This August, a once-in-a-century astronomical phenomenon will be seen in America: A total solar eclipse. That’s literal, by the way. The last total solar eclipse visible in the US happened in 1918. And, if you’re a big astronomy fan, you’ll get a chance to chase it, courtesy of Alaska Airlines.
The airline is putting together a special eclipse-chasing flight, which is mostly an invitation-only event for astronomers to get a better sense of the phenomenon. It’ll take off from Portland, OR at 7:30am and fly along the coast of Oregon, offering observers a look at the eclipse from 35,000 feet. But, of course, like any good publicity stunt, the flight will be open to one lucky amateur astronomer and a guest so they can say they were there for a once-in-a-lifetime event. (The contest will open on social media on July 21.)
It’s an interesting idea, and although it’s designed to draw attention to Alaska Airlines, we’ll get some scientific benefit out of the deal. Total solar eclipses are actually pretty common, in the sense that they happen all the time. It’s just the moon getting in the way of the sun. What’s a big deal is the location; most total solar eclipses happen where we can’t observe them, like over the middle of the ocean or in remote areas. So if nothing else, Alaska is helping astronomers get the most out of this event.