before, during, and after annularity (left to right) on June 10, 2021.

The cabin erupted in whoops and hollers when the horn of the crescent Sun first clawed its way up out of a distant cloud bank. Rob Marciano, chief meteorologist for ABC News, sat in the seat behind me and couldn’t get over how bright the Sun still appeared even when it was no thicker than an onion ring.

“It’s surreal to see it from an airplane,” Marciano said. He surmised it was the simple fact that we were above three-quarters of most of the atmosphere. With little haze, water vapor, and air itself to filter the sunlight the way we see it from the ground, it rose blindingly bright and immediately required filtering for photographs.

a man holds his camera up to the window inside a plane
Fred Walden of San Francisco presses his camera up against a window to photograph the annular eclipse. It was his first eclipse flight and his first annular eclipse.
Bob King / Sky & Telescope

Our planned route, carefully calculated in advance by eclipse-flight guru Glenn Schneider, provided a generous amount of time to linger in the eclipse path. The Sun put on a splendid show, while far below a thick blanket of clouds made me lose my bearings. Where were we exactly? Once the Moon released a third of the Sun back into view, the plane turned around and began its return trip to Minneapolis. We cheered and clapped and celebrated our success with a champagne toast!

a man sits on a plane with a laptop in his lap, looking at an image of a solar eclipse
Eliot Herman of Tucson looks through his take on the return to Minneapolis. He was especially interested in recording the black drop effect — when the Moon’s limb appears to nearly “touch” the Sun’s inner limb.
Bob King / Sky & Telescope

Anthony Black, a spokesperson for Delta who joined our gang for his first eclipse, was caught up in the shared passion and excitement by the flight’s “community of people.”

“The enthusiasm was really refreshing. There was a sense of unity,” he said. He added that at the plane’s highest altitude, “I almost felt I was in outer space.”

three men - two in pilot's uniforms and one in plain clothes - stand in front of an airplane, smiling
Sky & Telescope Senior Editor Kelly Beatty stands with the two Delta Airlines pilots, Art Smith and Gary Beltz, who flew the chartered eclipse plane. Just in case the first plane experienced any trouble, a second jet (parked in the background) was fueled and ready to fly.
Bob King / Sky & Telescope

After the toast, veteran "eclipsophile" Craig Small, who has worked at the Hayden Planetarium as an astronomer for 33 years, took out his embroidered "eclipse flag," a flag with a total eclipse design he or a proxy has taken to 34 total eclipses since 1973. He and a pair of merry first-time eclipse-watchers marched the flag up and down the aisle of the plane, much to the delight of the crowd.

three people hold up a blue flat with an image of a eclipse with a white flare in the inside of an airplane
Craig Small of New York’s Hayden Planetarium celebrates the eclipse with an embroidered “eclipse flag” that has traveled with him around the globe.
Bob King / Sky & Telescope

The View from the Ground

The staff of Sky & Telescope not on the plane took full advantage of the partially eclipsed Sun rising over the Boston area.

S&T Editor in Chief Peter Tyson reports, “I was out on the Charles River in my single scull. By the time the Sun rose above the surrounding trees, the glowing crescent appeared vertical, like the right side of a parenthetical. A thin layer of cloud strips enhanced the view, making the orangey-white Sun vaguely resemble Jupiter with its bands and zones.”

“Back at the dock, I watched the last bit of Moon depart the Sun, leaving it perfectly round — and leaving me already excited for the next eclipse.”

Editors Diana Hannikainen, Alan MacRobert, and Monica Young witnessed the partially eclipsed Sun rise above a mist-covered meadow northwest of the city. As viewed through eclipse glasses, the chimney of a distant farmhouse split the crescent as it broke through the clouds before it rose fully into view. One of the youngest of the crew (6 years old) enthused, “That was so beautiful!”

Associate editor Sean Walker opted to see the eclipse from the shore of Lake Massabesic in Auburn, New Hampshire. “Low clouds on the horizon suggested I chose well,” Walker notes. “I would have missed the horns of the eclipsed Sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean had I driven all the way to the coast.”

horned sunrise
The horn of the partially eclipsed Sun breaks through low clouds over Auburn, New Hampshire.
Sean Walker

“A scattering of a half dozen people anxiously awaited the sunrise,” he says. “We were not disappointed when the first horn of the partially eclipsed Sun peeked over the densest clouds around 5:15 a.m. Several joggers stopped by my setup to have a look at the progress on the LCD screen of my DSLR camera and took cellphone shots of the screen as keepsakes.”

Partial solar eclipse above Auburn, New Hampshire
The crescent Sun rises higher into the sky.
Sean Walker

Share your experiences in the comments below, and be sure to submit any photos to Sky & Telescope's online gallery!

Comments


Image of Rod

Rod

June 10, 2021 at 3:33 pm

Cool report Bob King 🙂 I placed my observation note at this report link, https://skyandtelescope.org/astronomy-news/observing-news/a-sunrise-annular-solar-eclipse/

I did it the old fashion way. Standing on the ground viewing. spaceweather.com sent out pictures too. One image with Statue of Liberty with the Moon and Sun rising in eclipse with clouds and cloud bands visible. I was looking through some altocumulus bands too. Later I viewed sunspots AR2832 and AR2829 when the clouds allowed. These sunspots there during the solar eclipse event at sunrise.

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Image of Bob King

Bob King

June 10, 2021 at 5:58 pm

You're welcome, Rod! The readers and I really appreciate your detailed, on-the-spot reports. Thank you, and I'm glad you saw it . . . along with all the cicadas 🙂

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Jay-Pasachoff

June 14, 2021 at 1:14 pm

Great photos. Can you please tell me where you were to take the photo with the Statue of Liberty? Can you please contact me directly at: eclipse@williams.edu ?

Jay Pasachoff

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Jay-Pasachoff

June 14, 2021 at 1:16 pm

Second message: I don't see a photo with the Statue of Liberty at the link. Could you please clarify, and/or send me a jpg to eclipse@williams.edu

Jay Pasachoff

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Image of Anthony Barreiro

Anthony Barreiro

June 11, 2021 at 5:51 pm

Thanks for the reports!

Have you heard from anybody in the UP, Wisconsin, Minnesota, N. Dakota, Manitoba, or Ontario about how the sky looked when the annularly eclipsed Sun was just below the horizon?

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Image of New Jersey Eclipse Fan

New Jersey Eclipse Fan

June 11, 2021 at 6:43 pm

I tried to post a note of thanks to Bob King with a link to ABC News' Rob Marciano's live report on "Good Morning America," but I get the idea those links negate a posting, because it didn't appear here. Oh, well. Just Google "ABC News Rob Marciano + Eclipse" and I'm sure it'll come up. Anyway, thanks, Bob!

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